Catapulting toward the future of VR
By Keith Schaffer
Product Manager, Matterport VR
Matterport VR has seen growing use and applications across numerous industries. Every day we hear more and more businesses share stories of how they are using our VR technology to drive more interest in their properties by allowing clients to fully experience them from anywhere. Yet, loading those experiences hasn’t always been easy.
Unless you had a Daydream device, an Android user would have to first download the Matterport VR app in order to launch their Spaces in virtual reality. Today, Matterport has expanded it’s WebVR offering beyond Daydream to include the majority of Android devices. This means that most Android users can explore Matterport VR Spaces directly through their web browser — without having to download an external app! This is a major step in making virtual reality an easy, simple, “one-button” experience for all.
Note: We are slowing rolling this feature out to everyone. The process can take a day or two. If you don't have access already, don't worry you will soon
Understanding the future household word: WebVR
For Android users, WebVR is simple - running behind the scenes to enable VR content to launch within the browser itself. All an Android user has to do is tap on the the VR icon on the bottom right corner to switch to VR mode and start streaming. This means that businesses which feature Matterport models on their website no longer have to drive traffic to an external app - and can keep clients on their website.
For context, WebVR is an open source standard being developed by engineers from Google, Mozilla, Apple and other internet and VR companies. These same companies have been working to break down the barriers for VR by allowing anyone to view VR content directly in their web browser regardless of their device. Matterport is one of the key providers of VR content driving companies to deliver this innovation.
Making Virtual Reality access even easier than before
For those who remember the early internet, WebVR is to VR as Flash streaming video is to YouTube. Before YouTube, watching a video online was extremely difficult. Many different formats would only work with proprietary players, each of which required a special plugin. You had to download the majority of content before viewing, and only then hope you had the right plugin and codec to play the video. The friction created by these added steps made it hard for viewers to access and enjoy lots of different types of content.
YouTube solved most of these struggles by avoiding any plugins, programs, or apps. Its advent was a game changer allowing viewers to stream content on demand within their browser. Today, the concept of being able to access and enjoy content immediately is so ingrained in our collective experience that we cannot image the internet without it. In fact, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming media account for up to 70% of all internet traffic today.
WebVR is a similar concept. Not only is it frictionless for end users, it also gives developers greater flexibility, faster growth, and more innovation than a stand alone app. For developers WebVR greatly simplifies things allowing them to develop for a single platform instead of several. For businesses, WebVR means they can confidently leverage VR without worrying about driving traffic away from their website.
While Matterport still plans to support our existing Matterport VR apps, behind the scenes we’re making a long-term transition from Unity3D to a single WebVR implementation. For users, this transition will be seamless and may go unnoticed, but for developers this will allow for faster innovation.
A bit about the hardware
To access WebVR, we recommend using an Android device that is around two years old or younger.
Officially, we are only supporting Android devices (Android 5.0 Lollipop or newer) with Chrome browser 59+, and a built-in gyroscope. Phones that have not been updated to Android 7.0 Nougat will also need the Google VR Services app. If you don’t have this, you will be prompted to download the first time you try to view WebVR content. Overall, we believe that most of our mobile Android traffic will easily meet these requirements.
You’ll find that the performance of WebVR is closely tied to the specific device you use. We optimize for as many devices as possible, but not all phones are created equal. Some older Android devices may see better performance through our current Matterport VR app than WebVR. For new devices though, WebVR is a solid platform that will only continue to grow in terms of features.
Looking into WebVR’s future
Beyond this latest announcement, Matterport does plan to support WebVR for iOS/Cardboard and Android/GearVR in the not so distant future. At least in some form. However, because a lot of this depends on external actors, such as mobile browsers fully integrating WebVR, we can’t offer a specific timeline for this yet. Rest assured, we are committed to offering a great experience on these platforms as soon as we are able.
In the meantime, if you own a supported Android device, you can experience WebVR right away. Just open a Matterport Space and tap the VR icon in the lower right hand corner. With WebVR it really is that easy. If you’re reading this post on a smartphone device, try it out right now!