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Apple CEO Tim Cook bullish on augmented reality, says company investing in AR tech

Sony's prototype augmented reality glasses.

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During Apple's quarterly conference call for the third fiscal quarter of 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed investments into augmented reality solutions, saying the nascent platform holds "huge" potential.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, whose latest white whale is Apple-branded AR/VR, broached the subject with a reference to the wildly popular Pokémon Go game. By some estimates, the title could generate $3 billion in incremental value for Apple over the next few years.

Cook lauded Nintendo for delivering a compelling app, saying its success is in part thanks to Apple's own iOS ecosystem. He added, however, that the game's AR elements show off what's possible with the new technology.

"AR can be really great," Cook said. "We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run, we think there's great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity. So we're investing."

The Apple chief was less optimistic about AR's future as a standalone computing platform.

"There's a tendency in this industry to call everything the new 'the next computer platform,'" he said. "That said, I think AR can be huge. We'll see whether it's the next platform, but regardless, it will huge."

Distilled to its most basic elements, augmented reality can be described as layer of digital information overlaid onto the physical world, like the camera and screen interface used in Pokémon Go. More immersive technology relies on specialized transparent displays, though these exotic solutions are still in their infancy and as such come at a high price. A number of tech companies are investing in the space, including Google's Glass product and Facebook's Oculus Rift platform.

Apple is also making strategic AR segment purchases like last year's acquisition of motion capture specialist Faceshift and German AR firm Metaio. In addition to outside buys, Apple's patent portfolio shows active research into in-house AR/VR solutions like transparent displays, iPhone-powered virtual reality systems, advanced computer vision tech and more.

For now, however, it seems Apple is content to focus on near-term consumer products, specifically apps and app development.

"The number one thing is to make sure our products work well with other developers' products like Pokémon, that's the reason you see so many iPhones out in the wild right now chasing Pokémon," Cook said.