Exploring WebXR: The Future of Web-Based Extended Reality

WebXR is a transformative development in the technology world.

It is forging a new path toward the next frontier in the realm of reality—what some are calling “extended reality,” or XR. The term encompasses a variety of experiences: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). From a development perspective, the technology is at the cutting edge, and in recent months, it is the WebXR API filling the headlines and the minds of developers and designers looking to the future of digital interaction.

WebXR is a web standard that allows developers to build virtual and augmented reality experiences that users can access within a web browser. It is an improved version of WebVR that offers more possibilities for the virtual part (connected via a VR headset or not) and also for the augmented and mixed part with the added extra of web standards connotation.

WebXR provides remarkable accessibility. Unlike in the past, where dedicated apps were required to access virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) content, WebXR allows users to access top-notch, immersive experiences just by going to a URL. This is a huge breakthrough for the XR community, which has increasingly been forced to reckon with the harsh reality of app fatigue. Frustrating users who find themselves greeted by yet another request to download and install an app—or by the error message that tells them their device doesn’t support it—a multitude of excellent XR experiences has been held prisoner in the walled gardens of the app stores.

The web integration of XR allows for direct, interactive experiences that captivate and engage users in ways not seen with traditional 2D content. This, in turn, leads to higher engagement and satisfaction rates. The future looks promising for WebXR, as the technology is following a path of web standards adoption that ensures developers won’t be left high and dry when it comes to either compatibility or investment protection. Instead, the future of XR on the web looks to be a constant-improvement story, using the open web as a platform for next-level engagement and even deeper connectivity between virtual and real worlds.

Picture this: You’re on a website, and you see an extremely life-like, 3D figure of a product. You decide to click on it. Suddenly, you’re inside the product, looking out from within the virtual space. It’s a bit like being inside a game, except this isn’t a game. It’s online shopping, taken to the next level. Now, imagine a similar scenario, but instead of using pixels to display the image, it’s happening through the manipulation of atoms. With a rendering pipeline that’s based on WebGL (short for web graphics library), your online shopping experience could take on the trappings of molecular assembly.

People considering buying a house or going on a trip can get a taste of what they’re considering via virtual tours. In these, users can navigate the 3D spaces of their future homes or vacation rentals. Game developers, too, can take advantage of WebXR. Its use case here is similar to that of prospective travelers, as it allows for the kind of immersive experiences that go beyond what can be offered by flat gaming or even 360-degree gaming. We were paired with people from an organization called the Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) Working Group, who had us build a multiplayer Web game that ran on a WebXR platform.

Web technologies and browser capabilities are increasingly delivering better and more intricate WebXR experiences. And as WebXR becomes more popular and programmers weave it into the fabric of our digital lives, we’ll start to take better note of its seamless biomechanical blending of the physical and the digital. When future generations look back, is WebXR likely to be seen as a weird step in between our current platforms and the yet-to-be-imagined next thing, like Pong or the Betamax? I don’t think so. Something tells me that XR, in all its manifestations and in whatever we end up calling it, will loom larger in the 21st-century canon of computing history.

To sum up, WebXR is a major development in enabling people to experience augmented and virtual reality. These technologies are now more accessible than ever, thanks to the use of internet technologies like the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) WebXR Device API. If you’re looking to test it out, you can learn more about the VNTANA WebXR browswer here.