As the most valuable tech company in the world, decisions that Apple makes tend to reverberate throughout the industry. Recent evidence strongly points to Apple planning to support WebXR on Safari and possibly its forthcoming XR headset, which would widen consensus on the standard.

WebXR is a web standard designed to make it possible for developers to deliver AR and VR experiences straight from a web browser. While Safari on iOS devices had some basic support for the precursor standard (WebVR) in the Cardboard era, Apple hasn’t done much to adopt the modern incarnation of WebXR.

But that looks to be soon changing. Developer Maximiliano Firtman spotted four new experimental WebXR features in the latest version of Safari in iOS 15.4 beta:

  • WebXR Augmented Reality Mode
  • WebXR Device API
  • WebXR Gamepads module
  • WebXR Hand Input Module

Firtman notes that the features, as they exist presently, appear to support external devices only; and postulates “this is preparing the scenario for Apple’s upcoming goggles or headsets.”

This is somewhat surprising considering that Apple has been pushing AR on its iOS devices and would presumably want to use WebXR to allow developers to tap into iOS’s ARKit capabilities. Even if the current experimental features only support external devices, it seems likely that Apple will eventually support WebXR more fully in Safari in the future.

The new capabilities come a few months after an Apple job listing for a ‘WebKit 3D Graphics Engineer‘ which specifically mentions WebXR as part of the role.

You will be responsible for driving the future of graphics on the web. This includes working on 3D and GPGPU standards like WebGPU, AR and WebXR. You will be encouraged to work across all layers of code while maintaining a firm understanding of software architecture. And you will help define the next generation of web standards through participation in governing bodies including WHATWG and W3C.

Another Apple job listing posted last month seeks an ‘Interaction Testing Framework and Prototyping Engineer‘ and lists “Experience with OpenXR, WebXR” among its “additional requirements.”

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WebXR support has been brewing under Safari for quite some time, even if not much of it has been built into the browser just yet. WebKit is the browser engine that forms the foundation of Safari; the WebKit bug tracking site shows that the earliest work implementing the core WebXR Device API started in early 2020 and work has been ongoing ever since. It isn’t clear if Apple will adopt all of the WebXR capabilities of WebKit, but given the first glimpses of it in Safari on iOS 15.4 beta, it seems like the company is poised to back the standard in a substantial way.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • guest

    No metaverse. Shysterverse!

  • Let’s hope so, we need Apple to be onboard of OpenXR to give it a boost

    • Steve R

      Does supporting WebXR necessarily mean that they will support OpenXR too?

      • Blaexe

        As far as I’m aware these are completely unrelated things.

  • Jistuce

    What? Apple supporting an actual standard? Madness!

    • xyzs

      That’s because they don’t have the choice regarding the web.
      If they did, they would have done their own closed patented tech as usual…

      It’s about OpenXR that they better use the standard, because if not, it’s simply spitting at the dev community of XR softwares. It’s ruining their efforts and ruining the solidarity around a shared standard that save lots of duplicated work and issues.

      If they dont go with it, that will really show how little respect they have for people (and it’s not their fake pro woke commercials that will hide it).

      • alxslr

        Two ‘standards’ (Apple and OpenXR), devs can handle them. But it could lead to Meta taking the same path, and that would be bad.

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