Rumor: Apple has 'hundreds of staff' working on virtual & augmented reality projects
By: Neil Hughes
Friday, January 29, 2016 1:25 PM
Through a series of acquisitions, Apple has a considerably large staff dedicated to experimental virtual reality and augmented reality projects, some of whom are reportedly working on prototype headset configurations that could one day compete with the likes of Facebook's Oculus Rift.
Apple patent illustrating an augmented reality iPhone mapping app.
Details on Apple's apparent VR and AR initiatives were revealed on Friday by the Financial Times, which indicated that Apple has been building prototype headsets for "several months." The report also revealed that Apple had acquired a company called Flyby Media, an augmented reality firm that had previously worked closely with Google.
Apple's interest in virtual and augmented reality is no secret, as a number of acquisitions and patent applications fall directly into those fields. But the fact that the company has allegedly experimented with building prototype hardware headsets, the likes of which could compete with Oculus or Microsoft Hololens or even Google Glass, may come as a surprise.
The revelations also come only a few days after Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook was asked about his thoughts on virtual reality. In brief comments made during his company's quarterly earnings conference call, Cook said he thought VR is "cool," and suggested it won't be a niche product as it matures.
In terms of acquisitions, Apple purchased German augmented reality firm Metaio in May of last year. And in 2013, Apple also purchased PrimeSense, which collaborated with Microsoft for the first-generation Kinect hardware for Xbox 360. Then, last November, Apple confirmed it acquired motion capture firm Faceshift, whose technology is capable of rendering human-like gestures onto the faces of virtual characters.
Apple also holds a variety of patents covering a wide gamut of augmented reality applications, including transparent displays, mobile mapping solutions and iPhone-powered virtual displays. One particularly interesting property details a smartphone that can identify physical objects in real time using computer vision.
Rumors first cropped up last March suggesting that Apple has a small team tasked with experimental work in the field of augmented reality. But Friday's report would suggest that since that time, Apple's team devoted to the new technology has grown considerably, whether just through acquisitions or otherwise.
Augmented reality is a layer of digital information overlaid onto the physical world, allowing information such as instantly accessible navigation directions in the user's field of view. The most well-known implementation of AR is Google Glass.
iPhone users can get a very basic taste of virtual reality thanks to the Google Cardboard project, which turns a handset into a cheap and easy way to test out VR apps available on the App Store. AppleInsider's comprehensive roundup of the best virtual reality apps for iPhone can help you get started. Comments
So what: Reuters is reporting that the inhaled insulin maker is "exploring strategic options, including the sale of itself." Reuters obtained this information from "people familiar with the matter," who said that the company is currently working with investment bankers to determine its options.
MannKind has declined to comment on the report thus far, but it has lent some credibility to the story as it scheduled a special investors conference call to be held on Feb. 3 to "discuss company developments."
Now what: Without more information to go on right now, it's hard to determine if this news is indeed true or if it's just a rumor. CEO Matthew Pfeffer mentioned during his talk at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference that he was interested in holding a special investor call before its next earnings release to increase the company's transparency with shareholders.
As he said then:
I'd like to consider having a call with our investors sometime between now and the next earnings call where we can go into a little more detail of some of these things. I hope we'll have a little clearer path we can lay out for some of the initiatives we have going on that we can do after a few days' effort in a 25-minute presentation.
At the time, he was talking about sharing more details about plans to extend their cash runway out as long as possible and their initial thoughts on how they can market Afrezza in a low-cost manner after they take it back from Sanofi (NYSE:SNY), so the timing could just be a coincidence. Or it is possible that they really are looking to sell themselves and wanted to schedule a call to let their investors foolDOTcom/investing/general/2016/01/27/why-mannkind-corporations-shares-are-skyrocketing.aspx?source=eogyholnk0000001&utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=article
News that MannKind is working with investment bankers on strategic options — including a possible sale — was reported Tuesday by Reuters, citing unnamed sources.
“I can't comment on anything like that,” said Matt Pfeffer, MannKind's chief executive and chief financial officer. “The attorneys are quite emphatic about it.”
In an interview with The Times this week, Pfeffer said MannKind is looking for new sales and distribution partners, rethinking the marketing strategy for Afrezza, working to get the drug approved for sale in markets outside of the United States, continuing to develop other inhalable drugs and licensing its technology to other drug developers.
Lloyd Greif, chief executive of downtown L.A. investment bank Greif & Co., said all the activity that Pfeffer mentioned suggests the company is scrambling to stay afloat — and that it is likely considering any option, including a sale, that would stave off bankruptcy.
“It conveys a sense of urgency. No question the company's back is up against the wall and they're going to look at any and all reasonable options,” Greif said.
Ahmed Enany, chief executive of trade group Southern California Biomedical Council, said any company in MannKind's situation would consider a transaction. He also noted that choosing its finance chief to lead the company “made sense.”
“Putting him at the helm might help the company explore options, including a sale,” Enany said.
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