While Google was busy showing off its latest innovations in the field of virtual reality yesterday, Apple was quietly acquiring a augmented reality startup by the name of Metaio. TechCrunch confirmed the news

Apple, as is typical, had very little to say on the purchase, and the terms have not been disclosed.

Metaio began as a project inside Volkswagen in 2003 to build a platform for augmented-reality experiences. It later spun out of the German automaker. One of the projects the firm has worked on in the past is a showroom app for Ferrari that lets users overlay various virtual graphics on top of the cars in front of them.

The San Francisco-based firm had given its customers cause for concern after canceling its user conference and disabling its Twitter accounts. Now the reason for that disruption has been revealed.

With Metaio boasting around a thousand customers and 150,000 users across 30 countries, Apple is getting some serious expertise with its purchase. Metaio had previously received funding from Atlantic Bridge and Westcott.

As Oculus Rift gets closer to a consumer launch and Microsoft wows users with demos of HoloLens, virtual worlds are taking the technology landscape by storm. Even Google’s much-maligned Glass is preparing a return. Oculus recently made a purchase of its own, picking up augmented reality startup Surreal Vision earlier this week.

Augmented And Virtual Realities

Augmented reality (where digital graphics are layered over the real world) and virtual reality (where an entirely digital world is created) are distinctly different technologies, though they have a lot in common.

Google Glass and HoloLens offer augmented reality (AR); devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are in the virtual reality (VR) camp. AR equipment has to do more work in terms of identifying what’s in front of the user and calculating distances and areas.

A demo video shows Metaio software running on the Epson Moverio, a Glass-style device. With the technology advancing so quickly, Apple has little choice but to get involved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpuNofUUvGQ

Interesting though this acquisition is, it’s hardly a big reveal: Apple was awarded a patent for a head-mounted VR display back in February, and the iOS 9 version of Maps is rumored to include an augmented reality element, enabling users to point their iPhones at a scene and see nearby places of interest.

We don’t know whether Apple will eventually produce some kind of headset of its own or simply develop software to put inside iOS, but our augmented and virtual realities are approaching faster than you might think.

Image courtesy of Metaio

david nield

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