Apple isn’t playing in the virtual reality market. At least not yet, but it may still have an effect on the industry even without its own hardware. Earlier this week we covered a patent that discussed a virtual reality headset that can be used with the iPhone. It’s basically the same idea as what Samsung and Oculus are doing with the Gear VR and the Note 4, and the patent may eventually mean legal trouble for some competitors.
A patent attorney speaking to Road to VR recently explained that Apple’s new patent may have “broad ramifications” on the industry. “The language of claim 1 states (in my own words): A HMD [head mounted display] made up of a frame that is adapted to receive a mobile device such that the frame positions the mobile device in front of a user’s eyes and presents visual content to the user, and where the HMD has a detection mechanism that ‘tells’ the mobile device when it is mounted on the HMD,” patent lawyer Eric Greenbaum told Road to VR. “There is a final clause in the claim that involves an optical assembly that makes some adjustment to the image from the mobile device screen. I find the claim language a little bit vague and I’m not completely clear on what it means.”
“This Apple HMD patent is significant. I would say it introduces potential litigation risks for companies that have or are planning to release a mobile device HMD,” Greenbaum explained. In other words, Apple could try to sue other companies for creating similar products that it believes infringe on the patent it now owns. Oculus has its own patents, however, which we suspect it might be offering to Samsung as part of the Gear VR partnership, so this doesn’t mean Apple will necessarily chase after Samsung or Oculus.
Also Greenbaum doesn’t call out the Gear VR, Samsung or Oculus specifically, but he does show that Apple now possesses some power in the space, even if it never decides to sell its own hardware.