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.”
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.