Apple Hires Top Virtual Reality Researcher

The gadget giant has been quietly building a VR force while rivals Facebook and Google steal the spotlight

Apple, already the world’s most valuable company in the real world, is angling to dominate the virtual world too.

TheWrap confirmed Friday that Apple has hired academic virtual-reality expert Doug Bowman from Virginia Tech. It’s the latest move by the gadget giant to quietly amass a VR force to take on rivals like Facebook, Samsung and Alphabet’s Google.

Virtual reality, an immersive format with the potential to introduce a totally new form of entertainment to consumers, has its best shot yet at mainstream appeal this year. A slew of headsets are set to hit the market from giants like Samsung and Facebook’s Oculus, potentially solving one of VRs biggest problems: For all its hype, very few people can actually check it out.

While some rivals like Facebook make headlines with moves like its $2 billion purchase of headset maker Oculus, others, like Google and Apple, have already brought consumer headsets to market.

Bowman, a computer science professor, specializes in immersive environments and interaction in three-dimensional experiences. He leads the 3D Interaction Group, a research lab studying 3D user interfaces and the effects of immersion in VR and augmented reality, which layers virtual elements on top of what you seen in the physical world.

Last month, widely followed Apple analyst Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray noted that Apple has hired more virtual- and augmented-reality personnel than Oculus-parent Facebook. The company has also acquired Metaio, a software company with VR patents, and PrimeSense, which designed the first motion sensors for Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect.

The FT first reported news of Bowman’s hire.