Apple likes to play their cards close to the vest, don't they? The iconic company doesn't usually reveal much about their projects until it's time for an official announcement. But sometimes ... They can't stop a leak of information from happening, or they just leak the news themselves like Steve Jobs used to. That brings us to today's news. It appears the tech giant has hired an augmented reality specialist from NASA to join their AR team.
The specialist Apple hired is Jeff Norris, Bloomberg reports. Norris is responsible for founding the Mission Operations Innovation Office of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, as well as working with the Hololens team to create a mixed reality experience with the Mars rover.
Norris is now a senior manager in Apple's augmented reality department, which is run by 2015-hire Mike Rockwell, former head of the hardware and new technologies groups at Dolby. Apple hired Norris earlier this year, although no specific date is clear at this time. Bloomberg's sources are reportedly close at hand with the operation and have requested to remain anonymous.
While this is new information, it's not news that Apple is working on augmented reality. CEO Tim Cook is more than a fan of the technology, and reports show his company has developed a large team specifically for AR. Apple has not only employed Rockwell but Fletcher Rothkopf, a major player in the team that designed the Apple Watch, and Tomlinson Holman, creator of the audio standard THX, a sign that the company is serious about AR as part of Apple's core technology going forward.
On top of that, there have been previous reports that the next iPhone will be AR-ready, implementing a 3D camera system designed for AR, another that Apple is working on iPhone-compatible AR glasses, and that the tech giant may have more than 1,000 employees in Israel dedicated to advancing the technology.
Apple may need all the help it can get. Despite being a giant among brands, augmented reality is the often underestimated yet hot technology right now, and they're late to the race. Snapchat is continuing to make promising innovations in what was once a simple social app. Facebook is promoting augmented reality tools for developers and designers. The film industry is even working on AR/VR for both at-home and in-theater experiences.
"Of course, we also have the current giant of AR, which happens to be Apple's longest running rivalry—Microsoft," added Next Reality contributing editor Jason Odom. "The leaps and bounds they have made in the last year since the release of the HoloLens is giving Microsoft a solid foothold in the space. Between having an actual product on the market, the ability to get hard data from its users to better the next generations of models, and the open willingness to actual listen to it users and make changes on that data, I suspect the new and improved Microsoft will be aiming to hold on to the lead they currently have. That said, Microsoft and Apple have both been here before. Each with wins and losses. It will be interesting to see. And with all the great HoloLens work that Jeff Norris and his teams have done for NASA this could be considered a loss for Microsoft."
Two things do set Apple apart from the rest, however; none of these companies has Jeff Norris. And none of these companies are Apple. You can bet that when they do make an AR-related announcement, it's going to be huge.