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Twitter taps former Apple designer to lead its charge into VR

Twitter has let the cat out of the bag regarding its rumored push into virtual and augmented reality with a new acquisition, and an important new hire.

The company has recruited a new executive in the form of ex-Apple designer Alessandro Sabatelli to lead its newly created VR and AR team. Sabatelli shared a tweet on Tuesday announcing that Twitter had acquired his VR-focused company IXOMOXI.

Sabatelli’s LinkedIn profile now lists him as the director of VR and AR at Twitter. He describes the role as “empowering us all in the spatial computing revolution,” reports Upload VR. Twitter has since confirmed the hire, adding that its AR team will be housed within its machine learning arm, Twitter Cortex.

The move comes on the heels of Twitter’s acquisition of Magic Pony Technology, a U.K.-based machine-learning startup specializing in visual processing. With the addition of both Sabatelli, and the Magic Pony team, Twitter Cortex is turning into a sizable VR and AR initiative for the company.

For his part, Sabatelli brings with him his nine years of experience working at Apple, where he served as a designer for its suite of operating systems, including iOS, OSX, and Watch OS. Among the notable projects he worked on at the tech giant were Apple’s YouTube app for iPad, Mission Control for OSX, and the fourth-generation Apple TV.

Sabatelli’s most recent role was CEO at IXOMOXI, which launched a Gear VR app called “Lucy” earlier this year. It catered to festival-goers and allowed users to view a series of psychedelic filters, similar to those available on Snapchat.

Having recently launched a Snapchat-style feature with the introduction of Twitter #Stickers, the social network may have tapped Sabatelli to further emulate its rival’s popular visuals using his AR expertise. Twitter’s interest in music, and live events, is also well documented, and Sabatelli’s experience in creating VR products to fit those occasions may have triggered his recruitment.

Twitter rolled out VR content on its flagship platform earlier this month with the introduction of 360-degree videos for the NBA Finals shot on Samsung’s Gear camera. It may still be lagging behind its rivals Facebook and Snapchat when it comes to both VR and AR, but it just stepped up its game.