Microsoft's chief audio engineer for its HoloLens augmented reality project has been hired by Apple, spurring new speculations that the iPhone maker is working on its own augmented reality headset.
Analysts at Piper Jaffray have discovered on Nick Thompson's LinkedIn profile that he now works as an engineer for Apple. Since September 2012 up until July this year, Thompson was listed as a key Microsoft employee overseeing the HoloLens project's audio team.
HoloLens is Microsoft's AR headset and, as opposed to virtual reality, which immerses the individual fully into a separate virtual world, HoloLens aims to enhance physical reality by overlaying it with digital images and information. Google is also working on its own AR implementation, the infamous Google Glass, which is on its second chance at life with an enterprise-focused version.
The recent discovery of Thompson's hiring has led one analyst to believe that Apple is also working on its own AR headset. Gene Munster, also of Piper Jaffray, says this is just another proof that Apple is secretly investing in AR.
In a note Munster sent to clients and obtained by Apple Insider, the analyst says Apple's "evolving fashion advantage" can help position what will be a well-designed headset in the nascent industry, where the first products, such as Google Glass and HoloLens, are "prototype style offerings."
He also says that Thompson's expertise as an audio engineer for HoloLens can bring an important edge to Apple, since positioning where the audio comes from can make a more immersive AR experience.
"The ability to recreate sound coming from a distinct location and changes based on proximity and direction of the object should not be overlooked," Munster says. "We believe Apple's early involvement in the space suggests the company is preparing for the next evolution of computing.
Munster is known for pushing a next-generation Apple TV set, a prediction which has never come true until now. Therefore, it is always advisable to take these types of reports with a grain of salt, until more concrete evidence comes to life.
However, Apple's employment of Thompson is not the only proof that Munster cites. Earlier this year, Apple announced the acquisition of Metaio, a German AR firm that owns 171 global patents related to the technology. The acquisition made Apple the 11th biggest owner of AR patents behind Google and Microsoft, as well as Samsung and Sony, which both have VR headset projects of their own.
This followed the 2013 acquisition of PrimeSense, an Israel-based company specializing in 3D sensing. PrimeSense's claim to fame is designing the first-generation Kinect motion sensor for Microsoft's Xbox 360.
Still, Munster says Apple is not likely to out an AR device anytime soon. In fact, AR may not reach its full potential until after 10 years from now, he says, and Apple may wait until then to show off its own sleek device. Munster first unveiled in March that he received a tip from Apple insiders who claim Apple has formed a small team to experiment with AR.