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Apple Acquires Augmented Reality Startup Vrvana For $30 Million: AR Headset Coming?

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It seems Apple is gearing up for its augmented reality headset pretty steadily. The Cupertino tech firm has acquired Vrvana, a Canadian startup that crowdfunded a camera-based AR and virtual reality headset called the "Totem."

What Is Apple Plotting?

This is the latest in Apple's very secretive plans for AR. In August it was reported that the company was testing various concepts for the implementation of AR into people's day-to-day lives. Among the prototypes were a headset with an integrated display that merges reality with onscreen elements, and a more traditional Samsung Gear VR-ish peripheral that uses a phone to act as the display.

TechCrunch first reported about the acquisition, which Apple didn't confirm nor deny. It's typical Apple, though: highly secretive about products or acquisitions. But everything gets leaked nowadays.

Apple AR Headset

While details remain vague, acquiring Vrvana is the clearest indication of what Apple wants its AR headset to be.

A number of Vrvana employees have migrated to Apple's headquarters in California as part of the transition. The startup's site and social media accounts remain live, but they've stopped updating since this past August.

It's still unclear how Apple plans to implement Vrvana's technology into its own AR development. One plausible scenario sees Apple taking the aforementioned Totem, which fuses both AR and VR technology to create a headset that supports both experiences, then utilizing it for its own variation. Whether Apple's headset will come with its own screen remains uncertain, because Apple could make a model that requires an iPhone to work.

Apple's AR headset is rumored to be launching in 2020, said to be a fully self-contained device with its own operating system. Apple could offer both AR and VR in one device that feels natural, which means there's no lag, no fumbling with wires, and no controllers. Apple is focusing on the screen.

Tim Cook recently revealed to The Independent that display quality is a barrier to good AR, and Vrvana may have just what Apple needs to surpass that.

"The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it's not there yet," said Cook. "We don't give a rat's about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience."

Other Acquisitions

Apple's latest acquisition could complement other purchases as well. Its acquisition of SMI, an eye-tracking startup that was working on solutions for AR and VR, could factor into the notional device in terms of accurate rendering of visuals. For example, SMI could be integrated with Vrvana to ensure what's being displayed is relative to where the eye is pointed.

Among Apple's AR or VR-related acquisitions are Flyby Media, metaio, Emotient, and Faceshift.

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