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Mozilla is doubling down on its mixed reality efforts with the announcement of a new browser built specifically for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets.

Most headset makers already offer their own browsers, of course, including Oculus, Samsung, and Microsoft. But Mozilla is pitching Firefox Reality as a cross-platform browser that will work on any headset. As with Mozilla’s existing desktop browser, Firefox Reality is open source, making it easier for manufacturers to adapt the browser for their devices.

Mozilla has actually been one of the leading developers of WebVR, a JavaScript API that has sought to make VR more accessible through browsers on your PCs and mobile devices, with support for most of the big-name headsets. Google brought WebVR support to Chrome in some Daydream-ready Android phones last February, while later in the year Firefox became the first desktop browser to officially support the WebVR standard.

Back in October, Mozilla announced a new mixed reality development program, with an initial focus on getting “devices, headsets, frameworks, and toolsets to work together.”


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Future gazing

Above: Firefox Reality: How it looks

Firefox Reality is a future-gazing effort that seeks to reimagine how we’ll access internet in the future. Plus, it’s pushing beyond VR and into AR or mixed reality, where real and virtual worlds collide.

“Today, we primarily access the internet through our phones, tablets, and computers,” noted Mozilla’s chief R&D officer, Sean White. “But how will the world access the web in five years, or in 10 years, and how will the web itself grow and change?”

At launch, Firefox Reality will support the HTC Vive Focus and HTC Vive Wave platform devices, though Mozilla is opening up developer support for testing through other platforms, including Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR, among other Qualcomm SVR-based headsets. Mozilla said that it’s working with ODG to support its recently announced R8 and R9 AR glasses, and it’s also part of Magic Leap’s early access program. Preview builds are available for sideloading through GitHub now, with release builds ready as devices go to market — Mozilla noted that it expects the Firefox Reality browser to be generally available to users later this summer.

“We believe that the future of the web will be heavily intertwined with virtual and augmented reality, and that future will live through browsers,” continued White. “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.”

From a commercial standpoint, IDC recently forecast that the AR and VR markets combined will hit nearly $18 billion this year, almost doubling last year’s figure. And that combined worth could rise to as much as $100 billion by 2023.

All the big technology players are investing heavily in AR, with the likes of Apple’s ARKitGoogle’s ARCore, and Facebook’s AR camera effects platform coming to the fore last year. Amazon got in on the action with the launch of Sumerian, a browser-based tool for building AR and VR experiences. Many companies are also now embracing AR as part of their core services, which could help the fledgling technology gain traction as a practical tool — eBay, for example, recently announced a new AR feature designed to help sellers find the right box for their product.

Some have called mixed reality the user interface of the future, and it’s this future that Mozilla is betting on.

“Currently, the world can browse the open web using our fast and privacy-focused Firefox browser, but continuing that mission in a rapidly changing world means constantly investing our time and resources into new and emerging technologies — and realities,” added White.

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