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Apple's new hire suggests it's getting serious about virtual reality

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of clues and reports suggesting that Apple has been working on products focused on virtual reality. And now, that is all but confirmed by the company’s significant new addition to its ranks of experts.

From Virginia Tech to Apple

According to the Financial Times, Apple has hired a key player in the field of virtual reality in the person of Doug Bowman.

“According to his academic profile, Mr. Bowman focused his research on ‘three-dimensional user interface design and the benefits of immersion in virtual environments,’” the Financial Times reports. “His experience spans both fully immersive VR, as used in Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive headsets, as well as augmented reality, where transparent visors such as Microsoft’s Hololens, Google Glass and secretive start-up Magic Leap mingle digital images with the real world still visible.”

Douglas Andrew Bowman, Professor, Computer Science.

Bowman is considered one of the top virtual reality researchers in the U.S., having won notable industry awards and spent five years as the director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech before recently joining Apple.

Closer to reality

Bowman’s hiring by Apple follows the company’s acquisitions of three startups specializing in virtual or augmented reality over the past few months: Metaio in May, Faceshift in November, and Emotient just a couple of weeks ago.

Apple’s interest in virtual reality became evident as far back as seven years ago, when the company took out a patent for an “automatically adjusting media display in a personal display system.” More patents related to virtual reality have since been filed by the company.

Apple’s job listings in the past also hinted at the company’s virtual-reality initiatives, particularly as applied to gaming.

According to one analyst, Apple is expected to work seriously on developing its own virtual and augmented reality systems throughout 2016, and to release products integrated with those systems in the market in the next few years.

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