UI concept for VR iPhone case Pinć from Cordon Labs

Apple has recently hired a lead engineer from Microsoft’s HoloLens team, leading to more speculation that it could be working on its own augmented reality project behind the scenes.

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster first spotted the change of positions for Nick Thompson, who was reportedly previously leading audio hardware engineering efforts for Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality project:

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“Based on recent acquisitions of augmented reality companies, hiring of a key Microsoft Hololens employee, and conversations with industry contacts within the virtual and augmented reality spaces, we believe Apple has a team exploring the AR space,” Munster said in a note to clients today.

According to Thompson’s LinkedIn, he’s now been at Apple since July, but he was also previously with Apple for 7 years prior to working at Microsoft where he worked on audio features of Mac and Apple TV products.

It’s certainly not the first hint that Apple might be interested in gaining experience and talent in the augmented reality space. The company confirmed an acquisition of augmented reality software makers Metaio earlier this year just days after we reported that Apple was planning an augmented reality feature for its Maps app alongside iOS 9. The feature would allow users to hold up their iPhone in the Maps application, and point their camera toward a particular business or point of interest to get a virtual overlay in the app with related information.

Yet another clue came from recent job listings that we discovered earlier this year and late last year showing Apple is looking to hire engineers with virtual and augmented reality experience.

Apple picked up around 171 patents in its acquisition of Metaio, as noted by Munster, while the analyst notes that the technology Apple acquired from motion sensor company PrimeSense back in 2013 could also come in handy for its augmented reality ambitions. That technology, however, could benefit a next-generation Apple TV expected to include motion controls of some sort in a revamped remote control.

It’s all still speculation at this point, but unless Apple has other plans for the technology and new hires from Microsoft’s HoloLens team, it appears it does have the building blocks in place to develop its own virtual or augmented reality platform or at least to integrate features into its existing products. 

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