Apple Buys German Startup That Will Make Its AR Unstoppable

June 30, 2017 - 2 minutes read

“The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told The Independent back in February. “I think AR is that big, it’s huge.” By June’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the company put its money where its CEO’s mouth is, unveiling ARKit, its new AR platform. Now Apple can credibly claim to have “the largest AR platform in the world.” With ARKit, iPhone app developers have the power to build augmented reality apps for a device that millions of people all over the world already have in their pocket. No glasses required — at least not yet.

Signs indicate that Apple has been making great progress with its AR goals. In the weeks following the WWDC announcement, iPhone app developers have dropped some impressive previews of their AR progress, ranging from a demo that lets BB-8 rove around your office to a shockingly accurate digital tape measure. Earlier this week, Apple confirmed (in its own cryptic way) that it has acquired SensoMotoric Instruments, a German company based outside Berlin that focuses on the kind of eye-tracking technology typically used in AR and VR hardware. The company’s calling card is its “foveated rendering” technology, which enables VR hardware to conserve power by keeping everything in users’ peripheral vision low-resolution. Only the area users are looking at is rendered in high-resolution.

“Foveated rendering” technology could make mobile AR and VR more viable in the mainstream. SensoMotoric Instruments has found a way to lower the processing power required for AR and VR without sacrificing graphics. Users won’t have to fear for their battery life before opening an AR or VR app on their phone. Whether Apple has purchased SensoMotoric Instruments for its many patents and talent or to incorporate its advancements into the iPhone is not yet clear. But acquiring a startup with such a high pedigree in the field of computer vision has to bode well for Apple’s AR future — and for the future of NYC iPhone app developers looking to make a go at their own AR dreams.

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