Browsing Will Change VR: three part series

 

Ian Hamilton of Upload VR gives us some great news: Leap Motion Raises $50 Million For Its Finger Tracking Technology! That means your virtual hands are going to be able to type for you in Virtual Reality! How awesome is that? I get it if you absolutely have to go buy this sweet new tech right now- I can hardly wait to get it either- so visit Leap Motion’s site and, please, email me when you’ve had a chance to test it out.

 

giphy-downsized

 

So today’s topic: internet browsing. I was casually googling my search terms as a blogger tends to do, when I came across this comment from RorschachPhoenix  in the Oculus Discussion Forums:

 

Oculus Home feels like a virtual cage to me right now. There is stuff in it. But it is just a little bit and the quality is arguable….As a PC user I am used to do whatever I want to do! But with the Rift it feels like I can do nothing except use Oculus Home.

 

I feel that encapsulates the problem with web browsing in VR quite well, don’t you- how do you get out of the ‘Virtual Cage’ and into the World Wide Web? Well, a web browser, of course! That little icon we have come to rely on so heavily in our day to day lives. Being without it is tantamount to being a virtual hermit. The folk at Advanced   Television say:

 

“As the numerous publications that launched and then ditched content apps will tell you, the most important content app on every consumer’s mobile phone is the web browser.”

 

Well that is intuitively true, as far as I am concerned. Let’s talk web browsing for a moment – the good, old fashioned 2D model that we are currently connected to and using at all times. I can check my e-mail, google what I like, visit pretty much any site I want, and that experience has become such a part of the fabric of my everyday life that I am not sure I could even write a complete sentence without googling a word here or looking up a fact there. The internet is so incomprehensibly vast that when I am logged in on my laptop I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of the world.

So, when I put on my VR visor, I want to know I can keep my finger on that pulse. Otherwise, as beautiful and eye opening as watching vivid images in VR can be, I will ultimately always put it down and take up my laptop again unless it can provide me with that same sense, in some ways that same reality, of global connection as I feel in my flat little 2D world right now.

 

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Love this, Cheat Code Central!

 

Tim Fiennes, Senior Market Analyst at the BBC published a report Friday titled, Putting Audiences at the Heart of VR. They identified four major challenges in getting people to walk away from their computers and start putting on visors. To me, these challenges seemed to overlap in some areas, so I will only explore two: One, ‘the occasion in which VR will be used, and two, ‘discovery of content and poor user experience’.

 

The occasions in which VR will be used

We found that often…it was just too much of a faff, without enough of a compelling reason to bother. When the headset was used, it tended to be the last media option they turned to, having exhausted TV, their PVR, SVOD, social, gaming…. the rest of the internet(!).

Further:

Social interaction – for some audiences the insular / individual nature of the experience was off-putting as they preferred connecting with others either digitally or in physical space.

 

At the end of the day, a visor that does not deliver access to the internet as effectively as any other web browser might is going to have the literal and figurative effect of a blinder. Without access to my virtual communities I end up feeling isolated and discontent.

 

Discovery of content and the current poor user experience

“…many of our participants found the user interface to be tricky in any case. Often the way to navigate around various VR environments differs from app to app – adding to frustration. The way in which content is then presented to audiences is a challenge. We found that when our participants were left to discover content themselves, they rarely ventured out of the main app; by themselves they found very little of the high quality content we had given them. Their discovery was mostly limited to gimmicky, adrenalin-focussed and games-orientated experiences, resulting in the novelty factor wearing off quickly.”

 

Browsing the web in VR is clunky. When I have my google chrome opened, I can navigate anywhere on the world wide web from one browser window. This isn’t just a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of accessibility. I simply do not have time for learning to manage multiple apps when I already have access to an interface that can do anything I need it to. And I don’t ‘need’ to see the internet in three dimensions just yet.

 

 

Basically, we need to bring the 2D world of internet browsing into the 3D world of VR use if we ever hope to see everyone adopt VR as their primary source of media consumption (as Zuck would like it to be). To me, the solution is simple. Why not make a web browser that works pretty much the same as your regular internet browser and plunk it into a VR visor? One where you can toggle from, say, the Samsung Internet browser to Google Daydream seamlessly and still have the access to use the internet as you are accustomed to. But, like all things, simple doesn’t mean easy according to this article on Engineering.com:

 

Bringing web-based VR to the masses has many challenges, and first and foremost is how to equip browsers for content. Getting browsers to interact with VR headsets is challenging, even given the current 3D model rendering capabilities of WebGL.

 

 

So what is the most popular Next Big Thing when it comes to VR web browsing? As Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, guest writer for Venture Beat, says in his article WebVR isn’t sexy, but it will change the game for VR this year, our most attractive option right now is WebVR:

 

WebVR isn’t sexy. At least not yet. In fact, at this stage in its development, it often looks like VR from the ’80s and ’90s, particularly because the developer community isn’t prioritizing consumer-facing applications quite yet.

 

WebVR is a javascript API that allows you to access your every day 2D browser in 3D. There are other options available, but more on that in the last part of our series. And, despite having such an adorable website you just want to give it a hug, even that API has its issues according to a report submitted by the W3C Workshop on Web & Virtual Reality this past October:

 

…a traditional browser UI can be seen as a disruption in VR that needs to be rethought for WebVR use cases. Speed and frictionless access to content are at the core of the Web and hyperlinks are the fundamental building block of the Web architecture. These defining characteristics of the Web have to be retained in WebVR to ensure navigating from web pages to VR worlds is as seamless and natural experience as browsing the traditional Web.

 

And even then you have the additional challenge of deciding which browser is the right browser for you. Downloading Firefox or Chrome is a relatively simple task for us 2D educated Internet users, but when you are trying to encourage the public to adopt VR as the best way to experience the web, it doesn’t pay to have a massive homework assignment to go on top of things.

And even then, in the tug of war to get our business, it is no simple thing to move from browser to browser to test out which one is best. Browsers are the ‘property’ of the companies that create them for their visors, If you want to use, say Samsung Internet browser, you should already have Samsung Gear VR available to you.

 

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Pausing for dramatic effect

 

That is the first instalment in the three part series focusing on looking at how web browsing will change VR. Tomorrow I will discuss reviews of the various VR browsing options available to users at the moment. Until then, stay strong, be brave, and wait for the signs. And may your Virtual Reality dreams come true in Real Reality. Take care!