Web

Firefox Reality wants to bring the ‘whimsical web’ to VR

firefox reality hands on

Have you ever been surfing the web and found yourself wishing it was pressed up against your face in a pair of VR goggles?

Yeah, neither have we. But this morning, Mozilla officially launched Firefox Reality, a VR-powered web browser that does just that. The phrase “VR web browser” rolls off the tongue well, but what does that really mean?

To get a better idea of what Mozilla has in mind, we visited the company’s office in Portland and went hands-on with Firefox Reality.

VR in the web

We donned an Oculus Go, with controller in hand, and started up the Firefox Reality app. Unsurprisingly, the app launched into a virtual environment (this one was some sort of mushroom cave), with a familiar floating window in front. Mozilla’s vision of browsing the web in VR feels a lot more like an app store than a web browser like Chrome or Firefox.

This home window offers a few different categories for finding VR web content, curated by the folks over at Mozilla. There wasn’t a ton of content at the time, but examples included a VR music video from the band LCD Soundsystem and a few simple VR games. Each of these are, of course, web applications that can be accessed from their URL on any browser, including the one you’re reading this on.

firefox reality hands on homescreen 1

After clicking on one of these websites, you’re given a 2D preview before entering. Mozilla says this view was included to lessen the abrasive effect of jumping around from site to site in VR.

They also showed a meeting place app called Hubs, which was pitched as “Skype in VR.” There’s been many attempts to offer that on other platforms, such as Facebook’s Space app. But unlike Facebook, Hubs is meant to be a more neutral meeting environment where a person doesn’t see all your photos and network connections tied to your account. Mozilla imagines Hubs being used for everything from casual hangouts to business meetings where documents can be exchanged.

That said Mozilla’s offering is limited compared to Spaces. Hubs lets you pick up a pencil and write in three dimensions, but it was far from a polished app.  Mozilla promises that features will continue to be rolled out a steady pace, including important things like bookmarks and links.

Trying to move the needle

A browser that’s used mostly to find VR experiences might seem mundane, but Mozilla thinks there’s more here than meets the eye. You can type or speak directly into the search bar to head right over to a site you know, for example. That kind of browsing feels a bit more like your typical web experience, allowing someone to follow links down any rabbit hole. Mozilla hopes the openness of the web will lead to a boom of new VR content for people to experience.

“The feedback we heard the most was that users were having a hard time finding new games and experiences,” said Andre Vrignaud, the head of mixed reality platform strategy at Mozilla. “This is why we built a feed of amazing content into the home screen of Firefox Reality.”

These new VR-enabled web apps are developed under the WebXR Device API. The adoption of this web standard is what Mozilla and other companies hope will bring web VR to the masses. If VR has a chance of breaking through into the mainstream, it’ll need more accessible tools — and WebXR could be just that.

“We want to bring the full whimsical web to VR,” said a Mozilla representative at the demo. “We want the actual web to be there.”

Moving VR forward won’t be easy for Mozilla. New hardware continues to be released year after year, both in high-end and budget-friendly, but mass adoption in the mainstream isn’t happening. Is a VR-powered web browser going to turn the tide? Probably not — but Mozilla thinks it could at least make it more fun.

Firefox Reality can be downloaded now for free in the Viveport, Oculus, and Daydream app stores.

Product Review

The Oculus Rift is cheaper, the Vive Pro is better. Is the original Vive still worth it?

The Oculus Rift may have brought virtual reality into the public eye, but HTC’s Vive, built in partnership with Valve, does it better. Does the Vive still represent the true future of virtual reality, or are there better competitors on…
Emerging Tech

With VR dinosaurs and ‘Minecraft,’ one hospital is making medicine less scary

From augmented reality rabbits on the wards to a Minecraft recreation of the hospital for kids to explore, one of the world's most renowned children's hospitals just got a major tech overhaul.
Gaming

‘Borderlands 2 VR’ brings you back to Pandora, but you’ll go there alone

Borderlands 2 has already released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and even PlayStation Vita, but it will soon have a home on PlayStation VR, as well. Borderlands 2 VR is out in December.
Gaming

From horror to first-person shooters, these are the best games in VR

Whether you own a PlayStation VR, and Oculus Rift, or an HTC Vive, you have a ton of different choices when it comes to games. These are 15 of the best virtual reality games available right now.
Movies & TV

Tired of Netflix? Here's where to find free movies online, legally

We've spent countless hours digging around the web to find the best sites for streaming free movies online. Not only are all of these sites completely free to use, they're also completely legal and trustworthy.
Computing

Download music from YouTube in seconds with these great tools

Ripping audio from YouTube has never been easier, but with so many tools out there, which is the best? In this guide, we teach you how to download music from YouTube with a couple different tools -- just proceed with caution.
Computing

Google to shut down Google+ after exposure of 500,000 users’ data

After Facebook revealed that 50 million users may have been exposed as a result of a security vulnerability, Google announced it discovered a bug that left 500,000 Google+ users exposed. It will also shut down Google+.
Computing

You need a website, and these tools will help you make it

We compiled a list of the best website builders, both paid and free. If you don't want to pay for someone to make your website and want to do it yourself, this roundup should point you in the direction you want to go.
Social Media

Sick of Facebook privacy scandals? Here's how to protect your personal data

With a number of security scandals in 2018, it has us questioning if we should get rid of Facebook. Here's how to protect your personal data without deleting your account, as well as how to just nuke the thing altogether.
Computing

Google Slides now auto-transcribes verbal presentations for real-time captions

A new feature for the Google Slides presentation software uses a computer's built-in microphone to transcribe the words of a speaker in real time, displaying them for everyone to see.
Mobile

Pixel 3, Home Hub, and Pixel Slate — our first look at all Google’s new devices

Google has taken the wraps off of a slew of new devices, including the Pixel 3 smartphones, Google Home Hub smart display, Google Pixel Slate tablet, and more. We were at the event, and took a ton of photos of all of Google's new products.
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Mobile

PayPal will soon let you withdraw cash at Walmart, but there’s a catch

PayPal has teamed up with Walmart to allow its account holders to withdraw and deposit cash at the store. The service launches at all Walmart stores across the U.S. in early November, but there's a catch.
Computing

Here's how to download a YouTube video to watch offline later

Learning how to download YouTube videos is easier than you might think. There are plenty of great tools you can use, both online and offline. These are our favorites and a step by step guide on how to use them.