Apple renames Mixed-Reality software ‘xrOS’ in sign headset is approaching

Apple Inc is working on a mixed reality headset, its first major new product category since the Apple Watch, and has renamed its software in the latest sign of an impending debut. The company plans to introduce the headset as early as next year, along with a dedicated operating system and an app store for third-party software, according to those in the know.

Internally, the company recently changed the operating system’s name to “xrOS” from “realityOS,” the people said, asking not to be identified because the project is still classified.

The new software name is a nod to the headset’s mixed reality capabilities. “XR” stands for Extended Reality, a term that encompasses both augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality superimposes images and virtual information on the real world, while virtual reality is an all-encompassing experience for gaming and video watching.

Apple‘s push into the market leads to a confrontation with Meta Platforms Inc., the owner of Facebook and Instagram, which is betting on the other way around in part to reduce reliance on Apple devices. The move is also part of an eternal search for Apple’s next big thing. With the Apple Watch, released in 2015, the company turned its wearables division into one that now generates more than 10% of its sales — a contribution of $41.2 billion in the past fiscal year.

A representative for Cupertino, California-based Apple declined to comment on its headset plans.

The mixed reality operating system will offer new versions of core apps, such as Messages and Maps, and will work with a software development kit that third parties can use to create their own apps and games, Bloomberg News reports. The headset and accompanying operating system and apps were developed within what the company calls its Technology Development Group, or TDG, a secretive unit led by executive Mike Rockwell. The operating system is overseen by Geoff Stahl, a senior engineering manager and nearly 24-year Apple veteran who has led gaming and graphics software.

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Recent job postings have revealed that Apple is looking to create its own 3D-based mixed-reality world. Those with knowledge of the company’s plans have said the device will offer virtual collaboration tools and a VR version of FaceTime, rivaling services like Zoom and Meta’s Horizon Workrooms. Apple recently brought in the lead engineering for its iWork productivity apps, the Notes app, and Apple News to work on the headset.

When Apple began developing the operating system about seven years ago, the company internally referred to it as “realityOS” — or “rOS” for short. Apple recently started referring to the software as “xrOS” within the company. The new name, as opposed to the more generic-sounding “reality” moniker, could help Apple lay claim to the burgeoning mixed-reality market.

Around the same time as the name change, a secretive shell company called Deep Dive LLC filed an application to trademark the “xrOS” brand in several international countries and is trying to secure the name in the US. If Apple is indeed behind the filings, that suggests it’s considering using “xrOS” as its public product name as well.

Deep Dive, which was registered by yet another shell company in 2017, first applied for the name in Switzerland in March. It recently expanded registrations to UK, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Ukraine, Philippines, Australia, Japan, Canada and the European Union. In September, a law firm representing Deep Dive filed against a US trademark application in March for the xrOS name by an unrelated Chinese company.

The shell company filed the trademark claims for classifications that include “head-mounted displays” and devices that provide “virtual reality and augmented reality experiences.” Those same ratings were used last year for the original trademark of the “realityOS” name.

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Trademarking a name through a shell company in several other countries follows Apple’s usual strategy for establishing a brand, although the decision to start in Switzerland is somewhat odd. Apple typically files for trademarks in countries like Jamaica, Liechtenstein, or Trinidad and Tobago, where the public doesn’t have easy access to registrations.

For example, Apple recently trademarked the “Dynamic Island” name of the iPhone 14 Pro in Jamaica. But the applications for “Reality One” and “Reality Pro” – possible names for the headset itself – are also available online, as is the application for “realityOS”. In both cases, Apple was behind the charges, according to people in the know.

Still, there’s no guarantee Apple won’t eventually move on from “realityOS” or some other name as a consumer-facing brand.

Apple wouldn’t be the first company to use the name “xrOS”. By some strange coincidence, Meta had a team of about 300 engineers develop a mixed-reality operating system of the same name. But that company doesn’t seem to be behind the latest trademark filings.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has touted his interest in augmented reality in recent years, and the company has built a related platform called ARKit that allows iPhones and iPads to run AR apps.

The first device in the space is expected to be much more expensive than existing mainstream competitors and will feature ultra-high-resolution screens for VR and several external cameras to handle the AR elements. It will also have hand-tracking capabilities and run a processor based on the M2 chip – the component used in the company’s latest Macs.

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As a sign of development progress, Apple presented a preview of the device to the board of directors earlier this year.

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