The Internet graveyard is littered with 3D technologies that almost were: VRML, Java3D and Shockwave 3D to name but a few. It seems like every few years a new set of tools tries to reach terminal velocity. And why not, the potential of ubiquitous real-time 3D in browser is staggering, gaming, data visualizations, education and more are orders of magnitude more compelling and effective when rendered in real-time. So, it’s no wonder people keep trying to crack the code. The question is, does WebGL have a shot to break through to mainstream?
The keys to adoption of any technology are excellent development tools and widespread deployment. On the tools front, WebGL does reasonably well. While there isn’t a true integrated development environment like the Unity game engine, there are many solid frameworks that do an excellent job of streamlining development. And, because WebGL is based on existing 3D technologies it works well with many modeling and animation tools. Unfortunately, the deployment front is far less rosy.
WebGL works well on about 50-percent of desktops and laptops out there, basically any modern browser that isn’t Internet Explorer, but it’s essentially a no-show on mobile and tablet browsers. Which puts WebGL fairly inline with Unity, Flash and Unreal — none of which of have managed to break through.
The glimmer of hope for WebGL is that Google seems to be putting a ton of money and it’s plugin free, which is a huge advantage compared to the likes of Unity, Flash and Unreal, which will probably never make it to mobile browsers.
Image source: Chrome Experiments