Apple has been investing a lot in augmented and virtual reality since the introduction of its own ARKit API. However, when it comes to open standards on the web, Apple is still far behind its competitors. In the opinion of industry insiders, the company “has been a drag on innovation in WebAR,” as Safari still lacks support for the WebXR API.
As reported by Protocol, industry experts have been complaining about how difficult it is to deliver AR and VR content to iPhone and iPad users over the web. For instance, marketing agencies have been investing in more immersive AR campaigns to let consumers interact with products in a real environment.
However, on iOS, these experiences require users to download an app – which drops the number of potential consumers. That’s because Safari isn’t compatible with the WebXR standard, a universal API that provides support for augmented and virtual reality headsets on websites.
While Google Chrome on Android began supporting WebXR in 2018, the feature is yet to be added on iOS. Since WebKit is the only web engine allowed on iOS, developers can’t even create a third-party web browser compatible with WebXR.
At least in the US, not targeting iPhone users for a campaign means not reaching the majority of smartphone users. There are some workarounds for reaching iPhone users on the web, but they are more expensive and less efficient than Apple’s ARKit. As a result, the industry has no incentive to create AR content for the web.
Will iOS ever support WebXR?
The answer is yes, probably. But no one knows when this will happen.
WebKit head Maciej Stachowiak stated in 2020 that Apple was “enthusiastic about WebXR.” Since then, nothing more has been said about the API, which has left multiple developers upset. One developer even compared Safari to Internet Explorer due to how long Apple takes to support new features in its browser.
“Everyone and their mother is waiting eagerly for this,” wrote one developer last year. “Very interested in the progress of this issue as clients ‘can’t believe’ that WebXR is not yet supported on iOS,” added another. “Please try to complete this … before 2050,” wrote one commenter, while another on a different thread concluded: “Safari is the new Internet Explorer.”
Luckily for developers, iOS 15.4 and iOS 15.5 beta have experimental support for the WebXR API. However, as noted by Protocol, Apple’s roadmap is still extremely “closely guarded.” With Apple working on its own mixed reality headset, the company may finally enable the API in its mobile operating system sometime this year.