Apple has joined a group of companies investing in OLED microdisplay maker eMagin, believed to be part of Apple’s overall virtual and augmented reality hardware strategy. LG, Valve, Immerex, and Stillwater Holdings have all joined in on the investment with Apple, which is said to be worth up to a total of $10.6 million (via TechCrunch).
eMagin confirmed the investment, stating that it will use the money for “working capital and general corporate purposes.” The company created “a new kind of display” to use in VR headsets that allows for sharper images, which it believes will help fuel the “next generation” of AR and VR devices.
eMagin’s technology is notable in that it has created a new kind of display that can be used in VR headsets, which provides a sharper image by using a denser layout of lines (versus the pixels commonly used in existing products). This helps reduces the so-called “screen door” effect on the display and makes what you see up close through the headset much sharper.
“We believe that our direct patterning technology is a key differentiator for enabling next generation AR/VR hardware for the consumer and enterprise segments because of the brightness and the pixel density afforded by the technology,” the company notes.
For Apple, the last few years have seen a ramp up in the hiring of talent and acquisitions of companies that all revolve around its AR/VR efforts. Since 2015, Apple has purchased several companies in this area, but some acquisitions date back even further. A few of these AR/VR acquisitions made by Apple include companies like Metaio, Faceshift, Emotient, Flyby Media, RealFace, and VRvana.
Apple has already put the technology behind Faceshift to use with Animoji in iPhone X, but outside of software the company’s plans for a hardware product in the AR/VR space remain unclear. Right now, plans for a pair of “smart glasses” or VR headset are believed to be in prototype stages, so if they do ever launch it will still be a few years down the road. More recently, a report suggested that Apple is ramping up development on an AR headset running a new operating system called “rOS.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that any AR/VR hardware from Apple is a few years away because “the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way.” At the time, Cook said that one of the biggest challenges for building such an AR headset today would be the display technology required to make it work, suggesting the new eMagin investment could be helping Apple in this area. One of the last major reports regarding Apple’s interest in AR hardware was the company’s meeting with potential AR glasses suppliers, said to have happened at CES last month.