#472: Google’s Josh Carpenter on Bringing WebVR to Daydream

josh-carpenterGoogle announced at the W3C WebVR workshop in mid-October that they would be shipping a WebVR-enabled Chromium browser in Q1 of 2017. I had a chance to catch up with Josh Carpenter last week to talk about some of the work that Google is doing to enable innovation on the open web, and more about his W3C talk on HTML, CSS & VR and some of Google’s early experiments with hybrid apps that combine OpenGL with web technologies.


Josh talks about how WebVR is drawing inspiration from the Extensible Web Manifesto in being able to provide low-level APIs that will create a common baseline of a solid experience based upon web technologies.

At GDC in March, the WebVR demos on the expo floor had trouble hitting 90 fps, but since then they’ve been able to start to meet that minimum baseline of performance. Achieving this milestone helped to show other VR companies that the web could actually be a viable distribution platform for VR.

But Josh compares talking about WebVR to a VR developer right now as sort of like what it must have felt like to be Tim Berners Lee talking about the potential of the open web to a CD-ROM developer in the early 90s. There will continue to be premiere experiences and innovations happening within native VR applications, but there will likely be unique affordances and convenience that the web can provide to an immersive experience that goes beyond what a native app can do.

Josh gives Netflix as an example to to show the power of the open web. If we were to just look at graphic fidelity as the ultimate measure of performance and value, then we all would be watching movies on Blue-Ray discs rather than on Netflix. But there’s lower friction and instant gratification with Netflix, even though the graphic fidelity is not nearly as good. This is one example of how Josh thinks about the potential of an interconnected Metaverse in comparison to a closed, walled-garden app ecosystem that by all objective measures provides a vastly superior experience.

Josh appreciates the power of strongly vertical integration and proprietary solutions, but also believes that a common horizontal baseline of WebVR could enables the same type of rapid innovation and emergent creativity that the open web has enabled.

He also says that Google’s WebVR browser is going to be based upon the open source Chromium browser, and that Oculus’ WebVR browser named “Carmel” is also based upon Chromium. He says that native web apps like Slack are built on open web standards and bundled with Chromium and Electron, and that he’s looking forward to seeing what type of innovation comes from how developers imagine what a browser could do in a VR experience. One example is an anthropomorphized NPC character that is powered by the Chromium browser.

Josh sees 2017 as a year for exploration and seeing what developers do with the draft specifications of the WebVR standard. Right now Google’s team is dealing with how to view web content within a VR context. Josh says that Apple came up with pinch-to-zoom mechanic that allowed desktop-optimized layouts to be viewed with mobile browser before responsive designs were invented, and that Google is in the process of experimenting
with optimizing 2D content into a 3D context when the pixel density isn’t high enough to do a direct translation. Google has also been experimenting with combing HTML and CSS with OpenGL content in order to do rapid prototyping of user experiences using standardized web development technology stacks.

Josh also shared with me that the Voices of VR podcast has been an important part of the evolution of WebVR since the beginning of the consumer VR gatherings starting with Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference in May of 2014. He said that the previous Voices of VR episodes on WebVR have been an important part of both getting the word out, but also helping to build internal buy-in at different key moments of WebVR’s history.

So here’s a list of my previous interviews about WebVR that go all the way back to episode #13. It’s pretty amazing to hear the evolution of where it started and to see where it’s at today with every single major VR company and browser vendor participating in the recent WebVR workshop.

To get more involved in WebVR, then be sure to go to WebVR.info and check out some of the additional links in the previous Voices of VR episode about WebVR.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip