Apple is entering the augmented reality arms race with the acquisition of German company Metaio. The company's site said it stopped taking new customers, and now a legal document shows Apple has bought it. The document confirms a transfer of shares of the startup to Apple on May 21st/22nd.
Metaio's augmented-reality software is used in applications in retail, industrial and automotive markets. The technology is used to create virtual product showrooms and by retailers such as Ikea. It has also created visual manuals for repairing complex industrial or automotive equipment.
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Augmented reality is produced by software that overlays text or graphics on real-life images and objects, typically in video. The result can be viewed on TV displays, smartphones, tablets or dedicated eye-goggles. It differs from virtual reality, which replaces real-world views with more or less completely simulated ones.
Steffen Sorrell, an analyst with technology market research firm Juniper Research, said Apple, which builds custom computer chips it uses in a range of products, could incorporate Metaio's intellectual property to differentiate its products.
Potential applications using Metaio's low-power consumption technology could include mobile handsets and smart glasses, Sorrell speculated. In mobile phones, the Apple-Metaio combination could pose a challenge to current market leader Qualcomm, which owns augmented-reality maker Vuforia.
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Metaio executives didn't respond to requests for comment, and Apple issued a statement but provided no details. "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purpose or plans," the statement said.