During the Tuesday Apple earnings call, Piper Jaffray analyst and Apple pundit Gene Munster asked Tim Cook if the company had any plans for virtual reality products, to which Cook answered "it's really cool and has some interesting applications". Well, the Financial Times today reported that Apple has "assembled a large team of experts in virtual and augmented reality and built prototypes of headsets...".
The article (behind a paywall) notes that the research team has "hundreds of staff" that have been assembled from acquisitions and poaching employees from companies in the space such as Microsoft and Lytro. One of the acquisitions is Flyby Media, a company that worked with Google on a 3D positioning technology. Apparently the team has also been building VR/AR headset prototypes for several months.
The Financial Times says that for Apple, the "skills and technologies it has assembled in imaging and positioning might also be useful for its secret car project" although the VR/AR project is a separate unit. Apple had first looked at the virtual/augmented reality market in the mid-2000s, but abandoned the idea due to immature technology. Now the company would be facing competition from Facebook's Oculus Rift, Microsoft's Hololens, Samsung's Gear VR, and even Google Cardboard.
If Jony Ive has anything to say about VR, the company won't be looking at a headset. Last year, Ive told the New Yorker magazine that the face was the "wrong place" to put technology. But building augmented reality into baked-in apps (the Maps app, for example) or figuring out a better way to use an iPhone as a VR viewer than Google Cardboard could very well be something the company is pursuing.