WebXR

In the 90s, when the web was young, CD-ROMs were the distribution method for quality digital content because the connections were too slow and web browsers were not evolved enough to do more than display formatted text, still images, and sometimes animated gifs. As we entered the 2000s, plugins like Shockwave and Flash facilitated what was called “Rich Media” back-in-the-day which was the introduction of audio, video, and animation. With the introduction of smartphones and the ubiquity of broadband, downloadable apps came into vogue, and the App Store model became the way to distribute content that relied on more compute resources than the browser or plugins could handle.

In a watershed moment in April 2010, Steve Jobs in an open letter decreed that Flash would never run in iOS. This death-knell for browser plugins accelerated adoption of open browser standards such the mp4 and mp3 format for video and audio and JavaScript for animations. Around the same time, the WebGL standard was introduced by The Khronos Group and from WebGL grew the JavaScript Library Three JS, which enabled web developers to create in 3D. Ten years later, the WebXR Device API became part of the standards compliant and open-source Chromium browser core, which powers desktop and mobile 2D browsers such as Chrome, Brave, Edge, Opera, and Samsung Internet. Most significantly, WebXR runs in stereoscopic browsers including the Oculus Quest Browser and MetaChromium as well as Mozilla’s Firefox Reality.

The Promise of the Immersive Web

There are over 12 million JavaScript developers in the world, and WebXR democratizes the creation of immersive experiences in both 2D and 3D web browsers. The ThreeJS library is foundational to other JavaScript frameworks like A-Frame, BablyonJS, and Troika. Developing for WebXR satisfies the majority of the world’s browsers, which will be in 2D for the foreseeable future, but it also allows experiences to be in Stereoscopic 3D with Six Degrees of Freedom. The websites of the future change the meaning of the word “visit” to traveling to virtual places where you can spend time, not monolithic, flat presentations of information. The websites of the future will also change the meaning of "interactive" from things we do ourselves on a site to things we do with others. Comment threads will become actual live conversations complete with emojis. 

In addition to the WebXR Device API standard, there are other standards that will increase the quality of WebXR experiences: Web Assembly language, which allows browsers to leverage the CPU; WebGPU, which does the same for the Graphics Processor; and WebRTC, which is the standard for Real-Time Communication that facilitates voice, video, and text interactions. These technologies turn lonely single-user websites into live places you can visit with other people.  The key challenge for WebXR right now is rendering content at high enough quality and remaining performant over the web.

Apple had a profound impact on the web by banning Flash in favor of open standards. Recently, it marked as "In Development" WebXR integration into WebKit, which we can expect will run in Safari for Apple Glass. Apple has been actively recruiting WebXR talent. The WebXR train has left the station on immersive content, and by the time Apple gets its long-awaited XR hardware to market, the space will be highly evolved. Therefore, the time for agencies to get advertisers to start investing in immersive web content is here, now.