Apple says AR will be the next big thing – and Wellington figures in its plans

At least one Weta staffer has already jumped ship for Apple.

Augmented reality (AR) will be the next big thing, according to Apple chief executive Tim Cook, whose plans seem to involve Silicon Welly.

 “I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don't have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone,” Mr Cook said in a recent interview with The Independent.

“I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives. And be entertaining. I view AR like I view the silicon here in my iPhone, it’s not a product per se, it’s a core technology.”

Today, a Bloomberg report said Mr Cook is not just talking the talk – he’s hiring as part of a big Apple push into AR.

Quoting un-named insiders, the news agency says Apple has opened an office in Wellington as part of its AR project, the better to poach talent from Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta. AR features for the iPhone and, down the track, AR glasses are said to be part of Apple's plans.

A quick stalk of public LinkedIn profiles shows there’s at least one ex-Weta staffer, one Richard Dorling - a technical Oscar winner for his work on The Hobbit - who is still based in Wellington but now lists himself as an Apple software development engineer (Mr Dorling did not immediately respond to NBR’s message; Apple’s closest publicly listed office is in Sydney. Apple declined to comment).

Other than that trace of evidence, however, folk in Silicon Valley are scratching their heads, wondering, Where is this office and who’s working for it. (Any goss is welcome in Comments below.)

New Zealand Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Association chairman Matt Coleman says he hasn’t heard anything.

Wellington IT blogger Ian Apperley says while he hasn't heard anything either, he says he wouldn't be surprised if it was true.

He says he has heard rumours that staff are leaving Weta. The pay is not great, he says; people are there for the experience and would be open to offers from a company with a big chequebook, he says -- especially if there's an exciting "edge" technology like AR involved.

AR hits and misses
Augmented reality involves over-laying graphics on a see-through screen for an immersive effect that makes it seem like they're objects in the room with you, or overlaying them on real-time video footage of your surroundings, as captured by your cellphone’s camera.

So far there’s been a high-profile AR success -- Nintendo and Google’s collaboration on the wildly popular Pokemon Go, and a high-profile failure – Google’s creepy Glass spectacles.

In between, there are lots of little stabs here and there with AR, while Microsoft is in the early stages of trying to introduce it as a serious tool in areas like industrial design with its pricey HoloLens.

IT industry veteran was Brett Roberts was quick to fire off a cheeky tweet that Apple might have bought Wellington-based Kiwi startup, 8i, which also maintains an office in LA.

That theory is gaining some currency, but 8i is involved in the more immersive field of virtual technology, which Mr Cook is cool on in his Independent interview.

It’s also been noted that Weta Digital has moved into the AR/VR area by dint of its partnership with US company Magic Leap, backed in part by Google.

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