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Is Apple, Inc.'s Interest in Virtual Reality Bigger Than It's Letting On?

By Daniel Sparks - Jan 26, 2016 at 2:30PM

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Apple is joining other tech giants in virtual reality investments.

Apple (AAPL 0.03%) may be one of the few tech giant's without a known virtual reality prototype product, but that doesn't mean the company isn't investing in the space. Indeed,its interest in VR was profiled this week when Apple confirmed to the Financial Times  that it had made a key VR hire.

Sure, Apple hasn't yet demonstrated the confidence in the nascent technology that Facebook (META -1.01%) did when it acquired Oculus VR for about $2 billion in 2014, but Apple is definitely making moves that signal its interest.

Oculus Rift. Image source: Oculus VR.

Here's what there is to know about Apple's apparently growing interest in VR.

Apple's VR hires
Apple's new hire, Doug Bowman, is a computer-science professor at Virginia Tech. He "leads the university's Center for Human-Computer Interaction," reported the The Wall Street Journal

The Journal's Jack Nicas detailed Bowman's background:

Mr. Bowman has won awards for research into virtual and augmented reality, with projects such as "VR for Sports Anxiety" and "Llamas vs. Kiwis," an augmented-reality game that lets users manipulate digital characters in a tablet's view of the real world. Mr. Bowman was also a member of one of five teams in November to win $100,000 grants from Microsoft Corp. to conduct research with the company's augmented-reality Hololens glasses.

Bowman is one of several engineers in the space the company has hired since 2014, according to CNN Money's Hope King. Listing some of the hires Apple has made in the VR space, King lists Nick Thompson, who also worked on the HoloLens; Bennett Wilburn, who has worked on machine learning technology for "human activity recognition"; and Graham Myhre, who previously worked at Lytro.

Apple's silence about VR
Apple hasn't publicly endorsed the new technology or expressed optimism for it. This contrasts with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's bullish endorsement of the technology.

Zuckerberg goes as far as to predict that VR will become the next big platform for communication in the future. The CEO articulated how he imagined VR being used on a daily basis in a Facebook post when the company announced it was going to acquire Oculus.

Oculus Rift. Image source: Oculus VR.

"Immersive gaming will be first," he explained. But games are "just the start," he said.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

These are just some of the potential uses. By working with developers and partners across the industry, together we can build many more. One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.

Meanwhile, Apple's silence surrounding VR could be interpreted as skepticism toward the future of the technology. But another key hire in the space suggests that maybe the silence is simply representative of the company's long-held devotion to secrecy, which Apple has doubled down on in the Cook era.

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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