Apple has made a new bet on augmented reality (AR), buying Akonia Holographics, which makes lenses for the technology. The secretive deal, confirmed this week, comes amid other augmented reality moves by the likes of PayPal and Target. Apple bought the Colorado-based company for an undisclosed sum.
“Apple buys smaller companies from time to time, and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or plans,” Apple told Reuters, declining to release more details.
Akonia’s HoloMirror technology enables “headsets that are thin, transparent and light-weight, while achieving high [field of view (FOV)] with low manufacturing cost,” Akonia said on its website. It holds 140 patents associated with “holographic systems and materials,” and employs many of people behind those inventions. The company said that its “thin, transparent smart glass lenses … display vibrant, full-color, wide field of view images.”
The company launched in 2012 and focused on storing holographic data before shifting to glasses that can be used for augmented reality.
Augmented reality glasses enable users to see digital information in additional to real world visuals. In a retail setting, that would mean virtual information appearing over real products in stores.
AR Market Growth
Goldman Sachs has estimated that augmented reality will drive $1.6 billion of retail annually by 2025, fueled by the shopping habits of some 32 million consumers.
The global augmented reality market — which includes not only retail and eCommerce, but also aerospace and other areas — will approach $134 billion in 2012, up from about $3.3 billion in 2015, according to Zion Market Research. However, the report cautioned that, “user interface limitations may curtail the growth of this market.”
Other AR Moves
PayPal recently revived an old patent that focuses on augmented reality shopping. The software laid out in the patent, which was originally filed in 2016 but was extended earlier this year, could produce product and purchasing information by looking at the product on a shelf in a store. Information such as a virtual description with the price would hover over the item. The glasses could also help shoppers through the online purchase process, with the vendor and the payment information already stored within the system.
Target, too, wants to get into the augmented reality game. The retail chain, working with Perfect Corp.’s YouCam Makeup app, announced the development of its Target Beauty Studio in May. The chain will enable customers — in only 10 stores for now — to virtually try on different makeup products via a digital screen. Target will still employ human beauty experts inside its stores.
Mastercard also seems interested in augmented reality. It has used Masterpass, mobile technology and iris recognition to create what it called a “shopping experience” that relies on “photorealistic augmented reality and provides consumers the ultimate customized, security-focused shopping experience.”
Apple may have bought a company that concentrates on AR lenses, but voice assistant technology will play a major role in future augmented reality projects, according to a recent report from Juniper. “Those systems will become the primary method of controlling head-mounted AR devices,” the research firm said in an overview of the augmented reality landscape.
Augmented reality seems poised for a breakthrough in the coming years as major companies gather up technology and test out concepts.