3 signs Apple has entered the Twilight Zone of virtual reality

Facebook's Oculus Rift Consumer Edition launches March 24 for $600.
Facebook's Oculus Rift Consumer Edition launches March 24 for $600.

If augmented reality and immersive 3-D experiences are the next big thing, Facebook and Google are already there.

Facebook has snapped up at least five companies in the virtual reality/augmented reality space, including Oculus, maker of the Cadillac of VR goggles, for $2 billion last summer.

Google’s Cardboard, a fold-out kit for turning any Android smartphone into a crude VR headset, is already on version 2.0.

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Now, according to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, Apple has entered the Twilight Zone.

In a note to clients Monday, Munster reports that Cupertino has assembled its own team of virtual and augmented reality engineers and is “exploring the [augmented reality] space.”

His evidence:


“While augmented reality is likely 10 years away from broader consumer adoption,” Munster writes, “we believe it has the potential to be as profound a technology platform as the smartphone today.”

That’s a pretty bold claim, especially given the kinds of applications Munster mentions: Gaming, telepresence, overlay holograms for navigation, etc.

It’s hard to see Apple getting excited about any of those markets—even immersive gaming.

But the fact that Apple is investing anything in the technology suggests that it sees a broader market, one closer to the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

My guess? Apple, with its Pixar connections, is looking—for starters—at the same application that’s caught Hollywood’s attention: Personalized, immersive story telling.

Think of it as 3-D movies that you don’t have to go to the CinemaPlex to experience.

If the content ever catches up to the technology, according to research cited by Variety in January, the market for personalized VR devices could grow from 200,000 users in 2014 to 170 million in 2018.

That’s big enough to get Apple’s attention.

Add some haptic feedback for touching and feeling, and who knows where this could go. See, for example, here (not entirely safe for office viewing).

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.


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