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Apple has purchased a startup that produces special components for augmented reality devices, fueling speculation that the company is working on a groundbreaking AR device.
The company’s acquisition, Colorado-based Akonia Holographics, was founded in 2012 by a group of holography scientists and was originally focused on data storage technology. But the startup had shifted its focus to producing displays, lenses and similar hardware for wearable AR glasses.
Akonia’s acquisition was confirmed by Apple in a generic statement to Reuters. “Apple buys smaller companies from time to time, and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or plans,” the statement reads.
The holography startup touts its primary product as the “world’s first commercially available volume holographic reflective and waveguide optics for transparent display elements in smart glasses.”
Those display elements, which use Akonia’s proprietary HoloMirror technology, allows for “ultra-clear, full-color performance” in the “thinnest, lightest head worn displays in the world,” according to the company’s website.
Reuters noted that it isn’t clear when Apple officially purchased Akonia Holographics. But the publication cites sources who say that the startup had become “very quiet” over the last six months. That could indicate an acquisition in the first half of 2018.
Apple is widely rumored to be exploring several different devices in the augmented reality and virtual reality spheres. One of those is a mixed reality, or MR, headset that could sport 8K displays for each eye.
But another prototype is a pair of standalone AR smart glasses that can function on their own without a connected smartphone. These smart glasses are rumored to sport their own processor and connectivity hardware, as well as its own “rOS” operating system and App Store.
Apple’s progress seems to be moving along on the AR front, too. Earlier this year, Apple reportedly met with firms who produce components for AR glasses. Another report suggested that the company had already tapped a metal casing supplier to help build out its AR glasses.
This isn’t Apple’s first buyout of an AR or VR-focused firm. Last year, the Cupertino tech giant purchased a company called Vrvana, which developed an MR headset called Totem.
A release timeline for an Apple AR or VR product has yet to be hammered down, but some rumors suggest that the company could unveil such a device in 2019 or 2020.