Apple's AR/VR plans teased by reference to 'realityOS' in App Store code

Apple VR
(Image credit: Future)

It's a fair bet that Apple is building a mixed reality headset

As per normal, Apple is saying nothing about future plans beyond CEO Tim Cook expressing interest in augmented and virtual reality.  But all the signs are there, from the hires to the leaks and more recently, the possibility of a standalone operating system devoted to VR and AR: realityOS.

Some programmers spotted the term in Apple App Store upload logs, posted the code screens to Twitter, and then 9to5Mac picked up on it. The references have since been scrubbed from the code, which gives even more credence to the notion that it was a slip-up on Apple's part (or maybe one of their partners).

If realityOS is real, it's another indication that Apple is moving forward with VR/AR projects which most likely include dedicated hardware. 

The introduction of almost every single new Apple product category has led to a bespoke OS. There's:

  • macOS for the Mac
  • iOS for the iPhone
  • watchOS for the Apple Watch
  • iPadOS for the iPad
  • tvOS for Apple TV

Naturally, an Apple MR (mixed reality) headset would get its own platform as well.

There's also been some conjecture that the realityOS, if it exists, would be based on iOS. It's a safe assumption since the headgear will need a power-sipping, mobile-friendly platform, one that splits the difference between the touch-friendly interface of the iPhone and the mostly-hands-off approach for watchOS. 

If realityOS is built on iOS, though, Apple will have to decide between using its current A-series mobile CPUs found in the iPhone (A15 Bionic) or one of the new M-series chips it's adding to its desktops and laptops.

Whichever processor it uses, we imagine realityOS will respond to a combination of head movements, eye-tracking (for intention), and touch sensitivity on the headset itself.

It's also possible that the early headgear might not have an incredibly lightweight OS, since it could draw most of its computing power from a wirelessly connected iPhone.

Analysis: When could we see Apple's MR headset?

Rumors are currently split between us seeing Apple's first attempts at AR/VR headgear by WWDC 2022 and the technology slipping into 2023. This being a completely new category for Apple, we're certain they won't show us anything until it's both eye-popping and ready to demonstrate live at least to an online virtual audience.

And there is no real rush here. We're in the early days of the VR and AR revolution. The Metaverse is a crazy dream that Apple is happy to sit back and watch as competition and competitors chase it like so many lemmings running to a cliff.

Not that Apple isn't keeping an eye on all the activity. During last month's Apple Earnings call, Cook said this about the prospect of the Metaverse, "That’s a big question. We're a company in the business of innovation. Always exploring new and emerging innovation. This area is very interesting to us. We have 14K AR apps in the App Store. We see a lot of potential in the space..."

From a consumer perspective, Apple remains focused on augmented reality and all the ways its current hardware lineup can enable it (cameras, LiDAR sensors, and powerful onboard neural processing). It'll likely extend those capabilities as far as it can before officially unveiling anything like realityOS.

Lance Ulanoff
US Editor in Chief

A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.