Mozilla has announced a new version of its Firefox browser for standalone virtual and augmented reality headsets. It’s called Firefox Reality, and Mozilla describes it as a cross-platform, open source, and privacy-friendly browser whose interface will be specialized for headsets. You can see an early demo of it working on the HTC Vive Focus, but it’s not available publicly yet, and Mozilla hasn’t specified which headsets will support it.
The Firefox Reality demo makes it looks a lot like a traditional browser, albeit one that’s streamlined and floating in a virtual void. The video demonstrates someone navigating through pages and smoothly scrolling with a simple VR controller, but they seem to have a little trouble hitting small buttons with its pointer. Mozilla’s vision sounds pretty broad and potentially ambitious, though:
Mixed reality is the wild west. How do you type? How do you express emotion? How do you view the billions of existing 2D web pages as well as new 3D content? How do you communicate? Who maps the world and who controls what you see? Can we build on our work with voice recognition and connected devices to create a better browsing experience? We love tackling these questions. Everything is new again, and we are constantly building and experimenting to find the right answers.
Headset makers have already developed browsers for individual platforms. Oculus released one for the Gear VR, Google has an experimental version of Chrome for Daydream, and Microsoft put its Edge browser into Windows Mixed Reality’s home space. (These are all basically browsers for virtual reality, but they could translate easily to consumer augmented reality headsets, and Windows Mixed Reality also includes devices like the HoloLens.) You can also access traditional browsers through VR desktop apps.
But Mozilla wants people to use Firefox Reality for the same reasons they’d use Firefox on a computer. It’s not specific to any one headset brand, and it’s not run by a company known for harvesting user data, like Google or Facebook. Firefox Reality is also supposed to reflect performance advances that Firefox made with its speedy Quantum browser. Firefox specifically talks about supporting standalone headsets, which are still fairly rare. But there’s no clear reason why it couldn’t support other VR devices as well.
VR browsers are generally thought of as portals for 2D web pages, but that’s not all they’re good for. They can also launch full VR experiences or 360-degree videos that are hosted online, through a standard like WebVR, which Firefox added full support for last year. With Firefox Reality, Mozilla is giving VR a vote of confidence, and potentially bringing some openness to a series of relatively walled-off and device-specific VR platforms.