Apple VR/AR headset: Is Apple betting on more openness?

Apple VR/AR headset: Is Apple betting on more openness?

If Apple decides to support WebXR, it would give the immersive web standard a boost. Could Apple make its own XR ecosystem more open overall?

Sometime this year or next, Apple is rumored to introduce and launch a VR/AR headset. Which interfaces and programming techniques Apple relies on could shape the entire industry.

Apple could rely on WebXR

Developer Maximiliano Firtman now noticed that Apple is apparently preparing a stronger integration of WebXR. He discovered four experimental WebXR functions in the latest Safari version for iOS 15.4 for an augmented reality mode as well as hardware, gamepad, and hand tracking support.

According to Firtman, in the current integration, these modes are intended for external devices, such as a VR/AR headset, which Apple is reportedly building, and not directly for use via iPad or iPhone. Firtman assumes that Apple is preparing the Safari browser with WebXR for the yet-to-be-announced tech glasses.

WebXR was first announced in 2018 by a consortium consisting of Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and other XR industry giants and is integrated into Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox browser, for example.

With WebXR, AR and VR applications run directly in the browser; an app download is not necessary. WebXR was initiated by the Immersive Web Group, which in turn was commissioned by the W3C consortium, an organization that deals with the standardization of WWW techniques.

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Is Apple making its XR ecosystem more open?

The WebXR support is surprising because Apple is actually known for wanting to establish its own interfaces and software and to keep users in its own app stores if possible. However, the WebXR support does not exclude this approach and would not be a change in strategy for a long time.

So far, Apple has not commented on the XR ecosystem strategy – of course, the headset has not even been officially announced. It is unclear whether Apple, like many other competitors like Meta and Microsoft, will rely on the interface standard OpenXR. This would be desirable for the XR industry, since it would make it easier for development studios to port their software between different devices and platforms.

Apple would have a reason to open up more in VR and AR than in the current app ecosystem: The market is small, as are the development budgets, and with Meta there is already a top dog with plenty of head start. Apple would make it easier for itself to get started if VR developers can publish apps from the Oculus platform in the Apple Store with as little effort as possible.

Possibly, though, and this is the alternative, Apple is focusing more on a small, heavily curated selection of particularly effective self-developed apps when launching the headset, and is not placing much emphasis on ports.

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Sources: Twitter