WebXR Device API to let browsers access VR, AR hardware, sensors

Browsers these days are so powerful you can almost do anything in them. Yes, sometimes even run older (ancient, really) operating systems in a browser tab. Want to play 3D games? Google's Project Stream is working on that. How about virtual and augmented reality experiences? That's in the works, too. And with the new WebXR Device API on its way to become a standard specification, there might be a time when all you need for VR and AR is a portable headset and a web browser.

VR and AR proponents are doing their best to lower the barrier for entry in making such experiences. Engines like Unreal and Unity offer the tools to easily make games and the like while headset makers are making affordable and portable versions of their pro gear. That said, it still takes a specific kind of programming knowledge and familiarity with one or all rivaling platforms to break into that industry.

The Web, however, is the great equalizer, at least when it comes to supporting platforms. Almost all devices with screens have one and, because of that, there is a large talent pool of web developers more familiar with technologies and languages like HTML and Javascript. The proposed WebXR standard wants to make it easier for such developers to dip into the technologies, particularly the hardware capabilities offered by headsets.

The WebXR Device API, in particular, focuses on accessing device data, especially sensors, to control the VR/AR experience. Of course, it won't all happen by magic and developers will still need to work their way around WebGL, which is fortunately also getting more common. Making it a standard, however, is one step in making WebXR available on all browsers, making it accessible to anyone and everyone, no matter the hardware.

Of course, it's still a draft specification and needs a lot of work and cooperation from both browser makers and the XR industry. Browsers can already start shipping such features even if the standard hasn't been approved yet. Hopefully, though, they will use compatible or interoperable solutions that will make it easier to transition to the final version.