Apple is working on a new operating system to power its AR/VR glasses that will run its new realityOS platform. Looks like the Apple metaverse could be with before the close of 2023…
Apple’s augmented reality plans just got real. That’s because code in beta software has revealed a reference to something called “realityOS”. This new operating system, it is believed, will form the foundation of Apple’s incoming metaverse platform, a platform that will rival Facebook’s.
Plenty of pundits and analysts reckon the metaverse will be the next big thing, the place where untold billions in additional revenue can be mined. I’m a little skeptical, to be honest – especially since it will rely on wearing a VR headset, at least to begin with. For better or worse, the metaverse is happening, and it appears Apple wants a piece of the action.
More recently, references to an Apple VR headset appeared inside iOS 16’s source code. This indicates that, whatever Apple’s plans are for its own metaverse, they will almost certainly become clearer in 2022/23. Why else would iOS 16 contain references to an as-yet-unannounced VR headset? In fact, we could see Apple’s take on the metaverse unveiled as early as June at its annual WWDC event.
But just what is realityOS and when will it launch. Here’s what you need to know.
Apple’s Augmented Reality Devices
First, it’s important to understand that for years Apple has been working on a new flagship device that is more futuristic than any of the iPhone’siPads, or Apple Watches that Apple has released to date.
That new device is an augmented reality headset. Augmented reality (or AR for short) is different than virtual reality (VR). With VR you put on a headset that completely obstructs your view of the real world. All you can see is what’s projected onto the screen in the VR headset.
AR is different. Augmented reality overlays things on the real world. So an AR headset is translucent – more like eyeglasses. The translucent screens in an AR headset (think of them like the lenses in a pair of glasses) show digital constructs on the screen while not obscuring the real world in front of you.
While VR is much more immersive because it can generate entirely fictional worlds in front of your eyes, AR arguably has more real-world benefits. For example, a pair of AR glasses could overlay directions to somewhere – all you have to do is follow the pointing arrows overlayed on your AR lenses telling you where to go.
Apple Two Different AR Products
Apple is rumored to have been working on two types of AR products for years. The first product scheduled to launch is a pair of AR goggles. Think of these are looking like a ski mask. These AR goggles will require to be paired with an iPhone to work. They will be relatively bulky, but their features are set to wow. These AR goggles are expected to be unveiled by Apple as early as this year.
Then a year later Apple is rumored to be releasing its second AR device. These would be AR glasses that look more like your traditional eyeglasses – thin, sleek, sexy; everything AR goggles are not, in other words.
Of course, who knows if the timelines on these product launches are on schedule. But by the end of 2023 we could have two Apple AR products to choose from.
Apple’s rOS and realityOS
Of course, a completely new type of device requires a new type of operating system. Rumors have it Apple’s AR devices will not run iOS. Instead, they’ll get their own operating system, just like the iPad has iPad OSthe Apple TV has tvOSand the Apple Watch has watch OS.
Apple’s AR devices are rumored to run an operating system that was known as rOS but now is being called realityOS.
But how do we know about the name change? That’s thanks to the latest iOS beta. In the beta plenty of enterprising techies have discovered references to Apple software called “realityOS.” Given the name and the way the name is branded – with the lowercase first word and the capitalized OS – this can only be a reference to Apple’s AR operating system.
But besides the name, this reference in the code to realityOS tells us one other big thing: The 2022 timeline for the AR goggles could be accurate, which means they could be launching before the end of the year – maybe even being revealed at WWDC this summer.
If Apple’s AR goggles do launch this summer they’ll be the most important device in Apple’s history since the introduction of the iPhone fifteen years ago.
AR or VR – What Will Apple Use?
One of the big differences between Apple and Facebook’s vision for how the metaverse should work relates to the technology that users will use to engage with it. Facebook, as most now know, is more focused on a VR approach. It wants to create immersive, 3D worlds that are accessed by VR headsets like the Oculus 2. In this respect, you’re limited with respect to movement while using the device.
Apple’s approach – at least, based on the tidbits of information it has released about its plans – is slightly different. Apple has been talking about “mixed reality” since 2017. With mixed reality, Apple’s realityOS will act as a conduit through which normal, waking reality and Apple’s metaverse are mixed together. In this respect, it’ll be closer to augmented reality (AR) than Facebook’s VR option.
The upshot of this, I’d argue, is that Apple’s realityOS will be able to exist inside all kinds of devices – from glasses and headsets to things like contact lenses and, more scarily, physical, optical implants. This latter aspect might sound a little scary, but with things like Neuralink now in active testingthe idea of modifying one’s body with tech, inside the next 1o years or so, probably won’t seem quite as odd and unsettling.
Another key area where Apple will potentially win the metaverse war is with respect to design and UX implementation. Apple is known for its UX design capabilities. It pioneered the modern computer with its easy-to-use design and focus on making things as pretty as possible. It did the same thing with iPhone, and I suspect it will do it all over again with realityOS and the devices that run it.
Privacy Stuff – It Is And Will Continue To Be Important
With stuff like the metaverse, there are myriad privacy and legal issues that need to be ironed out before this technology can really hit its true potential. For instance, is it right – or even fair – that a company like Facebook can make and create its own reality with its own rules and currency? It’s an ethical question, sure, but it is something legal bodies and anti-trust campaigners need to figure out. Plus, Facebook isn’t exactly known for being transparent with how it handles and uses your data.
Conversely, Apple’s approach to data and privacy, thanks to the fact that its business model isn’t built on harvesting as much data on its users as possible, is refreshingly clear and robust for a technology company. Apple takes the security and privacy of its users very seriously, so much so that it has already cost Facebook $22 billion over the last 12 months by blocking the social network from tracking iPhone users.
Facebook, meanwhile, thrives on your data. Facebook is a data business though and through. Without your personal data, your likes, your updates, your pictures, Facebook would wither and die. Will the Facebook metaverse be any different? Of course, it won’t; that’s not how Facebook – sorry, Meta – rolls. And this fact alone should make you VERY wary about Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to induct your children into his new virtual reality hell.
apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book by him Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.