Home What's Brewing? The WebVR Standard That Isn’t, and NYT Augmented Reality

The WebVR Standard That Isn’t, and NYT Augmented Reality

Veterans of the Internet Standards Wars, circa 1996, may remember when the first ratification conference for XML 1.0 was gaveled in at the Westin Hotel in Seattle.

The event inaugurated the Internet of Things, almost two decades before the letters IoT became buzzworthy.

The representatives from IBM, Oracle, Sun and Netscape, among others, were like linguists from different nation-states seeking to translate their respective languages into a unifying vocabulary. Their ambassadors  were people like Tim Bray, John Bosak, and Jim Clark, eager to usher in the future.

Apple and Microsoft were conspicuous holdouts. In hindsight, the politics of the period come into focus. Why would companies who had captured the desktop computing world by storm be interested in propping up a competitive standard outside of their ecosystems? Today we can see the bigger picture.

A telling example of the partisanship surrounding XML was the vociferous protest by Microsoft when one of the co-editors of the specification, Tim Bray, accepted a consulting assignment at Netscape. The intense dispute in the XML Working Group would only be solved by the eventual appointment of Microsoft’s Jean Paoli as a co-editor of the standard.

Give it up for the people to rise above the politics. In the 1970’s, three IBMers (Charles Goldfarb, Ed Mosher and Ray Lorie) invented GML, a way of marking up technical documents with structural tags. The initials stood for Goldfarb, Mosher and Lorie. According to Goldfarb, he invented the term “mark-up language” in order to make better use of the initials, so it became the Standard Generalised Markup Language and was adopted by the ISO in 1986. It is a little confusing, because SGML is not itself a markup language, but rather a specification for defining markup languages. The application of SGML that became well known is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). HTML is an SGML application.

Partly because of the divisiveness in various camps around XML, Sun Microsystems found an opening for Java, and the ability to run applications, including applets in Web browsers, securely on any supported platform. Java helped companies like IBM make sense of their diverse range of operating systems. Oracle found Java-stored procedures to be an ideal solution for its cross-platform database.

Probably in response to the prospect of a Java-centric computing universe, Microsoft picked up on XML as an alternative approach to the interoperability puzzle, and, ironically,  became XML’s greatest advocate. Through XML, Microsoft’s applications could communicate with those running on other platforms. A Java application can employ the services of a COM object (COM being Microsoft’s Windows-specific object technology), and vice versa. Hence Microsoft has been busy creating XML interfaces to its server products, such as SQL Server and Exchange.

Flash-forward to present day and the precipice of a new generation of computing and multimedia marked by data visualizations in virtual space in which you can immerse yourself.

The proposed standard, called OpenXR, is the latest idea behind an open consortium to allow VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) hardware and software developers to work together and steer these industries into an open, standardized future.

And, yet, while another round of politics plays out and filters into various devices, the notion of needing a particular headset or some other wearable seems out of synch with the power of the Web to make pervasive a standard that does not require external setups.

Case in point is the current WebVR standard. Apple is nowhere to be found. Google’s Street View “VR” is a marvelous platform that lets any user navigate down tree-lined streets and across cityscapes with no more than a Web browser. Google allows its 360° technology to be embedded on the Web and on Facebook, not on Yelp. Facebook 360 is native to the Facebook platform.

In February of this year, The New York Times introduced Augmented Reality to its online reporting, a milestone in the field of journalism — not “fake news,” but in fact, quite the opposite. Vivid reality you can see for yourself through the lens of your camera in real space — and the results are spellbinding.

Using ARKit from Apple for late model iOS iPhones and iPads and Google’s ARCore for Android devices, the achievement of bringing a Pokemon Go-like interface, bridging the virtual and physical worlds, is astounding, and very likely the most meaningful way of introducing VR (through AR) that one can imagine.

In a pioneering AR article. you can see 3D models of  four U.S. Olympians — figure skater Nathan Chen, speedskater J.R. Celski, ice hockey goalie Alex Rigsby, and snowboarder Anna Gasser overlaid on the real world.

They appear as if they are right in front of you — in your home or office — and you can walk around them to study their form from 360°.

Another NY Times AR-enriched article brings in the world of fashion made famous by David Bowie, letting you the viewer take in one of his fantastical costumes in three dimensions. 

“Look, Ma, no hands, no hats, no goggles, or other wearables,” ought to be the rallying cry for the new VR, AR and MR standards.  Just a handheld smartphone or tablet, and universal access.  The IoVT, Internet of Virtual Things.

Redmond-based startup, Misapplied Sciences, has emerged out of stealth mode with a startling concept they call Parallel Reality, a kind of contextual, multi-view signage system that presents externalized, custom data views to people without the need for googles. Each independent view has to be designed, scripted, created and implemented, but the amazing multi-view pixel technology is already a virtuous reality.

We can only hope that this kind of consortium succeeds where so many others have tried and failed. [24×7]