Apple bought a company that makes lenses for AR smart glasses

Apple has acquired a company that specializes in building lenses for smart glasses that can display augmented reality images overtop the real world. Reuters said that Apple likely purchased the company, Akonia Holographics, sometime earlier this year.

Akonia describes its augmented reality lenses as “thin,” “transparent,” and capable of displaying “vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images.” As of two years ago, the company told VentureBeat that it was targeting a 60-degree field of view — which is small and less than most virtual reality headsets. But the company also described its lens in a way that suggested it offered higher-resolution images than its competitors without putting as many visual obstacles between an eye and the real world.

Apple confirmed the acquisition to Reuters in its usual manner of not detailing why it bought the company. But the reason is hardly a secret: Apple has been moving quickly on developing augmented reality tech — you can already see it at work inside the iPhone — and the company is said to be working on an augmented reality headset, which Bloomberg reported could come out in 2020. Akonia’s lens tech (or its patent portfolio) will likely be a part of whatever Apple ends up making.

Akonia has been around since 2012, but it didn’t start working on augmented reality lenses until about two years ago. According to VentureBeat, Akonia was first set on creating a holographic storage medium — as best as I can tell, it was some kind of futuristic take on CDs — but eventually, it realized that wasn’t working. Around the same time, it also realized that augmented reality had a good chance of taking off, so the company changed gears and began working on lenses.

A lot of that is because of Apple. Tim Cook has publicly been very bullish on AR, calling it “a big idea, like the smartphone,” meaning it’s something that everyone will one day end up using. “I think AR is that big, it’s huge,” he said.

Apple’s AR tech has been developing surprisingly fast for what’s currently just one of many features on the iPhone and iPad. It’s capable of locking virtual objects in place, scaling them as you move around the room, and even letting users interact with them and play games. Few people are actually using this tech on a regular basis, but it seems clear that Apple is putting the tech in place for some much bigger purpose down the road.