Analyst: An Apple VR/AR ‘ecosystem’ for iOS devices could debut by 2018

In a note to clients — as reported by AppleInsider — Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks a virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) “ecosystem” for iOS devices such as the iPhone could be ready to go by 2018. 

"We believe 10 years from now Generation Z will find reality inefficient," he writes. "We believe the concept of an 'inefficient reality' is evident through smartphone use today — the precursor to mixed reality — offering users the ability to find more information as needed.”

Munster says a search on LinkedIn revealed at least 141 Apple employees with a background in AR. He adds that there’s evidence that Apple is conducting AR/VR systems research behind closed doors, including numerous filed and granted patents covering virtual displays, augmented reality and computer vision.

Last year Apple was granted a patent for VR goggles that would use an iPhone as the display unit. The invention is for a "head-mounted display apparatus for retaining a portable electronic device with display." It would allow you to connect an iPhone to a GoPro-ish head mount for viewing media on a private display. The invention would allow users to couple and decouple a portable electronic device with a separate head-mounted device. 

Another patent filing indicates that Apple has considered a 3D imaging and display system that would work with Macsand iOS devices, and which would scan and display simultaneously. Yet another patent filing describes a device for “projecting a source image in a head-mounted display apparatus for a user” to deliver “an enhanced viewing experience.

What’s more, Apple has been scooping up VR/AR related companies, such as Emollient, a startup that uses artificial-intelligence technology to read people’s emotions by analyzing facial expressions. In November 2015 the company acquired Faceshift, which makes a facial motion capture system. 

In May 2015 Apple purchased Metaio, a company makes Metaio Creator, an AR authoring tool. In 2013, Apple bought PrimeSense, an Israeli maker of chips that enable three-dimensional (3D) machine vision.

These steps are expected to be the first in a path toward phasing out iPhone in favor of a mixed reality headset or similar device though that won’t happen for at least 15 years, Munster says.