Technology · · Target group: Marketers / Techies

Why every digital marketer, shop operator and techie should know about WebXR

Matthias Hamann on web based Virtual and Augmented Reality

Author: Matthias Hamann

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WebXR – Virtual and Augmented Reality on the web

Thanks to its Web-based virtual and augmented reality functionality, WebXR opens up completely new possibilities when it comes to selling products on the Internet. Let’s take a look at the technology first.

We’ve all experienced it at some point: When shopping online on your smartphone or tablet, you fall in love with a great designer Danish lamp for your sideboard at home. But shortly before clicking on the buy button, you suddenly gain a sense of control and start to question things. Does the lamp really look good next to the TV? Could it be too big?

But wait! Directly next to the preview images, there’s a live preview option. Let’s click on it.

The phone’s camera app opens up, and we let it focus on the sideboard. Then we see our lamp appear on it in a virtual form – and it looks amazingly real. The lamp fits in really well, but maybe it’s a bit big after all? No, it’s somehow cool – and in the basket it goes.

What sounds like heaven for shop operators and marketers is, as matter of fact, just one function provided by WebXR – and a very powerful one it is at that!

What is the WebXR standard?

WebXR is a new Web standard that is currently being developed by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a group of experts from big-name tech companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

It allows for the seamless integration of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) on websites or in Web applications. This enables the user to experience these immersive technologies directly in their browser – ideally with, but also without, VR and AR headsets. The highlight: No separate app download or similar is required – a computer or modern mobile device with the latest browser will do.

What are the main benefits of WebXR?

VR/AR capability with every device

As already mentioned, the main advantage of this standard is that special hardware, like a VR or AR headset for immersing yourself in the content, does indeed contribute to an optimal user experience, but it’s not required. Standard smartphones and tablets can also easily display WebXR content without any problem. This approach, known as progressive enhancement, was developed by the consortium of developers from the very start to be at the heart of WebXR.

The flexibility resulting from this approach has solved the age-old chicken or egg dilemma. Because if there is no content, a consumer will not buy a VR/AR headset. And if there are not enough VR/AR headsets on the market, the production of virtual content is not attractive for media companies and the industry.

Thanks to the huge availability of mobile devices, as well as the growing number of people using their mobile devices to go on the Web, the production of content is becoming more and more attractive – especially if this leads to being able to better achieve business goals on the manufacturing end.

VR/AR without the need to download an app

As mentioned above, the WebXR standard does not require the user to download a special app. After reading the real-life example at the beginning of this article, you might have thought: “So what? The IKEA app has been able to do this for ages!”

That’s right, but only within IKEA’s own app and not – like in the example above – on any website you like. Online marketers have known for some time now that it is becoming more and more difficult to convince users to download yet another app. After all, hardly anyone would like to install a bunch of one-hit-wonder apps on their mobile devices. Which is why the average cost per download rate has been continually increasing for many years.

What’s more, guiding users away from a product page, particularly when they are already ready to buy and are shortly before checking out, is one of the seven deadly sins of online marketing. Good-bye conversion rate.

In short: App downloads are a huge barrier, which can be overcome with WebXR.

The benefits at a glance

Summarizing, WebXR offers the following benefits:

  • Easy and platform-independent integration into websites or Web apps
  • No development or distribution/marketing of additional apps is required
  • Users don’t need to download an app
  • The use with headsets and eyewear is possible, also through mobile devices (progressive enhancement)
  • Innovative way to make the user aware (UX boost!)
  • Potentially stronger positive impact on the conversion rate
  • Potentially positive impact on return rates

This sounds great, but it’s not that quite great. Of course, there are also some disadvantages.

The disadvantages

Unfortunately, WebXR is not quite ready for prime time. The most important browser providers, Microsoft and Apple, are still hesitant about taking the new technology on board. The Chrome browser (Version 81) is one of the first that can show WebXR content, but this is only available as a beta version at the moment. The browser for the VR headset Oculus Quest has now started to offer support for WebXR. And most recently, Firefox has released its Reality browser with partial WebXR support.

In contrast, the other big players are not really in the game. None of the other popular browsers has announced support for WebXR in the near future. The lack of usable consumer headsets continues to be a problem, despite the standard’s progress. Although a host of new and interesting headsets, such as Oculus Quest, have been launched in recent months, most VR/AR headsets continue to be too expensive, bulky and difficult to use for many consumers.

This means it could easily be another two to three years until the standard is supported on a wider level, and at least a slight growth in headsets in the market is seen.

Conclusion

WebXR is perhaps not yet ready for mass consumption, but it has an exciting future ahead. The technology is extremely powerful and could have a massive impact on the next generation of the Internet. A comparison with HTML5 can be made here, which needed nearly 10 years to become completely established as the Web standard. The Web as we know it today would not be possible without HTML5 and the technologies and frameworks based on it.

In the meantime, I can recommend taking a look at Apple’s AR Quick Look function, a 3D file format that was developed in collaboration with Adobe and Pixar Animation Studios. It can already be used on new iOS devices and enables the simple possibility to display 3D objects in your environment. Apple’s Quick Look function has been integrated in Shopify for about two years as a standard function.

It’s also worth mentioning that the open glTF file format, which can easily be displayed on Android devices, is equipped with a somewhat less comprehensive functionality. Both solutions can also be very easily integrated on websites, yet use native device functions for displaying the objects. These approaches are ultimately bridge technologies that can help to pave the way for WebXR and, as a result, for virtual reality and augmented reality in the Web.

Do you have questions or comments regarding this article?
Please drop me a line.

Disclaimer:
All product names, brands and trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Matthias
Matthias Hamann
Digital strategy and concept

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