Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Google is embracing WebVR in its latest Chrome beta for Android

Google is embracing WebVR in its latest Chrome beta for Android

Virtual reality just got a lot more accessible, thanks to Google’s newfound embrace of WebVR.

WebVR is a JavaScript Application Program Interface (better known by its acronym: API) that enables VR experiences in your browser. That’s everything from simple 360-degree look-arounds, to 3D environments, to even interactive experiences like those tailor-made for the Google Daydream. WebVR is effectively democratizing VR by making it widely available to the masses. Or as Open Documentary Lab Director at MIT Sarah Wolozin writes for NiemanLab, “[It’s] good news for journalists working with VR: Billions can access their content, not millions.”

“billions can access their content, not millions”

And it’s true. One of the pervasive problems with VR getting off the ground is its accessibility. Not everyone has a Pixel phone capable for Google Daydream, nor does everyone even wield an Android for Samsung Gear VR purposes. Mobile VR, and the expensive higher-end PC alternatives like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, have a blatant accessibility problem. But WebVR is working to fix that: by building readily available VR experiences for not only those current headset-owning users, but also for those with only a Google Cardboard at their wielding, or even just a computer screen. Since these experiences live on the web, they can remain there too, not permanently tied to 360-degree offerings.

The experimental beta build of the WebVR API for Chrome isn’t strapped to only passive experiences. There’s a GamePad API as well, so that WebVR experiences can even be directed via a separate gamepad, such as the Google Daydream’s controller. Desktop and Google Cardboard support is not available in the Chrome 56 for Android beta, but is slated for widespread release eventually.

Mozilla's A-Frame provides the framework for WebVR content creation.
Mozilla’s A-Frame provides the framework for WebVR content creation.

WebVR will likely continue to be host to a diverse number of journeys, like Vi Hart’s “Monkeys,” to Mozilla’s experimental panorama viewer, even if the current offerings for WebVR at the moment are minimal. In her NiemanLab journalistic predictions for 2017, Wolozin mused that WebVR is going to be important in 2017. “I anticipate many more journalists will integrate it into their storytelling repertoire this coming year,” she writes. “3D and virtual reality have come and gone before. There are certainly plenty of VR skeptics. But with the convergence of VR and the open Web, VR seems poised to stay.”

You can read more about WebVR on Chrome here, which will be coming to desktops and Google Cardboard at a later date. Ready to embark on the WebVR journey now? You can read more about making and enabling WebVR content too.

Screencaps: Sechelt, MozVR team; A-Frame, Mozilla

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