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We have been waiting with great anticipation for Chrome 81, or more accurately its support for WebXR, which is the biggest development in AR since Google and Apple released ARCore and ARKit respectively.
But what is WebXR and why is Chrome 81 so important to it?
WebXR is an emerging API that will allow browser-based applications to access the native VR/AR features of the devices they run on. On Android and iOS, this means that mobile web apps will be able to provide the same immersive AR experience as native apps.
Actually, you can do this today on mobile web browsers. Google SceneViewer and Apple QuickLook already enable mobile web applications to launch AR experiences that leverage the capabilities of the device.
So how is Chrome 81 taking that experience to the next level?
Both SceneViewer and QuickLook are static AR experiences in that they take an existing model and display it in AR. SceneViewer requires models to be in the Khronos GLTF or GLB format and Apple requires models to be in the Pixar USDZ format. A mobile web application, such as a product configurator, that allows a user to make changes to the model in real-time must export the user’s choices to these formats. The process of converting and uploading those models takes time; seeing a dynamically configured product in AR today involves waiting. That time increases with the graphical complexity of the model; a motorcycle will take longer than a toaster, e.g.
Chrome 81 will allow mobile applications to directly access the AR features of Android devices without exporting to a model. This is exciting because:
What about Apple devices? Apple has made a decision at this point not to allow mobile web applications to access the AR features of iOS devices directly. Apple’s strategy continues to be the use of QuickLook to enable these experiences. This is unfortunate, because interactive augmented reality experiences on IOS will require native apps, or will require time-consuming conversion of dynamic content into a static model that will be limited by the capabilities of the USDZ format.
We are looking forward to providing consumers with rich, dynamic, and fast AR experiences on Android devices and we hope Apple will enable similar experiences in the near future.