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The countdown to WebVR

Product Design Lead on the MozVR team Josh Carpenter reveals how Mozilla are building the next-gen open Web

Product Design Lead on the MozVR team Josh Carpenter reveals how Mozilla are building the next-gen open Web


Q . What is the MozVR mission?

To help build the next great generation of the open web by upgrading it for high-performance virtual reality and all forms of immersive computing beyond. We believe it is the imperative of those of us who love the open web to be proactive about extending it early into promising frontiers like VR, so that it is present for developers and users from day one, and awesome.

Q . Who works on the MozVR team, how did it come together and how is it funded?

We’re a group of designers, engineers, and researchers working from the office of the CTO, an organisation within Mozilla that works to invent the next generation of the web platform. Our team includes both full-time members such as myself and Vlad Vukicevic (co-creator of WebGL), and passionate volunteers who just want to work on something they believe in deeply. It was two of us to start with, and we’ve been expanding the team in response to positive feedback.

Q . To experience WebVR, designers, and developers need to download the latest Firefox Nightly and Add-on. At what stage would you say development is currently at?

”Setting the table.” In 2015 our focus was establishing critical baselines for performance and ease of use. By the end of the year WebVR will be plug-and-play in Nightly channels of Firefox desktop and Android. It will fully support the Oculus SDK. It will run at the native refresh rate of VR headsets, eliminating previous performance ceilings. It will be based on a new version of the WebVR API that will enable link traversal in VR. And it will be much more accessible for developers, thanks to new developer tools like A-Frame and Vizor.
WebGL is the backbone of today’s WebVR. It has amazing 3D performance and broad adoption. And it’s going to get much faster in the coming year, thanks to new tech like WebGL 2 and shared memory. That said, we love the accessibility of HTML and CSS. It’s critical for the growth of WebVR that as many people as possible can create VR experiences, and HTML and CSS are much more widely known than WebGL. To make it easier for more people to create VR content, we’ve built A-Frame, a library of “building blocks for the VR Web” that enable developers to create responsive VR experiences with simple markup, no WebGL knowledge required. We’re very excited to ship it by the end of the year.
CHECK OUT WEB DESIGNER 246 for an in-depth look at A-Frame

Q . Firefox Nightly currently offers support for Android. Are there any plans to add iOS to the list?

Firefox for iOS is very new so it’s too soon to say how it will evolve, but our team would love to see WebVR running inside it eventually, as is the case with Firefox for Android. In the meantime, the great thing about WebVR is that it runs wherever WebGL is available. With WebGL enabled by default in iOS since version 8, developers can create VR experiences for iPhones using solutions like the WebVR Polyfill from Google engineer Boris Smus.

Q . Oculus Rift is the headline headset for VR. But which hardware is getting you excited?

All of it! There’s so much to choose from. Multiple companies approaching the market from very different angles means we have an amazing array of hardware coming, from low-cost mobile solutions to high-end room-scale rigs. I personally have a soft spot for the Vive’s full-positional tracking and motion control. Mice and keyboards are wonderfully efficient input devices, but they’re kinesthetically constrained. I want to design like how Jiro makes sushi, with fluid motion and freedom of movement. The hardware for that is going be a reality soon, and I cannot wait.

Q . Finally, we are only at the beginning of what is a very exciting future for the web. Where do you think WebVR will be in 12 months time?

You’ll put on your headset, and surf the web. Gliding from link to link, into experiences that are “worlds”, not “sites”. These experiences will satisfy new jobs to be done, emphasising what is uniquely awesome about VR: awe, immediacy, empathy, and so on. You’ll still use your phone and your laptop to book a flight. But you’ll preview the destination in VR. Meanwhile, native VR will be amazing, but WebVR will add an essential complementary parallel. Lower friction, more content, and truly connected with the rest of the digital world, not just the other handful of people who own the same headset as you. We’re extremely excited about the next 12 months. It’s going to get very, very interesting.