Here’s Why Apple Acquired a Small Augmented Reality Startup

August 30, 2018, 1:41 PM UTC

Apple has acquired a small startup with technology that could eventually make its way to a pair of augmented reality glasses.

The tech giant confirmed to Reuters on Wednesday that it acquired Akonia Holographics for an undisclosed sum. Apple didn’t confirm when it made the acquisition, but Reuters believes it might have happened sometime in the first half of the year. In a statement to Reuters, Apple issued its canned response for startup acquisitions, saying that “from time to time,” the company “buys smaller companies.” The spokesperson added that Apple wouldn’t discuss its “purpose or plans” for the acquisition.

Still, it’s not hard to read between the lines.

Akonia Holographics was a company that focused on building displays for augmented reality glasses. According to its website, the company has more than 200 patents on holographics and related materials, potentially giving it an upper-hand in the broader augmented reality marketplace.

Augmented reality describes a technology in which virtual objects are overlaid on the real world. You can interact with both the virtual and physical world and the virtual objects will respond accordingly. Augmented reality is widely viewed as a highly valued future technology. And it might surpass virtual reality in its popularity.

Apple has been investing heavily in augmented reality and has said on numerous occasions over the last several years that it’s going to expand its augmented reality focus. Apple has been rumored to be working on augmented reality glasses, but CEO Tim Cook said recently that the glasses technology isn’t ready yet. Now, industry pundits and analysts believe Apple will release augmented reality glasses in 2020.

Akonia Holographics’ technology, therefore, could play an integral role in Apple’s broader augmented reality ambitions. In many cases, Apple acquires small companies to bundle their technologies in something larger. Apple acquired a startup called PrimeSense in 2013 that built 3D sensing technology, which became the basis for the Face ID face scanner in the iPhone. When Apple acquired Beats in 2014, Beats Music became the basis for Apple Music. Earlier this year, Apple acquired digital magazine app maker Texture in a rumored bid to build a magazine-subscription service.

It would appear that Apple is using the same tack this time around to build out its augmented reality glasses.