Ready for Apple to release another amazing product? The tech giant recently acquired Akonia Holographics, a Denver-based startup that manufactures augmented reality waveguide lenses.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or plans,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch in giving a standard statement. However, it’s possible to expect a new powerful computing device based on the startup’s focus on nanotechnology.
TechCrunch writer and Apple expert Matthew Panazarino said on Twitter, “This acquisition could just be about improving image quality or a few other things in their imaging pipelines, but… I would be shocked if Apple wasn’t working on its own image sensor.”
There have been reports that Apple is planning to release consumer AR glasses within the next few years, but this acquisition offers the clearest confirmation to date that resources are being invested into technologies that will support the advancement of a lightweight augmented reality headset.
TechCrunch reported in late 2017 that Apple acquired a mixed-reality headset company, Vrvana, with a device that offers users a pass-through augmented reality experience on an accustomed opaque display. The latest acquisition is a clearer path to a headpiece augmented reality device.
Waveguide displays are becoming popular within virtual reality headsets. While there are a variety of different choices, they all essentially involve the same concept. The image in the headset beams into the side of a piece of glass and by bouncing between etchings, the image eventually beams into the user’s eyes. Magic Leap, Microsoft and several others offer similar technology.
The waveguide displays are such a hit because they specialize in thin, largely transparent designs. However, they often encounter issues with color reproduction. The display can only become so large before the images begin to distort. Akonia’s marketing materials claim its “HoloMirror” solution can “display vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images.” According to Crunchbase, the startup raised $11.6 million in funding.
Many of Apple’s tech competitors are already experimenting with AR headsets. In response, Apple directed the majority of its early consumer-facing efforts to phone-base AR technologies capable of tracking the geometry of spaces and able to “project” digital objects onto surfaces.