Mozilla proposes combined WebXR standard for virtual and mixed reality in the browser

Although we may disagree on the usefulness of VR and AR today, it’s hard to argue with the idea that it should be easier to develop for and deploy — especially on the web. That’s why Mozilla is working on a combined framework that gives developers standardized, well-documented tools with which to access the user’s chosen mixed reality platform.

Basically it’s just hard to build something on the web that you can easily deploy not just to desktop browsers, but to mobile, VR and AR headsets, and anything else that might do a little reality mixing. If these things are going to take off, they need to be easier to deploy.

Mozilla previously worked with Google and others on the WebVR API, which over the last year has let browsers launch VR experiences without any fuss or weird plugins. WebXR (that’s a placeholder name) is a successor to this standard, including lots of similar functions but adding in all the stuff you need for, you know, the augmented side of the equation.

That means creating a common language that connects concepts like object anchoring despite changes in implementation between ARCore, ARKit, Hololens, and other platforms. So there’s plenty of work to go around. Google isn’t a partner, but Mozilla’s work here is meant to be complementary to and compatible with the other company’s existing demos.

“We’ve talked with the folks at Google in the past about how to implement AR ideas on the web, given them feedback on what they’ve done with their WebAR sample implementations, and we’re making sure that our WebXR javascript library works in their apps so that developers have the freedom to use whichever apps they want to experiment with these new technologies on the web,” explained Mozilla principal research scientist Blair MacIntyre in an email to TechCrunch.

It’s not meant to outright replace WebVR, either. But it’s unclear how things will develop, so to speak, so if considerable changes are made implementing AR within that standard, it may at some point no longer be practical to call it that.

“Right now we think that evolving WebVR to include support for AR capabilities would be the best long-term outcome,” MacIntyre said. “These changes might be relatively small, and the API still be called WebVR, or the community might decide to adopt more comprehensive changes and change the name to WebXR or even WebMR.”

In the meantime this is more of a developer playground than a serious proposal; it supports desktop Firefox and there’s a WebXR Viewer on the iOS App Store if you want to test it out, but for most people it’ll be fine to just wait.

You can check out the proposal and a handful of AR/VR experiments that use it on GitHub.