Twitter appears to be joining the effort to popularize virtual reality, following many tech companies including Facebook and Google that are spending big bucks to crack what may be the next big consumer hit.
The troubled social network hired former Apple designer Alessandro Sabatelli this month to head up its efforts in virtual and augmented reality, Twitter said. The new position’s aim is “empowering us all in the spatial computing revolution,” according to Sabatelli’s LinkedIn page. Virtual reality typically surrounds the user with an entire computer-generated environment, while augmented reality imposes some computer-generated images or text onto the physical world.
Sabatelli will head up a newly formed augmented reality team within Twitter Cortex, a spokeswoman for the company told Fortune. Cortex is a team of researchers, engineers, and scientists within Twitter who focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Twitter (TWTR), struggling to reignite user growth under CEO Jack Dorsey, hasn’t said much about its goals for virtual reality. Last fall, former senior vice president of product Kevin Weil at the Recode conference briefly noted that Twitter “can work great in a VR device.”
Apple (AAPL) has also said little about VR in public, although it has made some acquisitions and hires in the field, while Google (GOOGL) has created an inexpensive cardboard VR headset that relies on a user’s smartphone. Both pale in comparison to Facebook’s (FB) $2 billion acquisition of virtual reality gear maker Oculus two years ago.
Still, the market is developing slowly. Both Oculus and smartphone maker HTC have been tardy in delivering early headsets in large quantities. And consumers have been wary given the high prices and required additional investments in powerful PCs. Such delays prompted market tracker Digi-Capital to cut its rather optimistic forecast for VR and AR spending in 2020 to $120 billion, down from an earlier forecast of $150 billion.
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Sabatelli, who left Apple last year after almost 10 years, worked on user interface design for apps on all of the company’s major operating systems including a YouTube app for the iPad, Siri for iOS, and Mission Control for OS X. Earlier he worked on screen savers and iTunes music visualizers.
After leaving Apple, Sabatelli formed his own company, IXOMOXI, to develop virtual reality software for the entertainment industry.
News of Twitter’s hire was reported earlier by the site Upload VR.