Apple Gearing Up ‘Mixed Reality’ Headset, rOS: Reports

Apple is closer than ever to releasing a “mixed reality” headset, according to a new report.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, citing the always-popular anonymous sources, says executives offered Apple’s board a sneak preview of the headset. Apple is also reportedly hard at work on “rOS,” a specialized operating system (OS) for the hardware. 

Apple could release the device and OS in 2023, barring any unforeseen development or production complications. “Mixed reality” means the headset can shift between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) modes; according to Gurman, Apple is also working on a pair of lightweight AR eyeglasses for release at some future point.

Apple has been preparing its developer community for AR and VR for quite some time. Way back at WWDC 2019, the company rolled out RealityKit, its AR tooling platform that focuses on motion capture and people occlusion (i.e., evaluating the relative positions of virtual objects and actual people). It also pushed out ARKit, which allows developers to create AR experiences for their iPhones and iPads, and could be easily tweaked for AR glasses of some kind. 

Seeding the developer community well in advance of a product release could help Apple make headway against competitors in the space. Microsoft has spent years and untold amounts of money to make its HoloLens AR headset a significant player in the enterprise AR space. Meanwhile, Meta (which used to be Facebook) has essentially bet its survival on building a popular “metaverse” of AR and VR apps, although a recent hiring freeze could potentially impact those plans. Even Google is attempting to make AR the next great language-translation tool

If any (or all) of these platforms go mainstream, it could spike demand for technologists with AR and VR skills. Right now, the market for AR and VR positions isn’t very large; Emsi Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, notes only 10,232 open VR-related jobs in the past 12 months, and it projects such jobs will only grow 4.5 percent over the next two years. It also says 8,796 jobs needing AR skills popped up over the past year. 

Should Apple roll out a compelling device that everyone wants to own, though, it could have an iPhone-sized impact on the market for these skills. Time will tell.