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Format wars enter the AR era as Safari lacks support for competing WebXR standard

ARKit enables users to see 3D objects in overlaid on the real world

Industry insiders claim Apple's lack of support for WebXR is holding Augmented Reality on the web back, but that's only if you ignore the standards Apple already supports.

WebXR was created by a coalition of companies that included Meta, Google, Samsung, Mozilla, and Magic Leap. The format enables augmented reality experiences in a web browser, but only where it is supported.

According to a report from Protocol, Apple doesn't support WebXR and industry insiders claim this is holding back the advancement of AR on the web. However, the report fails to mention the Apple-Pixar sourced USDZ format introduced with ARKit 2.0.

The report claims that the iPhone limits users to app experiences for augmented reality since Safari's WebKit engine doesn't support WebXR. That means consumers would be required to install third-party apps to consume the format.

However, Apple's lack of support for the format doesn't exclude iOS users from having AR experiences on the web. The USDZ format was created in a collaboration between Apple and Pixar and has existed since iOS 12 debuted in 2018.

Apple uses web AR objects for promotional material like event invites
Apple uses web AR objects for promotional material like event invites

There are several places where web-AR can be experienced on the iPhone like Amazon or Apple. The USDZ format has been popular for seeing items in augmented reality before making a purchase.

While an argument can be made for Apple to support the competing standard, it can't be based on the idea that Apple is holding web-based AR back, because it simply isn't true. One of the more heavily featured complainers in the article is an AR marketing company called Pretty Big Monster which has built experiences for Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery.

"They have blocked off a huge portion of our consumers from the most successful way to view AR experiences," said Jason Steinberg, managing director at Pretty Big Monster. "It's a shame that all these great experiences could be two clicks away."

Apple is one of the driving forces behind promoting augmented reality and its benefits, and Safari's USDZ format is part of pushing that narrative forward. The competing WebXR standard may yet appear in a future Safari update, driving competition innovation for web-based AR.

Until then, it seems Apple has chosen a side in yet another format war. While the report suggests Apple is testing WebXR support internally, it isn't clear if it will ever arrive in WebKit.