realityOS — everything we know about Apple’s VR/AR headset software

realityOS for apple headset
(Image credit: Antonio DeRosa)

While there’s plenty of anticipation for the rumored Apple VR/AR headset, there’s just as much reason to wonder about realityOS — or whatever the software powering Apple's expected headset experience will be called.

As much as iOS is integral to the iPhone, realityOS (or perhaps, rOS) will be a major part of using Apple’s first mixed reality headset. In fact, it could be what truly separates Apple’s AR/VR headset from all the other best VR headsets on the market.

References to a reality operating system have been uncovered in versions of Apple’s other software products, while a recent trademark application appears to confirm realityOS as the software’s working name or branding. 

However, there could be some confusion in the nomenclature, as Apple xrOS could also be the name for an operating system for the AR/VR headset. It could be that xrOS is designed for interacting with macOS, while realityOS handles standalone mixed reality duties. 

Most reports point to the headset launch happening in 2023, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see its software earlier or that we won’t hear separate rumors related to realityOS. That’s why we’ve gathered all the intel we know below. 

realityOS possible release date 

There are two scenarios we believe are possible for the realityOS release date or launch date. The first is that realityOS will debut simultaneously with the Apple mixed reality headset. Rumors of the headset being revealed during WWDC 2022 on June 6 have been shot down by multiple Apple analysts, though we have a guide on how to watch WWDC 2022 if you’re still interested in the other software news coming out of that event.

The second option could be that Apple unveils realityOS alongside other software updates, teasing the imminent debut of the headset. This would perhaps tell too much of what the headset can do, but some kind of hint or announcement related to AR or VR isn’t out of the question, especially when it comes to integrations with iOS, watchOS or other Apple software products. What's more, developers will need access to rOS ahead of time if Apple wants to have third-party apps available for its AR/VR gear at launch.

realityOS and Apple AR/VR headset

A lot of what we know so far about Apple’s plans for the mixed reality space pertains to hardware rather than software. The hardware is, presumably, the Apple AR/VR headset that’s expected to launch before Apple Glasses and rival the likes of the Oculus Quest 2, or even Meta’s upcoming Project Cambria.

It’s possible iOS 16 could confirm Apple's AR/VR headset is on the way via references to realityOS. Since we expect the headset to pair with Apple’s existing devices in some capacity, those devices will need a degree of rOS support.

For what it's worth, Apple has reportedly shown off the AR/VR headset to investors, which is a good sign that the product is closer to launch than not. It’s unknown whether the demo included realityOS or other software prototypes, though.

realityOS features we want to see

Unlike with the iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch, we don’t know what’s missing from the experience of a device or software we haven’t tried yet. That said, there are a handful of things we’d want to see in realityOS.

Apple Fitness Plus app: With possible integration with Apple Fitness Plus and the Apple Watch, the Apple headset could be a game changer for fitness. You could use the device during workouts and see your progress as you follow along with personal trainers. Who needs the gym, right?

Apple TV app: Similar to Apple Fitness Plus, we’d want to see Apple TV built into rOS. That way, you could watch shows on Apple TV Plus in virtual reality. Bonus points if Apple adds VR content or elements to the best Apple TV Plus shows and movies for headset users.

Home screen complications: As the Apple Watch has several watch face options, and the iPhone offers widgets, we’d want the realityOS home screen to be customizable whether it be with third-party app complications or widgets. That way, everything we’d want to see is available at a glance.

Continuity: Our biggest hope for realityOS is that it makes the Apple VR/AR headset feel like an extension of other Apple devices. It would be off-brand for Apple to launch hardware that doesn’t sync up seamlessly with the iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac and more. FaceTime, Messages, Apple Arcade and Apple News are some of the native apps that we’d want to see offer “hand-off” options, so to speak.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.