Is Apple partnering with Valve Software to bring Augmented Reality Glasses to market?

Hey, remember the Steam Box? It was a rumored gaming console/PC that Valve Software (the company behind both gaming franchises such as Half Life and Left 4 Dead as well as the Steam digital distribution service) was said to be working on. That rumor was soundly debunked back in March but last week more Valve hardware speculation cropped up.

It started when someone noticed a pair of hardware-related openings on Valve's job listings page. The listings are for Hardware Engineer - Electronics Engineer and Hardware Engineer - Mechanical and they share this description:

For years, Valve has been all about writing software that provides great gameplay experiences. Now we’re developing hardware to enhance those experiences, and you can be a key part of making that happen. Join our highly motivated team that’s doing hardware design, prototyping, testing, and production across a wide range of platforms. We’re not talking about me-too mice and gamepads here – help us invent whole new gaming experiences.

One of the recommended skills for the Electronics Engineer is "RF and antennas" which suggests some kind of wireless device, though these days that doesn't narrow things down much.

Needless to say, a lot of words were written speculating about what Valve was up to, at least until someone noticed Michael Abrash's blog post that effectively spilled the beans. Abrash has a long history of working in, and writing about, computer graphics and gaming. Now he's at Valve and working on wearable computers. In his words:

By “wearable computing” I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands (think Terminator vision).

Abrash then attempts to temper our excitement:

To be clear, this is R&D – it doesn’t in any way involve a product at this point, and won’t for a long while, if ever – so please, no rumors about Steam glasses being announced at E3. It’s an initial investigation into a very interesting and promising space, and falls more under the heading of research than development.

So OK, at this point we have Valve hiring hardware engineers to work with Michael Abrash on Steam Glasses. But it gets better!

AppleInsider claims that Apple's Tim Cook was seen heading into Valve's headquarters. Why? No one knows for sure, but let's speculate.

Cook went to Valve rather than Valve going to Cook. That suggests to me that he was going to look at some kind of project in Valve's labs that the company either couldn't or wouldn't take to Apple HQ. Otherwise, why would the tail be wagging the dog? Steam is a little company compared to Apple.

Abrash's description of the Steam Glasses sounds an awful lot like Google's Project Glass, doesn't it? I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Project Glass is going to work with Android in some way. My assumption is the glasses will connect wirelessly to an Android phone and the phone will do most of the processing.

If Android has this kind of technology, surely Apple is going to have it as well. Could Tim Cook have been going to Valve to check out the Steam Glasses in order to determine if partnering with Valve to create iGlasses is the smartest way to go?

Again, that's pure speculation and his reason for visiting Valve (assuming he even did) could have been much more mundane. Maybe they talked about somehow integrating Apple's GameCenter with Steam, for instance.

I guess for now all we can do is wait for eventual product announcements in the coming years.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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