Wellington techies abuzz with report of Apple investment

Apple boss Tim Cook says augmented reality is a "great commercial opportunity".
STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS

Apple boss Tim Cook says augmented reality is a "great commercial opportunity".

Apple has opened an office in Wellington to develop augmented reality technology, according to a report which has local technologists buzzing.

Bloomberg reported Apple had lured several employees from Wellington special-effects firm Weta Digital to its venture.

Apple, which has been in the public eye over tax matters, declined to comment.

Former Weta Digital special effects Oscar winners Simon Clutterbuck and Richard Dorling are now working for the firm.

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Apple has been experiencing a slowdown in iPhone sales and chief executive Tim Cook said last year that it would continue to invest heavily in augmented reality.

In its more sophisticated forms, augmented reality involves using glasses with tiny built-in projectors to layer computer-generated animations on to the "real world".

Jessica Manins, direct of ProjectR – a Wellington organisation set up to support virtual and augmented reality businesses and researchers – said she had not heard of Apple's investment in the capital and the report had caused a buzz in the community.

"A few industry people have 'pinged me' about it and everyone was saying "I haven't heard about this'."

But Manins said the report, if confirmed, would not be surprising giving Wellington's growing reputation in the field.

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Apple would be the second US technology powerhouse to use Wellington as a base for developing augmented reality.

Google-backed start-up Magic Leap has partnered with Weta Digital sister-company Weta Workshop to develop games based on the technology and also has an office in the capital.

Weta Workshop chief executive Richard Taylor is a founding director of Magic Leap, which was valued at US$4.5 billion by investors in a funding round.

Magic Leap is currently advertising for game developers in Wellington to build a "mixed reality lightfield game" that promises to deliver "a robot-disintegrating science fiction experience".

Wellington home-grown virtual and augmented reality developer 8i has also attracted overseas interest, last month securing US$27 million (NZ$39m) in investment from Time Warner Investments and Hollywood celebrities.

 - Stuff

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