Google to stick VR into Android’s web browser, but analysts warn against low-quality VR content

Samsung VR headset
Samsung is one of several vendors offering a VR-capable headset.

Momentum continues to build behind virtual reality content, with Google announcing that it will back a web standard intended to allow web browsers like its Chrome to display VR content. The news is notable in that it could allow VR content to be viewed outside of dedicated apps and services like Facebook and YouTube.

Google’s news comes as research firm Juniper Research predicts continued growth in the sale of VR-capable viewing devices. Indeed, the firm today forecast that there will be nearly 60 million smartphone VR headsets shipped in 2021, an increase of around 240 percent on an expected 16.8 million this year. However, in a release, the firm noted that “while millions of consumers are already using VR on smartphone-based devices like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, developers need to go beyond the simple experience-based apps currently available and offer compelling content to keep users engaged.”

“Many consumers are likely to try the platform because the hardware is relatively cheap, and then turn away because of low-quality free content,” explained Juniper’s James Moar. “The best opportunity for smartphone VR is in providing subscription media, from film and series streaming to news broadcasts, to supplement existing online services.”

Nonetheless, Google’s move to support the WebVR standard could at least increase the ways consumers will be able to access VR content. Although the WebVR standard is still under development, it is intended to allow standard web browsers like Chrome to display VR content. Specifically, Google said it expects to add a stable, final version of WebVR into the Android version of its Chrome web browser in January of next year -- a move that would make WebVR available to a large chunk of the world’s smartphone users, since Android runs roughly 80 percent of the world’s smartphones.

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And Google isn’t alone in supporting WebVR; already Microsoft has said it will add WebVR support to its own Edge web browser.

For content creators, interest in VR is driving a number of new products and business actions. For example, Intel recently announced it will acquire Voke, “a leader in bringing live, virtual reality experiences to audiences,” the company said. Voke was founded in 2004 and offers technology for sports VR content that “lets fans be where the action is without ever leaving their living rooms.”