While it’s no surprise that the presence of virtual reality is weaving its way into many sectors of tech, we’re still left waiting to find out how it’ll unfold when it comes to Apple.
Google, Samsung, Sony, and Facebook have all shared their VR plans, but Apple is remaining silent. Well, mostly silent anyway. Yesterday, Apple confirmed to TechCrunch that it had purchased Swiss startup Faceshift, which develops motion-capture technology. Prior to the acquisition, Faceshift focused on producing motion-capture solutions primarily for gaming and film applications. Most notably, the startup has done work for little film called Star Wars.
Faceshift’s tech integrated with cameras capable of capturing and deciphering depth in a space, then used the visual information picked up by the camera to influence the appearances, actions and facial expressions of digital objects like avatars and animated characters.
So, what does Apple want with Faceshift? In typical Apple fashion, it gave a stock non-answer when asked about how it plans to use Faceshift. That leaves us to speculate on how, exactly, Apple plans to leverage the work of the company that helped bring Star Wars characters to life. First, though, let’s talk a little bit about what Faceshift was doing prior to being snatched up by Apple.
Faceshift’s most recognizable and noteworthy work is obviously with Star Wars, but its tech has a number of applications that go beyond visual effects in film. One such application was in avatars.
Though avatars are frequently used in gaming, the recent uptick in interest in virtual reality and augmented reality applications has seen many content companies from game studios to film studios rethinking the way in which we see ourselves represented digitally. No longer are avatars simply a cartoonish representation of our online selves on Xboxes and Playstations — they’ve shown the potential to become key components in the way we perceive ourselves in a digital world.
Faceshift has also dipped its toes into augmented reality, using its tech in conjunction with mirrors. In one instance, FaceShift teamed up with AMVBBDO and Pepsi for an AR-based halloween prank that transformed people’s faces into horrifying It-like clown masks. On the less terror-inducing end of the spectrum, possibilities for Faceshift’s mirror tech included the ability to change or modify one’s appearance digitally in a retail setting. Say, for example, trying on a prospective pair of glasses not available in shop or experimenting with a new kind of makeup.
Taking into consideration some of Apple’s other recent acquisitions like Metaio, some degree of AR-application doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. At its core, augmented reality is about allowing users to interact with digital components in space. Virtual reality, by way of comparison, is an immersive experience — one that replaces your current reality with one that lives inside of a headset rather than adding components to your current perceived reality. It’s worth noting, however, that not all applications of AR look like mirror-based pranks, or even Microsoft’s Hololens.
What an Apple foray into AR would look like is difficult to guess. Microsoft has been implementing AR through Hololens for gaming and design purposes, but much of that comes down to the headset. Though certainly not impossible, there isn’t much to indicate right now that Apple’s planning on producing its own headset hardware.
But the reason behind acquiring Faceshift (or even Metaio) might not be augmented reality-related at all. Maybe it’s got more to do with improving features in existing Apple technology, or something security-related, like using facial recognition and mapping to improve device and information security. Or maybe — highly unlikely, but maybe — Apple intends to create its own space opera films.
For now, it’s anyone’s guess how Faceshift might factor into Apple’s plans for the future. But it almost certainly didn’t acquire Faceshift without some seriously sophisticated plans for motion capture and facial mapping technology. And, like always, we’ll be waiting for Apple to read us in.