Why did Apple acquire Metaio?

This week, Apple added Augmented Reality company Metaio to its portfolio. The news broke when a document surfaced confirming the purchase. Why did Apple acquire Metaio? Apple hasn’t shared any details, but this investment is a significant one – and it whispers that Apple has big plans for Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.

Metaio, Apple and Augmented Reality

Apple is swimming in a market already frothing with device and R&D innovation. Samsung’s GearVR is gaining traction among developers, and the Microsoft HoloLens shows promise. Google has encouraged widespread low-cost VR use with their Cardboard Head-mounted display, and they bought Augmented Reality startup Magic Leap for $542M in October. At Google I/O this week, Google announced Jump, a content partnership with GoPro, demonstrating further progress toward making Virtual Reality and 3D video ubiquitous.

But until now, Apple has kept their AR and VR operations quiet. In February, Apple posted jobs for Virtual Reality developers, sparking rumors of a head-mounted VR display. The acquisition of Metaio, one of the most established AR companies in the world, gives Apple a broader set of technology and developer network to work with for either AR or VR applications.

What will Apple do next?

Apple’s wide reach and deep expertise in experience-driven consumer technology open thrilling possibilities for new products, hardware, and software.

Changes are already in the works. TechCrunch reported that earlier this week, Metaio announced on its website that its products are no longer available. This means that over 1,000 clients like Ikea, Ferrari, and Adidas, will have to find new resources for AR development and cloud services.

Shutting down Metaio’s products also suggests that Apple sees more value in the research and development capabilities instead. A glance at Apple history shows that Apple often builds on synergy with key parts of its acquisitions. With Beats, for example, the value ran much deeper than the product line of candy-color headphones – the Beats streaming service had a unique features that the company needed.

Metaio boasts a similarly broad range of assets. As an Augmented Reality company, Metaio has invested in research and development of new computer vision applications as well as developer tools. A few of the things that Metaio was already on the road to creating: Markerless Augmented Reality experiences, and Thermal Touch AR interfaces for wearables and surfaces. Combined with an Apple-developed headset, these interactions could become key features.

Apple could be eyeing a combination of Metaio’s Augmented Reality development and Apple’s own research and development in VR and AR. Apple already holds a patent for a Head-mounted display system, suggesting that Apple has had an eye on the space for years.

This would pair well with the set of SDK’s – including supporting depth-sensing cameras – that Metaio has created. The IP in computer vision sets Apple up to compete with Google’s Project Tango.

Get Ready for Apple Reality

An Augmented Reality headset could be the next breakout Apple device. Bringing Apple’s user experience thinking to AR would be a powerful transformation – centering around human usability was perhaps the biggest hurdle to adoption for Google Glass.

Apple also has an immediate opportunity to take Augmented Reality mainstream. As 9 to 5 Mac reports, Apple will be able to add Augmented Reality features to its existing map products, immersing AR into everyday life.

Alternatives to Metaio: VisualCommerce and more

Apple’s acquisition will bring about some shifts in the landscape. Metaio’s SDK for Unity was a competitor to Qualcomm® Vuforia™, dropping Apple into competition with Qualcomm, maker of one of the chips in the iPhone 6. This means that Metaio clients searching for alternative Augmented Reality resources will have both platform choices and product options in the marketplace, with varying levels of capability. Marxent’s VisualCommerce™ software runs on Vuforia and is the only cross-platform SaaS designed to manage infinite 3D products on multiple platforms including iOS, Android, and heads-up displays like Samsung GearVR. VisualCommerce™ is used by clients like Lowe’s, Simmons Bedding Company, AZEK Building Products, and Hammacher Schlemmer. Several emerging options also utilize Vuforia, including Daqri, ScopeAR, and TwoBulls.

The Apple-Metaio acquisition comes just a week before the Augmented World Expo (AWE), one of the biggest annual gatherings of Augmented and Virtual Reality experts in the world. Marxent will be exhibiting and participating on a panel, and we are interested to hear the chatter about the acquisition and what it means. We’ll share those thoughts as part of our coverage of AWE.