USDZ: Apple’s Gateway to Augmented Reality

USDZ: Apples Gateway to Augmented Reality

USDZ is Apple’s most recent file format designed explicitly for augmented reality experiences on its iOS platforms, encompassing both the iPhone and iPad. If you’ve explored the Apple News app or initiated an augmented reality encounter directly from the Safari web browser, your engagement likely involved a USDZ file.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that enhances the real world by overlaying digital information onto a user’s physical environment. It blends digital elements seamlessly with the real world, offering interactive experiences through devices like smartphones and AR headsets.
This technology is used in various industries for applications such as gaming, education, healthcare, and more. AR provides an enriched, real-time experience by integrating digital content into our surroundings.

What Is the USDZ File Format?

The USDZ file format is the brainchild of a collaboration between tech giant Apple and animation powerhouse Pixar. Its genesis can be traced back to the Apple World Wide Developer Conference in Spring 2018, where this revolutionary format was unveiled to the world.

USDZ builds upon the foundation laid by the USD format, designed for storing 3D models and animations. However, it goes beyond by incorporating additional optimizations and compatibility tailored for the dynamic landscape of mobile devices.

Designed as an open file format, USDZ is accessible to anyone intrigued by its capabilities. It functions as a container, neatly holding all the necessary files and tools for a computer to properly open and display the format’s contents.

For developers eager to delve into the nitty-gritty details of USDZ, Apple’s Developer documentation provides an invaluable resource for learning and understanding the specifications.


Both USD and USDZ share the foundation of “Universal Scene Description,” denoted by the acronym “USD.” The core information within these files remains identical, acting as a blueprint for 3D models and animations.

However, the ‘Z’ in USDZ signifies a transformation – a compression that facilitates easier transmission. A USDZ package may even harbor non-USD files, such as audio (MP3, WAV, or M4A) and images (JPEG or PNG), adding layers of richness to the augmented reality experience. The ‘Z’ stands for “zipped,” encapsulating everything within a neat, compressed package.

What Program Opens USDZ Files?

To unveil the contents of a USDZ file, Apple has introduced the AR Quick Look app. Although it may not have a prominent place on your iOS device’s home screen, this application silently takes charge whenever you attempt to open a USDZ file.

AR Quick Look app: 3D models available as USDZ files
3D models: AR Quick Look app

Notably, built-in apps like Safari, Messages, Mail, News, and Notes leverage AR Quick Look to display USDZ files featuring virtual objects in 3D or AR on both iPhone and iPad. Moreover, you can embed Quick Look views in your own apps and websites, allowing users to explore highly detailed object renderings within real-world surroundings, complete with support for audio playback.

Alternative software that can access USD files and their variations includes:

  • Apple SceneKit
  • Autodesk Inventor
  • Davinci Resolve
  • Fusion 360
  • Houdini
  • Maya
  • NVIDIA Omniverse
  • Vectorworks

Can You Create Content with USDZ?

The USDZ file format offers a user-friendly path to share creative content with peers. However, delving into content creation with USDZ may necessitate a bit of patience.

Leading the way in this field, Adobe takes a pioneering stance by introducing integrated support for USDZ within its Creative Cloud applications. While the mobile application is readily accessible, the desktop version is currently in beta, holding the promise of a future brimming with imaginative possibilities.

If you’re interested, stay tuned to Adobe Project Aero for the latest updates and enhancements in this exciting landscape.

Closing Thoughts: Navigating the USDZ Universe

USDZ is not just a file format – it’s a key player in revolutionizing augmented reality on Apple’s iOS. From its collaborative inception to its open format and integration into various apps, USDZ opens doors to a dynamic world of 3D and AR experiences.

With AR Quick Look seamlessly handling USDZ files in built-in apps and the potential for developers to create immersive content, it marks a paradigm shift in digital interactions and sets the stage for the future of augmented reality.