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Mozilla Trumpets Altered Reality Browser

mozilla plans new firefox browser for virtual and augmented reality devices


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The Mozilla Foundation on Tuesday unveiled its plans for Firefox Reality, a browser designed specifically for mixed reality headsets.

The browser combines the beneftis of Mozilla's existing Firefox browser -- most notably the robust performance of its Firefox Quantum technology -- with Servo, its experimental Web engine.

Using Servo, Mozilla plans to experiment with entirely new designs and technologies for seeing and interacting with the immersive Web.

"We believe that the future of the Web will be heavily intertwined with virtual and augmented reality, and that future will live through browsers," wrote Sean White, Mozilla's senior vice president for emerging technologies, in an online post.

"That's why we're building Firefox Reality, a new kind of Web browser that has been designed from the ground up to work on standalone virtual and augmented reality (or mixed reality) headsets," he added.

The First VR Headset came out in the 1960’s. Coined as the “Telesphere Mask” by inventor Morton Heilig. This device features stereoscopic (3-D) TV, wide vision and true stereo sound.

Cross-Platform Solution

Virtual reality needs its own kind of Web browser because the Web currently is designed for 2D, said Hunter Sappington, a researcher with Parks Associates .

"As solutions like Mozilla's become more widely available, they will open up new possibilities for presenting and consuming 3D information on the Web," he told LinuxInsider.

"Firefox Reality is a way for consumers to better browse the Web in VR, but its existence also serves as a sort of toolkit that may encourage Web developers to innovate in new ways in order to help their website stand out," Sappington pointed out.

Firefox Reality has a number of virtues, noted Mozilla's White.

For example, it's the first cross-platform browser for mixed reality. Other solutions for browsing on standalone headsets exist, but they're closed and platform-specific.

"A lot of content that will be created for these headsets will be done in a browser format, but you have different operating systems that run on these devices," explained Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research .

"What this browser does is free content creators from having to build for a particular platform," he told LinuxInsider.

Smartphones at the forefront of Virtual Reality. It’s a worldwide reality: smartphones dominate everyone’s every move. It comes as no surprise that taking the smartphone experience to the next level means stepping up the game in VR. With all the VR content users can sink their claws into, all one needs is the perfect device to embrace the wealth of entertainment that awaits him or her.

Firefox Reality reflects a trend away from apps that both Mozilla and Google recently have advocated, observed Eric Abbruzzese, a senior analyst with ABI Research .

"A browser to access all content is ideal for augmented reality and mixed reality, as the breadth and variety of content both in type and source is wide, and users will become disinterested the more apps they need to install," he told LinuxInsider.

Better Privacy

Firefox Reality is the only open source browser for mixed reality, White noted.

"Not only does this make it easier for manufacturers to add the browser to their platform, but it provides a level of transparency that our users have come to know and expect from Mozilla," he wrote.

Privacy will be another strong suit for the new browser, White maintained. "Mixed reality is still new. We don't yet have all the answers for what privacy looks like in this new medium, but we are committed to finding the solution."

In an augmented reality setting, there's a good reason for heightened concern about privacy, said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research .

"It's more than just tracking websites you've visited," he told LinuxInsider. "It's your physical presence that can be tracked over time."

Challenges Ahead

The VFX-1. We can’t do a list about the history of Virtual Reality and not include the VFX-1. Released in the middle of the 1990s, the VFX-1 system was one of the most capable virtual reality headsets released on the market at the time. With stereoscopic 3D, multi-axis head movement detection and rotation, and the ability to play games that were not truly supported by the system, the VFX-1 was the true Virtual Reality deal at the time. Furthermore, their price tag was relatively cheap compared to other products on the market, coming at a mere $600. However, the VFX-1 was too advanced of a technology and it didn’t really take off. Later on, the company Vuzix that made the glasses was bought by Forte Technologies, which released a more expensive VFX 3D version, but it also didn’t manage to achieve huge success.

Firefox Reality will offer superior performance, according to White.

"We know fast," he wrote.

"We have decades of experience with Web compatibility, and last year we released Firefox Quantum -- a browser that was rebuilt for speed," he pointed out. "All of that knowledge, technology and experience will allow us create a best-in-class browser for mixed reality headsets."

Firefox Reality will face some challenges to its widespread adoption, however.

"Trying to move from the heavily ingrained app approach to a browser goes against the status quo," ABI's Abbruzzese explained.

There are also many uncertainties in the market, he added, such as consumer interest in AR and VR, and content creators wondering if it's worth creating for it.

What's more, consumers continue to be discouraged by pricing.

"Prices are higher than people want to pay," Technalysis' O'Donnell said. "They want to pay in the (US)$200 range."

Potential Killer App

Making a play to be the go-to software for VR/AR content has some obvious benefits for Mozilla, Abbruzzese noted.

The start-up company Oculus Rift kickstarted the industry of virtual reality again with the release of a Kickstarter project for their Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, in the year 2010.

"It opens up the rest of Mozilla to interact with the AR/VR market more directly," he explained. "Tying into WebXR allows a seamless transition from browser portal to content experience, and that kind of simplicity has been missing thus far."

It also positions Mozilla to take advantage of a growing market.

"If AR and VR grow the way we expect it to from a customer demand perspective in the next few years, Mozilla has a shot as being the browser of choice for these early adopters and early mainstream adopters," said Lewis Ward, IDC's research director for gaming.

"Some of these VR/AR platforms may be locked down, however, so it's not clear the Mozilla option will be available on all them," he told LinuxInsider. "For the ones that do allow it, Firefox Reality could turn out to be a killer app if Mozilla nails it, and that's good for the entire market."

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