Apple just made it a lot harder for rivals to compete on AR


iPhone 8 Plus
Tim Cook thinks AR is going to be the next big thing in tech.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Expecting Android device makers to rip off Apple’s augmented reality technology any time soon? Not so fast, a new report claims.

Apple’s $390 million payday to TrueDepth sensor maker Finisar this week will reportedly help lock out rival companies like Samsung and Huawei from competing with its augmented reality ambitions, by giving Apple first dibs on the necessary components.

The cash injection will help Finisar with R&D, high volume production of the vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) used in Face ID, and opening a new production facility in Texas, creating more than 500 jobs. However, it also means that Apple will get better deals on the AR hardware Finisar makes — thereby making it harder for Android devices to challenge the iPhone.

According to Loup Venture analyst Gene Munster, the money will enable Apple to, “get better supply and better pricing, and [make] it more difficult for Android phones to compete.”

The $390 million sum was taken from Apple’s $1 billion+ fund intended to help U.S. manufacturing. But Finisar says it isn’t so much an investment so much as a contribution toward, “anticipated future business between the companies over a period of time.”

The lasers made by Finisar are critical for high quality AR since they allow for in-depth 3D mapping. They are also incredibly rare with very few supply chain sources able to provide them. In the current calendar quarter, ending December 31, Apple has reportedly bought more than 10x as many of the lasers as had ever been manufactured over a similar time frame.

“If you’re Samsung today, you’re thinking, who can do these types of VSCEL arrays? I don’t know of anybody else [outside of Finisar and other Apple suppler Lumentum0,” Munster told Reuters. “It’s a little bit of a tough spot for them.”

Tim Cook has been clear that Apple is highly interested in augmented reality, which he thinks will be even more popular than virtual reality. In addition to Apple’s ARKit platform for iOS, Apple is reportedly working on its own standalone AR headset.