The deal was first reported by MacRumors on Monday, which said Apple orchestrated the purchase through a holding company. As is customary, Apple hasn't officially confirmed the deal or its terms beyond a general statement. "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," an Apple spokesperson told TheStreet.
Acquiring SensoMotoric should help Apple bolster its efforts in artificial intelligence and virtual reality -- two areas that the tech giant has become increasingly focused on. At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the company unveiled a slew of ways that it plans to bring the two technologies to Macs, iPads and iPhones. Apple spent a lot of time talking about ARKit, its new augmented reality development platform, that will bring AR capabilities to iOS.
Augmented reality involves layering computer-generated graphics, sounds or GPS data onto real-world environments, including live video. Eye tracking technology makes the process of layering graphics appear more seamless on a user interface, according to SensoMotoric's website. The technology is specially configured to be triggered by a user's eyeballs so that information appears on screen faster in a hands-free experience. SensoMotoric created a version of its eye tracking technology for Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report Google Glass, the HTC Vive VR headset, as well as Facebook Inc.'s (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report Oculus Rift headset, the company said.
Google, Facebook and Snap Inc. (SNAP) - Get Snap, Inc. Class A Report had arguably entered the AR/VR race well ahead of Apple. Google released its Daydream VR headset last October, shortly before it scooped up Eyefluence, a California-based startup that makes eye-tracking interfaces. Meanwhile, Facebook announced several updates to its Oculus headset at the F8 conference in April, while Snap's video-powered Spectacles glasses are expected to pack additional AR features in the future.
Still, Apple took many by surprise with its AR-related announcements and demos at WWDC. Although Apple often isn't the first company to come out with a product in a new category, that hasn't stopped it from being successful in the past. CEO Tim Cook has likened AR to being as big as the smartphone and said that he sees more potential for AR than VR in the long term.
Apple has been rumored to be building some kind of AR-powered smart glasses, but it's unclear what the company's plans are. Jony Ive, Apple's Chief Design Officer, has said that the face is the "wrong place" to put technology and pointed to the failure of Google Glass as evidence for why it doesn't work.