Apple Inc. is speeding up work on a mixed-reality headset, its first significant new product category since the Apple Watch, and has renamed the accompanying software in the latest sign of an upcoming debut. 

Iran PressSci & Tech: The company plans to introduce the headset as early as next year, along with a dedicated operating system and app store for third-party software, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Internally, the company recently changed the name of the operating system to “xrOS” from “realityOS,” said the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is still under wraps, Bloomberg reported.

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 overlays graphics and virtual information over the real world, while virtual reality is an all-encompassing experience for gaming and watching video.

Apple’s push into the market sets it up for a showdown with Meta Platforms Inc., the owner of Facebook and Instagram, which is betting on the metaverse in part to decrease its reliance on Apple devices. The move is also part of a perennial search for Apple’s “next big thing.” With the Apple Watch, released in 2015, the company turned its wearables business into a division that now generates more than 10% of its sales — contributing $41.2 billion in the last fiscal year.

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

In offering both AR and VR technologies, Apple’s new headset takes a different tack than most existing models from companies like Meta and HTC Corp. But Meta does have a newer headset, the Quest Pro, that blends the two approaches.

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

Recent job listings revealed that Apple is looking to create its own 3D-based “mixed-reality world.” People 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 enlisted the head of engineering for its iWork productivity apps, Notes app and Apple News to work on the headset.

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


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