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Apple said to have secret virtual-reality team

Apple has been building prototype headsets that could one day rival Facebook's Oculus Rift or Microsoft's Hololens, according to the Financial Times.

Next up for Apple: Virtual reality?
Hugo Ortuño Suárez/Demotix/Corbis

Apple's latest clandestine endeavor could be in virtual reality.

The Cupertino, California, tech giant has assembled a secret research group focused on virtual and augmented reality, according to the Financial Times. Apple's team, which has hundreds of staff, has been building headset prototypes for months, the paper said.

The report follows comments by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who earlier this week signaled his interest in virtual reality.

"I don't think it's a niche," he said during a conference call Tuesday. "It's really cool. It has some interesting applications."

Many of the biggest tech companies are already aggressively pursuing virtual reality. Facebook is on the verge of releasing its long-awaited Oculus Rift headset, while Google's cheap, flat-pack Cardboard goggles have been available since 2014. Sony, Samsung and HTC are also heavily invested in the technology. Microsoft's HoloLens, meanwhile, is aimed at augmented reality, which adds 3D computer-generated scenes to people's view of the real world.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple built up its secret VR team through a "series of carefully targeted acquisitions," the FT reported, citing unnamed sources. Augmented reality startup Flyby Media, which developed technology to let mobile devices "see" the world around them, is the latest to be acquired by Apple, the paper said.

Earlier this month, Apple also acquired specialist face-tracking, emotion-reading company Emotient.

Apple's research team also includes employees "poached" from companies working on virtual-reality headsets including Microsoft and camera startup Lytro, according to the report. Last week, the FT reported Apple hired Virginia Tech professor Doug Bowman, a leading virtual reality and augmented reality researcher in the US.