Apple has a team of hundreds of engineers working on a way to bring augmented reality technologies to future iPhones, potentially starting with the 2017 handset, due in September, and including features similar to those of Snapchat.
The news, passed to the press by Apple insiders speaking on grounds of anonymity, comes after company boss Tim Cook has repeatedly sung the praises of augmented reality (AR), believing the technology has a more promising future than that of virtual reality (VR).
Speaking to the well-connected Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, the unnamed sources said Apple has a team of hundreds of engineers devoted to developing AR technologies, including some who are members of the iPhone camera team and working on AR in conjunction with future versions of the smartphone.
The report states: "One of the features Apple is exploring is the ability to take a picture and then change the depth of the photograph or the depth of specific objects in the picture later; another would isolate an object in the image, such as a person's head, and allow it to be tilted 180 degrees."
While flipping someone's head over doesn't sound like the most groundbreaking of image manipulation technology, another use of AI by Apple makes more sense. "A different feature in development would use augmented reality to place virtual effects and objects on a person," the report adds. "Much in the way Snapchat works."
It isn't clear if these features will be coming to the next iPhone, which is due to be revealed sometime in September, but they do tally with claims by the reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who said the 2017 iPhone will have a "revolutionary" camera.
Bringing Snapchat-style features to the iPhone is a surefire way to win over picture-sharing millennials, and for Apple to get its foot in the AR door. It is being speculated that Apple would use technology inherited during its acquisition of the Israeli company PrimeSense in 2013. To help make its AR dreams a reality Apple has hired numerous engineers from Microsoft's HoloLens team and Oculus, the Facebook-owned manufacturer of the Rift VR headset.
Cook said about AR in February 2017: "Most people won't want to lock themselves out from the world for a long period of time and today you can't do that because you get sick from it," he said. "With AR you can, not be engrossed in something, but have it be a part of your world, of your conversation. That has resonance."
Looking further ahead, the same Apple insiders say it is working on a pair of AR-enhanced glasses, perhaps similar to Google Glass and the HoloLens, although little is known about this product for now.