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Apple wins patent for a head-mounted iPhone virtual reality display

In a concept similar to Samsung's Gear VR, Apple has been awarded a patent for a device that would allow an iPhone to serve as the display for a portable virtual reality headset.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple U.S. Patent No. 8,957,835, entitled "Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display." It describes a portable electronic device that could have an iPhone inserted into it and worn on the user's head.

The iPhone maker first filed for the invention in September of 2008. In its application, the company noted that a wired connection to a head-mounted display could prove inconvenient.

The company's solution "temporarily integrates or merges both mechanically and electronically a head-mounted device with a portable electronic device." Illustrations accompanying the patent show a new head-mounted hardware accessory that would have an iPhone inserted into it.

"The frame may place a display screen of the portable electronic device in front of the user's eyes," the patent reads. "The display screen of the portable electronic device may act as the primary display screen of the head-mounted device."

Apple's concept also includes a remote control that the user could keep in their hand, allowing them to manipulate the content on the screen while their eyes are obscured by the iPhone display.

The invention from Apple is very similar to the Gear VR launched by Samsung late last year. That product uses the company's Galaxy Note 4 "phablet" smartphone to power a head-worn virtual reality accessory.

Samsung's Gear VR was designed in collaboration with Oculus, makers of the beta Rift VR headset. The Gear VR is also a beta product at the moment, allowing developers to test and create applications for the new device.

Samsung is also dabbling in the virtual reality space with Project Beyond, a 360-degree camera for recording VR content. Unveiled last fall, Project Beyond allows Gear VR users to view content generated from the 3D capturing device, which relies on 16 full-HD cameras.

Apple, however, has shown less public interest in virtual reality. Despite the newly awarded patent, the company has yet to signal it has any proprietary virtual reality hardware or software in the works.

Still, in terms of intellectual property, the Cupertino, Calif., company has patented a number of inventions related to optics, design and accessories. The company also owns properties dealing with head tracking and augmented reality.

The latest Apple head-mounted display patent is credited to inventor Quin C. Hoellwarth.