Mozilla, the not-for-profit developer community behind the popular Firefox Web browser, is trying its hand at developing a new product specifically for Augmented and Virtual Reality hardware. It’s called “Firefox Reality,” which Mozilla describes as a brand-new browser “designed from the ground up for stand-alone Virtual and Augmented Reality headsets.”
“We took our existing Firefox web technology and enhanced it with Servo, our experimental web engine,” explains the product announcement. “From Firefox, we get decades of web compatibility as well as the performance benefits of Firefox Quantum. From the Servo team (who recently joined the Mixed Reality team), we will gain the ability to experiment with entirely new designs and technologies for seeing and interacting with the immersive web. This is the first step in our long-term plan to deliver a totally new experience on an exciting new platform.”
So what does this new browser solution mean for retailers that are now considering adding AR/VR tools to their sales arsenal? The answer is: Not much. At its heart, Firefox Reality is simply a browser that you can use from inside an AR/VR experience. It has nothing to do with adding AR/VR functionality to smartphones or other existing tech, and it’s hard to see a retail use case for this technology.
“It is indeed just a browser designed to be used while wearing a headset, not to add any special new functionality to phones or any other devices,” explains software engineer Ken Moser, Marxent’s resident PhD.
So is this feature really necessary?
“The reason why a different type of browser would be needed while wearing a headset becomes more apparent when you actually put on a headset and try to browse the Web,” Ken explains. “It’s not the same as looking at it on your computer screen or smart phone. When you wear a headset, you expect your head motions and movements to translate into what you’re actually looking at on screen. If you didn’t have special browser functionality for this, no matter how you moved you’d just be staring at the same part of the webpage.”
But Ken points out that there’s more to Mozilla’s Web VR plans than just an HMD browser.
“Separately, though, Firefox does support the WebVR standard, which means that it is possible to interface your desktop browser with the Vive to launch in-browser VR experiences,” Ken says. “This means you can make Web content that is meant to be seen exclusively in a VR headset (like 360 video for example), or WebGL experiences targeting VR. That is, again, Web content, run from your desktop browser, that interfaces with a connected VR headset. Presumably, this same content would naturally transition to the headset specific browser.”
Bottom line: Firefox Reality is a cool idea which will bring Web browsing to existing VR spaces, but its utility as a sales tool is currently non-existent.