Apple has acquired Akonia Holographics, a startup focused on holographic technology, which has developed products that include augmented reality-enabled smart glasses, according to a Reuters report confirmed by the company.
Akonia created HoloMirror technology, which can be used in combination with lense-based products such as glasses or headsets to view holographic images projected against real environments. The company claims this technology "will enable headsets that are thin, transparent & light-weight, while achieving high FOV [field of view] with low manufacturing cost," according to its website.
The Reuters report suggested the acquisition occurred sometime in recent months. Apple confirmed to Reuters that it had bought the company, but did not provide further details, including price.
This news comes about one year after Apple stoked adoption of augmented reality technology as a sales tool for retailers and brands by releasing its ARkit development toolkit for creating AR-enabled apps for iOS devices. The ARkit launch was shortly followed by several retailers rolling out new AR-enhanced apps to heighten the experience for consumers shopping via mobile. (Apple has since released ARkit 2.0)
It’s not clear if Akonia’s technology would be directly applicable in some way to such apps or existing iOS devices, but it’s believed that Apple may have much more in mind when it comes to AR and the related technology area of virtual reality. As the Reuters report pointed out Apple has been rumored for some time to be developing an AR headset that some reports have suggested could be available around 2020.
Akonia also is not Apple’s first acquisition in the area of AR, VR, holography and related technologies. Since at least 2013, Apple has been buying up technology specialists in this area, including Flyby Media, Primesense and Metaio, and has been building up it own reportedly huge AR/VR development group, often by hiring top talent away from other technology leaders, including Microsoft and Magic Leap.
If Apple does create some kind of brand new AR headset, what might the implications be for retail? Many retailers believe these technologies can be used in a customer-facing way to drive sales and improve shopping experiences, as well as internally as a training and productivity-enhancing tool for store associates. In both of these areas, AR and VR remain exciting, but somewhat expensive and not fully proven technologies. If Akonia can help Apple produce a new, better, lower-cost piece of gear, these technologies just might become more appealing and useful in retail and other sectors.