​Apple snaps up augmented reality firm Metaio

The race to dominate augmented reality is heating up with Apple buying AR firm Metaio.

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Apple has acquired Metaio, a German-founded firm whose augmented reality technology is used developers and enterprise customers.

It seems an analyst's prediction earlier this year that Apple was tinkering with augmented reality was on the money, with Metaio allowing Apple to expand its AR experiments. The deal was officially closed last week, according to this document.

Apple issued its standard statement on lower-value acquisitions: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purpose or plans," the company told ZDNet.

According to TechCrunch, Metaio was spun out of a project at Volkswagen and launched in 2003. Signs that a change was underway at the company emerged last month when it cancelled its user conference in San Francisco, the publication reported.

Metaio claimed to serve over 140,000 developers who have published 50,000 apps using its technology. Some of the larger clients that have built apps using its AR software include Ikea, Mitsubishi, Audi and Lego. Ikea used Mateio to use AR to bridge its print catalogue and its catalogue application.

As happens with many small companies Apple buys, the firm's website is now offline and the company isn't taking on new customers. It's has also announced on its LinkedIn page that its products and subscriptions are no longer available for purchase.

Apple is also working on a project to bring an augmented reality view called Browser Around Me to its maps for local listings, 9to5Mac reported earlier this week. iPhone users will be able to point their device to a cafe, for example, and the Maps app would display a virtual view of its menu. The project sounds similar to Nokia's earlier efforts to bring AR to Here maps.

Apple has also patented a virtual-reality headset designed to fit an iPhone or iPod that like Oculus Rift would envelope the user's vision.

Apple's move on AR comes as Google seeks to build support among developers using its Project Tango tablet, aiming to spawn the next generation of 3D applications for mapping, indoor navigation and gaming.

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