Apple's virtual reality software may have a new name — could a launch happen soon?

apple vr and mixed reality headset fan render front view on blue background
(Image credit: Ian Zelbo)

It's not exactly clear when the Apple AR/VR headset will make its big debut. But based on a new report, we do have a better idea of what Apple plans to call the software powering the headset.

Mark Gurman of Bloomberg reports that Apple has changed the name of its virtual reality operating system to xrOS. The new name replaces realityOS which had surfaced as a possible name earlier this year when a trademark for that moniker surfaced.

Gurman's report, which cites "people with knowledge of the matter," reveals more than just Apple's internal debate about what to call the software that will ship with its headset. It seemingly confirms the feature set of the headset itself.

Apple's initial foray into the virtual space is thought to be a headset that will support both virtual reality and augmented reality. The former describes more immersive experiences that place you within a virtual world while the latter superimposes graphics and information upon the real world in front of you. That approach is often referred to as mixed reality, or XR for short — hence, Apple's apparent adoption of the xrOS name.

By embracing mixed reality, an Apple-built headset could let users check mail, see notifications float up in front of them and get directions superimposed in their line of sight without cutting off the rest of the world. The headset could also double as a venue for more immersive apps, too, though Apple reportedly isn't putting a focus on games the way Meta has with some of its VR headsets.

Gurman describes the move to the xrOS name as another sign that Apple is moving toward a release date for the long-rumored headset. Rumors tip the headset for a 2023 release, though it's unclear if that would be earlier in the year or not.

Apple's spring launch events tend to introduces new Macs and iPads, though it's been occasionally known to trot out a new iPhone SE model in the first few months of a new year. A product like Apple's headset, though, would seem a better choice for Apple's annual developer conference, especially if Apple wants to get xrOS in the hands of app makers to create software in support of the new device.

This is just speculation on our part, but we could easily see the Apple VR/AR headset and its accompanying xrOS software get a preview at the Worldwide Developers Conference, which is traditionally held in June. A full launch would happen later in the year. That's the pattern Apple's used when it's entered a new product category in the past, such as 2010's iPhone debut and the 2015 launch of the Apple Watch.

xrOS would support more than just Apple's rumored headset. The company is also said to be working on Apple Glass smart eyewear, though those aren't expected until 2024 at the earliest.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.