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What is xrOS? Apple’s upcoming AR/VR software explained

Apple is hard at work on its heavily rumoured AR/VR headset behind closed doors at Apple Park, but what about the software that powers it? Rumours are swirling about the upcoming software, dubbed xrOS, ahead of its expected reveal at WWDC 2023. 

While Apple is yet to even tease the software officially, we know key information about the software powering the company’s first AR/VR headset courtesy of online leaks and rumours. Here’s everything there is to know about xrOS right now ahead of its expected reveal in the coming weeks. 

What is xrOS?

xrOS essentially stands for Extended Reality Operating System, with extended reality representing both the VR and AR capabilities of Apple’s rumoured upcoming headset that’ll run the software. 

With Apple yet to even tease the software or the hardware it’ll be running on, we don’t know a lot officially about what xrOS is or what it does just yet – but leaks and rumours give us a basic understanding of what’s on offer.

It’s said that xrOS will sport an iOS-esque interface that resembles the look of an iPhone or iPad, allegedly in a bid to make it easy for existing Apple users to get to grips with. That’s complete with a Home screen with rearrangeable app icons and even customisable widgets. 

The headset software is also said to include a redesigned version of Apple apps including Messages and Maps, with a software development kit for third-party apps rumoured to be released at WWDC 2023. 

While that’s not a huge amount to go on for now, we’ll no doubt be finding out much more about xrOS in the coming weeks… 

Ian Zelbo Apple VR headset render
Image Credit: Ian Zelbo

What happened to RealityOS?

While it seems that Apple has settled on xrOS for the official name of the software powering its upcoming AR/VR headset, another name was thrown around for a while: RealityOS.

The RealityOS branding was first revealed by Bloomberg way back in 2017, and for a while, it looked like that was going to be the official name. Subsequent leaks all dubbed the software RealityOS, and Apple even trademarked the name in a few countries in May 2022 ahead of what was expected to be a WWDC 2022 launch. 

However, it seems like RealityOS, or simply Reality, were internal codenames for the software whilst in development. For the final launch, it seems Apple wants to go for something shorter and simpler, with multiple xrOS trademarks appearing online in the past couple of months. 

Let’s be honest, RealityOS combined with the rumoured Reality One branding of the headset did seem a bit… much, didn’t it? 

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When will xrOS be announced?

While Apple is yet to officially confirm the existence of either xrOS or the upcoming AR/VR headset running the software, rumours are swirling online. The good news? We might finally be about to see the headset unveiled at WWDC 2023, Apple’s yearly developer-focused keynote where it tends to reveal new software and the occasional hardware surprise.

The headset was initially rumoured to launch sometime in Spring 2023, likely around April, but unforeseen internal issues allegedly forced Apple to delay plans for its announcement. 

According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who has a pretty good track record of release date announcement predictions, Apple is now gearing up to announce the headset and its accompanying software at WWDC 2023 on 5 June 2023 alongside iOS 17, iPadOS 17 and more.  

Given the AR/VR theme of the WWDC invite, with an arc of rainbow colours potentially teasing either the headset itself or the field of vision users will see when donning the headset, a WWDC 2023 reveal seems almost certain at this point. 

We’ll overhaul this explainer once xrOS is official, so head back in a few weeks to get the official breakdown of Apple’s AR/VR headset software. 

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