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Amazon Takes a Trip In Virtual and Augmented Reality

November 27, 2017, 10:14 PM UTC

Amazon wants a part of the nascent markets for virtual and augmented reality.

The retail giant debuted software tools on Monday called Amazon (AMZN) Sumerian that are intended to help coders more easily build virtual reality and augmented reality apps using 3D computer graphics.

With virtual reality, people wear headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift to immerse themselves in digital worlds. In augmented reality, on the other hand, people use their smartphones to see digital images overlaid onto the physical world.

Amazon pitches Sumerian as a way to build 3D-powered apps and games that can run on some VR headsets like the Rift and HTC Vive, as well as on Apple products like the iPhone or iPad. Amazon plans to make its tools compatible with Google’s (GOOG) AR software tools for Android-powered devices soon, but it didn’t say when.

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Sumerian’s interface resembles conventional photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop. People can choose from a library of digital graphics like tables, trees, and rugs, and then insert them into their own digital environments.

Amazon Sumerian; from Amazon

The ability to drag-and-drop digital objects and create 3-D animated scenes makes Sumerian comparable to video gaming engines like Unity and Unreal. Companies including Fidelity Investments use these gaming engines to build virtual reality apps for corporate training, for example.

Although sales of VR headsets are much smaller than what analysts originally predicted, tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft believe that the technology will eventually catch on as headset prices decline along with the cost of the personal computers needed to power them.

Many companies also believe that AR will growth into a big business. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that the current AR market is akin to Apple’s (AAPL) app store in 2008, when it debuted, but before it really took off.

Amazon announced Sumerian as part of its Amazon Web Services annual cloud computing event in Las Vegas.