Last week in VR/AR: iPhone 7, Snapchat and a hedgehog

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The biggest develops in VR/AR last week weren’t directly in the field, but in seemingly unrelated industries. Mostly importantly, the highly anticipated announcement of the iPhone 7 hints at a (near) future of mobile technology embracing new forms of reality. For, Az Balabanian wrote, “…the micro-innovations in Apple’s optical technology, computer vision, machine learning, and wireless audio iphone-7make iPhone 7 a device with all the right hardware upon which to build an Augmented Reality platform.” While the phone has increased processing power and longer battery life, its two rear 12-megapixel cameras might be the most
ambitious innovation. It is able to both zoom and show shallow depth of field in ways previously limited to DSLR cameras. But what does this mean for VR (besides speculations around the disappearance of the headphone jack)? The dual lens camera allows subjects to be in focus while photo backgrounds are blurred, a style commonly used in portrait photography. This technique, called bokeh, is based on the same principles that virtual reality headsets use for rendering imagery. While Samsung’s handsets already have brighter, higher resolution OLED displays than the iPhone, this move by Apple follows comments from CEO Tim Cook earlier this year almost hinting at where the company is focusing concerning VR and AR: “In terms of VR, I don’t think it’s a niche. It’s really cool and has some interesting applications.”

Social platform Snapchat might also be shifting into the VR/AR space with nsyfspld0-copyews that it has joined the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). Any company planning on releasing hardware using the technology has to register. But this could be part of  “some sort of wearable that either enhances the experience you see in the traditional app or perhaps offers its own standalone version of it, like an AR headset or glasses.” In 2014, Snapchat acquired Vergence Labs, which was developing a project Similar to Google Glass. It continued its development into AR/VR in June of this year when it acquired Seene, a 3D model capture company that can place humans in virtual realties through accurate face mapping.

Both of these projects are part of a larger movement towards increased accessibility to VR/AR technology. Although at the moment, it is still too expensive for most people, with a high-end virtual reality experience costing at least $1,600. But this is changing as companies like Google are working to provide more affordable alternatives for quality content. In the next few weeks, Google will release a Daydream VR platform, which includes VR videos and apps, according to Bloomberg.


In entertainment news,  Henry, an animated shot about a hedgehog, became the first VR project to win an Emmy. Produced by Oculus Story Studio, part of the Oculus headset company, the movie won Outstanding Original Interactive Program. Director Ramiro Lopez Dau told Mashable the film was an experiment in making an audience care for Henry, whose spines make it impossible for him to give hugs.

“VR storytelling is so early in its life, so we really wanted to answer the basic questions for storytelling: can you feel empathy for the character?” Dau said. “Before even knowing if we could tell a story, we wanted to test the empathy and connection.”

For fun: Think becoming an astronaut is easy? This 360 video from NASA shows some of the underwater training required to prepare for a spacewalk.


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