Sunday, 17 Nov 2019

Rumor: Apple Reportedly Partners With Valve to Develop AR Headset – Road to VR

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Apple is developing an AR headset; so much is clear from its many AR-specific job listings and even its latest version of iOS, which includes a stereoscopic renderer. The questions of what, how, and when are all patently up in the air though, making any shred of evidence—or in this case, rumor—something to highlight.

A DigiTimes report, first picked up by MacRumors, maintains that the Cupertino tech giant has partnered with Valve to produce its upcoming AR headset, something the report alleges should arrive sometime in the second half of 2020 at the very earliest.

Citing “industry sources,” DigiTimes reports that Taiwan’s ODMs Quanta Computer and Pegatron have been named as the assemblers behind Apple’s AR headset.

This comes in the wake of a separate DigiTimes report that alleges Apple disbanded a team back in May which were responsible for the AR headset’s development, and reassigned its members to other divisions within the company.

A Taiwan-based publication, DigiTimes primarily reports on Apple info based on sources in the company’s supply chain; both claims made by DigiTimes are unsubstantiated at this time and will likely remain that way knowing Apple’s penchant for never commenting on in-development products.

Rumor notwithstanding: Valve previously partnered with HTC to produce the 2016-era VR headset HTC Vive, having basically handed its work to HTC in effort to kickstart a more solid VR product segment for Steam, its massively successful digital distribution platform. While an Apple-Valve partnership to create its AR headset may not seem so far fetched with this in mind, it’s still an unusual move to say the least.

Apple still actively hires AR professionals spanning a number of fields, including hardware, software, games, management, and marketing—and it’s been doing so since at least 2014. That’s not to say Apple doesn’t need any outside help from a clearly capable name in immersive product development, but it does raise an eyebrow considering Apple has been researching AR on its own for the past five years.

Although there’s no way to peer into the labs of either company—both are notorious black boxes—Valve notably let go of its early AR headset ambitions when it fired previous Valve employee Jeri Ellsworth, the founder behind the Tilt Five AR headset (then known as CastAR) and key proponent of AR’s gaming applications within the company. Ellsworth’s independent work started back in 2013 however, and much has changed in AR since then.

Then there’s the quid pro quo that doesn’t quite make sense here. If Valve helps Apple—a company known for making hardware exclusively for its app ecosystem—create an AR headset, what does Valve get out of it? A lump sum payday? A piece of licensing? It certainly won’t see any sales of AR games through Steam, at least not without a radical shift in how Apple works.

Whatever the case, we’ll have our eyes peeled for more information on the suspected upcoming Apple AR headset; either way you slice it, it’s bound to inject plenty of mainstream interest into augmented reality.

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