A Look at WebXR

by Michael Gandolfi

WebXR is a technology that enables immersive experiences on the web by combining virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). The X in XR stands for extended which encompasses all three technologies. WebXR is currently being developed by the Immersive Web Community Group, which has contributors from Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and others.

WebXR has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with digital content and to create a new era of web-based immersive experiences. With WebXR, developers can create applications that offer users a wide range of experiences, from educational and training simulations to gaming and entertainment. The technology is rapidly evolving and is currently supported by all major browsers aside from Safari.

Compared to its predecessor, WebVR, WebXR brings several advancements and improvements. WebVR was limited in terms of functionality and lacked support for augmented reality and mixed reality. Another downside of WebVR is that the technology was primarily designed for VR headsets whereas WebXR supports desktop, mobile, tablet, and VR headsets.

One of the key befits of WebXR is that it eliminates the need for users to download and install specialized applications or software on their devices. Instead, users can simply access WebXR experiences through their browser on any device.

Another advantage of WebXR is that it provides a platform for developers to create immersive experiences that can easily be shared and distributed online. This makes it easier for developers to reach a wider audience and promote their work. Currently, extended reality experiences are limited to mobile phones and virtual reality headsets. WebXR has the potential to change all this and allow larger audiences to enjoy extended reality.

A big disadvantage of WebXR is that it’s not supported in Safari meaning iOS users are left out. It is currently supported in the iOS beta but it is unclear when it will be released. Apple is rumored to be in late development of its own VR headset so I’m assuming support will be available when it is released.

WebXR has many use cases including gaming, education and training, marketing and advertising, healthcare, and art. As of now, WebXR is a popular medium for advertising. Warner Bros, Microsoft, Pepsi, and Blizzard have all usedWebXR for advertising. Blizzard contracted Aircards.io and TripleClix to create an interactive mixed-reality experience for the release of their new mobile game, Diablo Immortal. Users could activate the experience simply by using their mobile browser which would transport them to a 360 rendering of Westmarch.

Gaming is also a popular use case for WebXR. As of writing, there are currently 45 games tagged with “WebXR” on the indie game publishing site itch.io that run directly in the browser. Another example I found was a mini-golf game by Paradowski Creative, a media company. The game, Above Par-adowski, was built to show that native AR/VR games are achievable on the open web. It was built with three.js and A-Frame and it is hosted on Glitch. It was featured on the Meta Quest Browser’s homepage.

When talking about Above Par-adowski, James Kane, Director of Emerging Technology at Paradowski said “The Quest browser new tab page is the curated homepage of the immersive web right now, I liken it to Yahoo.com in 1998 or the iOS App Store in 2009 — it’s this incredible new platform that few know how to take advantage of just yet.” With the Quest browser, users can navigate from their home screens to curated VR experiences in seconds with no downloading necessary. It will be interesting to see if James’s prediction will hold true about the Quest browser’s homepage. Right now it is looking like he is on the right track given Meta has reportedly sold nearly 20 million headsets. That means Apple has a lot of catching up to do if they want to be the iPhone of VR headsets.

No AAA games support WebXR but that is to be expected considering gaming is very platform-specific right now with games primarily being played on mobile, consoles, or desktop PCs. Web-based games were popular in the past and I expect this to be the case again when the technology is ready. If this comes true, WebXR will play a big role along with other technologies such as WebGPU and WebAssembly.

WebXR is a technology that is revolutionizing the way we act with digital content. With its ability to create immersive experiences that can be accessed via web browsers on a variety of devices, WebXR is providing new opportunities for developers to create engaging and accessible content. As this technology continues to grow, we can expect to see even more exciting and innovative uses of WebXR in the future.

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