Apple wins patent for virtual reality goggles

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Apple has been granted a patent for an iPhone-compatible headset, sparking speculation the company might be looking to compete against Google and Samsung in the rapidly evolving virtual reality (VR) market.

The patent for a "head-mounted display" would allow the user to slot an iPhone into the device and view whatever is on the screen through the headset.

While the filing does not explicitly mention virtual reality – the simulation of a physical presence in virtual worlds -- analysts said Apple was likely to be working towards this area, although it could be some time away.

"It would be astonishing for Apple not to be investigating VR," Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS, told CNBC by phone. Apple did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Samsung has already produced a similar headset – the Gear VR – which works with a Samsung smartphone.

VR jobs

A browse through Apple's job listings also indicates a focus on virtual reality.

A programmer role posted six days ago calls for someone to develop VR and augmented reality software and tools for Apple's "next generation of products". The Cupertino, CA-based technology giant is also seeking a game engineer to work on virtual reality and augmented reality -- when digital images are superimposed on real-life surroundings

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Apple is yet to release a virtual reality product, despite some of its competitors making big strides in the area. Facebook acquired VR gaming headset-maker Oculus Rift last year for $2 billion. Samsung unveiled the Gear VR last year, and Google has released a similar headset called Cardboard.

Microsoft stepped up its efforts in the area when it revealed its HoloLens augmented reality headset, which projects a holographic image which users can physically interact with.

"What Apple typically does is…the primary research, looks to the future and only brings product the market when it thinks it delivers a compelling experience," Fogg said, explaining Apple's possible strategy.

Remote controlled

The patent shows images of a goggle-like device that fits on the eyes like glasses. One image shows the planned device being controlled by a remote.

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A virtual reality headset has clearly been in the thoughts of Apple's designers for some time, as the patent was originally filed in September 2008. As with all patents, there is no guarantee the product will necessary come to market in this form.

As well as relying on the solid sales of its iPhone, recent reports suggest that Apple is also looking at other new areas, for example driverless cars-- an area that technology companies and major automakers are increasingly focusing on