What's WebVR good for?

WebVR poses significant technical hurdles when it comes to architecting and producing a VR experience. In exchange, you get to use URLs. WebVR, as a product of the web, has the trait of being shareable.

VR has two main audiences today:

  • The hardcore audience with beefy dedicated VR setups, which are similar to home theatre setups in many respects. They use their setups for hours at a time, and want a high degree of interactivity.
  • The mobile audience who have a chinese headset and the VR rollercoaster app installed on their phone. They try VR out for minutes at a time and can't interact very well due to lack of good input methods.

VR experiences that require a high degree of interaction only work well for the hardcore audience. They don't benefit from the sharing aspect; if they've decided they want to try your VR experience, they won't be deterred from downloading a native app, because they expect to invest hours into your thing. Asking them to open a link to your VR thing that will only entertain them for a few seconds is like asking a home theatre enthusiast to turn on their 4k projector and 5.1 surround system just to watch a cat video.

Mobile users hate downloading apps. Web sharing is still one of the easiest way to reach them. But they don't carry their headsets with them. And even if the headset is in a nearby cupboard, if they stumble on a VR feature in your mobile web app, they're still pretty unlikely to try it, unless it is compelling.

They're still the best shot that WebVR has got.

The mobile web VR medium is one where you have low interactivity, and your content is shareable. But people will ignore your content unless it is compelling.

Viewing clothes on a mobile shopping site on your phone in VR is not compelling. Users want to see lots of them and quickly, and having to pop their phone in and out of the headset constantly would get in the way of that. Shopping for clothes is high interactivity.

Games can be compelling, but mobile WebVR games can't. The only inputs you have are voice and the accelerometer. Maybe the camera. Most types of games require a tactile control scheme. Daydream is sort of trying to fix this. But playing most games is high interactivity.

Viewing video and image content works well on mobile VR. Because they are low interactivity and encourage sharing. However, you don't see people doing it a lot, unless the content is compelling.

Architecture is an interesting niche for VR. Staring at virtual renders designed by an architect inherently requires fairly low interactivity. Using WebVR, an architect could share their latest work, which can be compelling if you're looking to hire their services, or they're showing you the thing you commissioned them for. Carrying around a Pixel and Daydream VR for your client meetings is also a fairly elegant, all-in-one presentation solution.

So, again to summarise, WebVR is useful for mobile VR experiences that:

  • Benefit from being easily shareable;
  • Require low interactivity;
  • Are compelling enough to convince someone to dust a hunk of plastic from their cupboard.