Apple has bought German augmented-reality platform Metaio, for an undisclosed amount, following weeks of speculation as to what was happening with the German AR company after it ended customer support and sales, and canceled its user conference in San Francisco.
Metaio is Apple’s second computer-vision purchase
Although Apple hasn’t divulged what it plans to do with Metaio’s platform, the deal is interesting in light of an acquisition Apple made in 2013, of Israeli computer-vision company PrimeSense. PrimeSense’s technology was the basis for early versions of Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox game consoles, as well as early versions of Qualcomm’s Vuforia computer-vision platform and Google’s Tango project, which aims to build smartphones with the ability to sense 3D objects in space.
Initial applications for Apple are likely to be improvements to its Maps app, for instance by enabling users to scan their surroundings and see what businesses are available. Longer term, however, there are implications for new functionalities in smartphones and watches, such as the ability to control them via hand motions, and in Apple’s connected-home offering, HomeKit.
There’s also Metaio’s Thermal Touch technology, which uses infrared and standard vision to turn any surface into a touch screen. This technology could be used to create interfaces for smart eyewear, such as a VR headset for which it filed a patent earlier in 2015, or a virtual dashboard and heads-up display in cars, or controls for a connected home.
Whatever Apple does with the technology, the big question that remains is how it will support Metaio’s established developer community, which numbers over 100,000. Metaio built up its brand over more than a decade, and if Apple harnesses their expertise, for instance for an AR/VR app store, it could help bring the technology more firmly into the mainstream.
Augmented Reality: Edging Toward Mass Awareness, TE0001-000888 (October 2014)
Innovation Primer: Virtual Reality, ME0002-000563 (March 2015)
Francesco Radicati, Senior Analyst, Digital Services