While we’ve mostly been hearing about Apple’s recently launched video and news services over the past few weeks, as the company moves into the post-iPhone era, content services are just one of many projects the company is working on, many of which promise to be considerably more disruptive than simply Apple’s spin on Netflix.
Many of the best insights into what Apple’s up to within its more secretive “skunkworks” projects stem from the kind of folks the company is actually hiring. News earlier this month that Apple had hired a leading automotive engineer confirmed rumours that Apple is building a full electric car and not merely an autonomous driving system, and now another new hire provides some additional insight into Apple’s augmented and virtual reality plans.
According to Variety, Apple has recently hired Arthur van Hoff, best known for his founding of Jaunt XR, a cinematic virtual reality company that was somewhat famously backed by none other than Disney. Van Hoff founded Jaunt back in 2013, and served as the CTO until last October, after which he moved down into an advisory role to help the company transition from virtual reality over to augmented reality. He also briefly served as interim CEO in 2016.
Van Hoff’s LinkedIn profile lists him simply as a “Senior Architect” with Apple, so it’s not entirely clear what his role within the company will be; in addition to augmented reality, his skills include machine learning and neural networks, so it’s entirely possible that he could be pegged to join John Giannandrea’s machine learning division, which has recently seen some other high-profile hires. However, Van Hoff’s extensive VR and AR experience would seem to make him a natural fit for working on Apple’s AR glasses in some role, and augmented reality and machine learning certainly go hand-in-hand.
Jaunt XR is an immersive media startup behind the development of a VR camera and image and video capture technology, as well as designing a platform for distributing VR content. The company also got into the business of producing its own content, with the goal of being a powerhouse behind cinematic VR. However, last fall Variety revealed that the company was struggling with its original goals, and looking to sell off all of its VR assets and pivot into augmented reality.
Van Hoff is actually not Apple’s first hire from the beleaguered VR/AR company, although he’s certainly the highest profile one. Several former Jaunt engineers have joined Apple over the past few years to work on various projects, so there’s a chance that Van Hoff may find himself working with some of his old colleagues as well.
Apple has been working on augmented reality since it debuted ARKit back in 2017, and only a few months later, information began to come out that the company was already developing an AR headset of some kind for a 2019 release. Although this project seems to be on of Apple’s better-kept secrets, over the past few months information has been starting to come out suggesting that Apple is still pretty much on track, with a “head-mounted AR device” expected to enter production later this year, for a possible 2020 release.