- Apple acquired Longmont, Colorado-based company Akonia Holographics, a startup that makes displays for augmented reality (AR) glasses, per Reuters.
- Apple confirmed the deal without providing details on its plans, which is typical practice for the company. Akonia has more than 200 patents related to holographic systems and materials, and raised $11.6 million in seed funding six years ago.
- Akonia’s "HoloMirror" technology allows for "thin, transparent smart glass lenses that display vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images," according to its website.
Apple's acquisition of an AR smart glass lens manufacturer is another sign that the company is committing financial resources to developing another breakthrough product like the iPhone. Apple CEO Tim Cook has touted AR technology in the past couple of years, predicting in 2016 that people will "have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you." The company last year rolled out ARKit to help software developers create mobile apps that have AR features, and retailers like Lowe's and Ikea have released AR-based mobile apps to enhance in-store and mobile shopping experiences.
Apple is said to be developing an AR headset that will come to market as early as 2020 and have its own display and operating system, Bloomberg News reported last year. The acquisition of Akonia may indicate how Apple plans to tackle the key technical challenge for AR headsets: creating displays that are thin enough to fit into glass frames and bright enough for outdoor use. The AR headsets now on the market, including Microsoft's HoloLens and Magic Leap’s Magic Leap One, use darkened lenses intended for indoor use, per Reuters. Those products cost several thousand dollars and are geared toward software developers.
Mobile game Pokemon Go and Snapchat's lenses and filters have helped to popularize AR technology on smartphones, while AR glasses have been slower to take off. Search giant Google in 2012 introduced a test version of Google Glass that let people essentially wear a computer screen showing maps and internet searches. Criticized for its numerous bugs, $1,500 price tag, limited battery life and creepy ability to record people surreptitiously, Google in 2015 ended its Glass Explorer program and last year re-launched the product as Glass Enterprise Edition for workplace uses, per Wired.
Snapchat's own smart glasses, Snapchat Spectacles — which are primarily a wearable camera — have not exactly taken off but continue to be offered.
Given Apple’s history with popularizing technology for a mass audience, it may find more success where Google and Snapchat have not.