Monday Musings: Why you should care (at least a little) about WebVR

Blog Posts ,Programming ,Random Musings ,Virtual Reality ,Web Development
October 19, 2015

Welcome to Monday Musings! These are are shorter-form, note-like blog posts that I share that may or may not be related to VR/AR, but that I want to share some quick thoughts on, get some extra insight on, or share out quickly.

Today’s Monday Musings: Why you should care about WebVR

I’m a huge fan of WebVR. I’ve written some getting started posts about it and it’s one of my favorite things to talk about at conferences. Even within the growing VR community, though, WebVR is a hot topic of discussion. John Carmack at Oeculus Connect 2 this year seemed skeptical about the future of WebVR, saying that he wasn’t writing it off but appearing to hesitate on its potential. I’ve had huge numbers of people reactive positively to showing off a quick WebVR demo on my phone when I talk about what I do, but I’ve also had several people berate WebVR for not hitting 90FPS constantly and complaining that there was no valid use case scenarios as of yet.

I’m inclined to disagree with that last part – I often get people asking me why I’m so interested in the web as a potential virtual reality platform, so I figured I’d jot this down and open myself up further to the world of debate around the topic.

The internet isn’t going anywhere

The web has exploded over the last decade into a host of services that dictate our actions. Amazon rules retail and it’s never been easier to buy whatever you want without leaving the apartment. As VR opens up a new way to showcase goods and services, WebVR is a perfect way to mix VR content with non-VR content on the existing internet. Got your headset plugged in, and see a lamp you’re interested in? Now you can see it in VR to get a sense of scale and what it might look like in a room with your wall colors.


Okay, so Amazon might not have “WebVR” support on their radar any time soon, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before you can view the VR version of a furniture store from the comfort of your own Oculus.

Simpler integration with web APIs

It is way easier to integrate existing web content into a WebVR application than into Unity, at least in my experience. This content, while available to native VR apps, allows you to use the huge trove of existing JavaScript libraries to build out complex applications without needing to customize how they’re integrated into different game engines. This comes in handy when you don’t want to write something from scratch to integrate with the latest version of that framework you love so much.

Minimal getting started overhead

I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring at hackathons, teaching VR workshops, and showing random people that I meet my WebVR sites (sorry I’m not so sorry!) and it’s far and away the easiest way to get people understanding what I do with VR development. I can give them a link to go to an they immediately see how their own phones are now VR devices, too. They don’t need an Oculus to get started or a complex IDE – anyone who understands the basics of web development can try out the sample code immediately. JavaScript is growing in popularity – and that pool of developers getting excited about VR helps the industry advance.

No installations, no walled gardens – just content

This is pretty self explanatory – VR on the web, just like traditional web content, is more open than curated app stores. I love not having to tell people that something I built doesn’t work on their phone. I like that there’s more freedom in the content that can be posted, at least at this stage of how the web is policed (this is another topic entirely, but at least at this point in time it’s not individual OEMs deciding the content).

We’re Tricking Web Developers to help drive VR

Okay, I don’t actually consider this a trick, but I often talk to web developers who are interested in virtual reality that don’t feel that developing for it is within their reach. When I tell them that they can pick up Three.js and start coding for WebVR, there’s a moment of delight when they realize that this exciting new technology isn’t something they’d need to start from scratch with. Offering up a familiar environment and language to a large developer pool, and helping them feel included, makes for a more diverse developer pool and drives forward innovation in the industry.

So yeah, that’s my not-so-short rant about why there are upsides to WebVR, because I get asked about it quite a bit. Please don’t hate me, graphics performance folks – I agree with you too! <3 

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