What Is USDZ?

USDZ is Apple's latest file format for augmented reality on its iOS platforms, including iPhone and iPad. If you've browsed the Apple News app or found yourself launching an AR experience from within the Safari web browser, there is a good chance that you've interacted with a USDZ file.

To view USDZ files on an iPhone or iPad, the device must be updated to iOS 12 for full support.

What Is a File Format?

A file format is a file structure that informs a computer how to display its information. If you've used a computer, you've encountered numerous file formats. Popular formats you may have seen include DOCX files for Microsoft Word, JPG and PNG files for images, MP3 files for music, and many more. USDZ is another file format that holds information for a computer to unpack and display data in augmented reality.

What Is Augmented Reality?

You may have seen individuals dawn a headset and jump into a virtual world to play video games or watch a movie—this is known as virtual reality. On the other hand, augmented reality is similar but combines both the virtual and physical worlds.

Where virtual reality typically cuts a viewer off from reality and places them within a headset, augmented reality instead places a digital image over the physical world using a device with a camera and a screen—that can be another type of headset or your mobile phone.

Mobile phone displaying an overlay of gps directions.
Bernhard Lang / Getty Images

What Is the USDZ File Format?

A partnership between Apple and Pixar created the USDZ file format; it was announced at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference in Spring 2018. USDZ builds upon the existing USD format, another format created for storing 3D models and animations, but adds additional optimizations and compatibility for use with mobile devices.

Developed as an open file format, USDZ can be used and implemented by anyone interested in its capabilities. The file acts as a container that holds numerous files and tools required for the computer to open the format to display its contents properly.

Developers looking to learn the detailed specifications behind USDZ should take a look at Apple's Developer documentation.

How Can I View a USDZ File?

Because USDZ is an open file format, developers can create applications that access the file's contents, but, in the meantime, you will typically access such files using Apple's new AR Quick Look app.

You won't find the AR Quick Look application on your iOS device's home screen, but instead, any USDZ files you attempt to open are automatically handled by the new software. So whether you stumble across an AR file in the Apple News app while browsing Safari or sent by a friend in iMessage, AR Quick Look will get it opened and ready for you to view.

iPad showing an AR object of a teapot on an iPad
Apple Inc.

Can I Start Creating Content with USDZ?

If you're an artist who wants to delve into the world of augmented reality, the USDZ file format provides an easy way to share content with friends, family, and coworkers; however, you'll need to wait a bit before you get started.

Adobe is the first company to announce bringing built-in support for USDZ to their suite of Creative Cloud applications. Already available as a free mobile app, the desktop version is now a beta release. For those interested, keep an eye on Adobe Project Aero for further developments and improvements.

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