CEO Tim Cook isn’t the only one at Apple interested in virtual reality

Tim Cook thinks virtual reality is cool, and it looks like his company does, too.

“In terms of virtual reality, no, I don’t think it’s a niche,” the Apple CEO said during yesterday’s earnings call, in response to an analyst’s question. “It’s really cool and has some interesting applications.”

And that was about all he said on the subject. But some other key information points toward a growing interest in VR for the Cupertino-based computer company, including one of its most recent hires.

According to the Financial Times, Apple recently brought on Doug Bowman, a former computer science professor from Virginia Tech who studied 3D user interface design and its use in virtual environments.

Apple also acquired a virtual reality company last year, and has been looking for VR developers since 2014. But if the company is working on a virtual- or augmented-reality product, it’s already got competition.

Facebook’s Oculus is getting ready to ship its first consumer product in March, with HTC’s Vive shipping a month after that. And Microsoft is also working on something a little more futuristic with the HoloLens, which aims to combine virtual elements with the real world in augmented reality. But Apple is usually pretty secretive, holding off announcing new products until the consumer versions are ready.

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Of course, whenever Apple isn’t seen publicly working on something, analysts start to worry. First it was a bigger phone. Then it was a TV and a watch. Now, Apple must make a virtual reality headset to compete with its rivals, at least if you believe the analysts.

But Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who prompted Cook to talk about VR, was also adamant that Apple get into building full TV sets for years before the most recent incarnation of the Apple TV showed up, sans the screen Munster practically demanded.

While Munster’s comments, along with those from other Apple watchers, may seem a little more reasonable when talking about VR, it’s not impossible that Apple may decide to dump VR in favor of focusing talent on a car. So if you’re looking to jump into some virtual worlds, you may not want to hold out for iVR.

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