Apple has combined veterans from its hardware and software operations with a group of talented new hires to build a team focused on creating ambitious augmented reality breakthroughs, Bloomberg reports. The team, run by former Dolby Laboratories executive Mike Rockwell, includes researchers who were previously working on Oculus virtual reality headsets, Amazon’s Lumberyard virtual reality platform and Meta’s augmented reality glasses project. Hundreds of engineers are now working on the project, which includes plans for wearable glasses and big improvements to the iPhone’s camera. Apple is reportedly working on making the iPhone able to “take a picture and then change the depth of the photograph or the depth of specific objects in the picture later,” using algorithms acquired in 2013 from PrimeSense. Other improvements would allow users to manipulate specific elements within the image — like rotating a person’s head 180 degrees while leaving the rest of the frame as-is — or place visual effects on top of a person much in the way Snapchat’s filters operate. The report didn’t shed any light on when 3D sensors or augmented reality applications would land on the iPhone, but recent rumors have hinted Apple may be testing its AR capabilities as early this year.
The rumored glasses project is likely to take longer, the sources said. After observing the demise of Google Glass and seeing its own Apple Watch fail to become much of a mainstream success, Apple is focused on making sure that its next wearable doesn’t make the same mistakes others have. While Apple declined to comment, people close to the development said both hardware and software are essential. Battery life is likely to be an issue even if the tethered iPhone does most of the processing work, and the glasses will likely require their own operating system if not an entirely new type of chip. On the software side, Apple is working to make sure that the glasses have enough useful apps, interesting content and entertaining games to make the product worth buying. While the challenge is daunting and notable companies have proved not to be up to the task, Apple analyst Gene Munster pointed out that the company is at its best when it waits for other companies to try something first and then swoops in to improve where others have failed. “To be successful in AR, there is the hardware piece, but you have to do other stuff too: from maps to social to payments,” Munster says. “Apple is one of the only companies that will be able to pull it off.”