back to article iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!

Today, Apple drops iOS 8, and whilst most of Cupertino’s fanbois will be quantifying themselves with HealthKit, flashing their lights with HomeKit, or configuring their greatly expanded notifications capabilities, one of the most significant changes in its mobile operating system has mostly been ignored by Apple. Big companies …

  1. Russell Hancock

    Was VRML that long ago...

    I remember when i was starting out in web development i found a book on VRML and got it running on my machine, built myself a small virtual forest and then showed all of the other developers - they were really impressed (until they found out it was only about 30 lines of code)...

    I had forgotten all about it until this article, will have to see how easy WebGL is in comparison...

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Was VRML that long ago...

      There are a few js widget sets around and much as I hate Dart I'm thinking of spending a lost weekend or two building some apps...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    1. Mike Bell

      Re: WebGL Demo

      No luck for me in Chrome (Windows) or Safari (OS X).

      Nor this demo in Chrome. But it does look lovely in Safari (OS X) with Web GL enabled. Safari has been able to render Web GL for a long time, with the relevant (developer) preferences set.

      1. Ted Treen

        Re: WebGL Demo

        You're right. That demo does look great in Safari under Mavericks.

        Very nice - have an up vote & a beer!

      2. Malcolm 1

        Re: WebGL Demo

        Strange - seem to work fine here (Chrome 38 x64 and IE11)

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: WebGL Demo

          Is it possible that you disabled WebGL in Chrome for security reasons, and then forgot that you had done so? IIRC, The Register recommended doing just that last year.

          1. Mike Bell

            Re: WebGL Demo


            It's probably down to my clunky old graphics card on my PC.

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: WebGL Demo

        Having sat and stared at the demo eating cpu but doing nothing I accidentally clicked on the screen and dragged - ah that is well cooooool

        1. tommydokc
          Thumb Up

          Re: WebGL Demo

          I too thought at first there was nothing happening and was wondering what the controls were in the upper corner. then i click inside. then i held the mouse button down and moved it rapidly around back and forth and up and down. that's damn cool.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: WebGL Demo

      My favourite is the eye:

    4. tojb

      Re: WebGL Demo

      That is absolutely gorgeous. Note to others: if it doesn't look like its working, try clicking on the middle of it.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fond memories

    I remember doing the VRML homework of the whole class around 99. Got a lot of beer and homemade cakes out of it!

  4. chris 17 Silver badge

    "Starting today, three billion devices can render WebGL content"

    umm, there are a staggering number of iphones, not all of which can upgrade to ios 8, & their number does not total 3 billion. The release of ios 8 will add a lake to the ocean of webgl capable devices, i don't think it'll suddenly kick start the adoption of 3D content on the web.

    I would suggest the lack of demand is because no one really wants 3D. How many 3D channels are ther on tv despite loads of people having 3D capable tv's?

    1. Kristian Walsh

      He wrote "three billion", not "three billion more"

      Three billion is a good estimate of all mobile and desktop browsers that have hardware capable of running WebGL, were it supported.

      Apple's contribution is only about 300,000~600,000 depending on how optimistic you are (not every iPhone/iPad sold can run the iOS 8 software that will provide WebGL), but that's not really why this is important. As the author mentioned, Web developers are Mac-heads (the bad ones never even look at another browser except Safari, judging by their shitty CSS), and it's hard to get someone interested in using a technology if their favourite computer's default browser doesn't use it (by default; I'm aware that you can turn on WebGL in Safari via the Developer menu).

      1. ThomH Silver badge

        @Kristian Walsh

        The iPhone 6 received 4 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours. The 5 received 2 million in the same period. Per the first statistics I could find on Google, 91 million units of the iPhone 5 were sold in total (it's a convenient handset to check because it lasted exactly a year on the market, is no longer sold, and rubs iOS 8 quite well).

        I'd therefore suggest that your 300,000–600,000 new WebGL users estimate is, ummmm, let's say a little conservative.

      2. chris 17 Silver badge

        @ Kristian Walsh

        my point was that the release of IOS 8 does not suddenly unleash 3 billion devices to run WebGL. There are many more non iDevices capable of running WebGl than there are total iDevices in existence (which is more than the 600k you quoted). In fact i'd suggest by now, there are actually more than 600k idevices running IOS 8.

      3. whatevs...

        Kristian, if you knew anything, you'd know that while a not insignificant number of web devs are indeed 'mac heads', they generally use Chrome for development - it has a much better suite of dev tools, with a faster release and update cycle. But hey, that doesn't fit your world view, where you can shake your fist in anger at those awful Nac people, so you just keep on keepin' on, m'kay? Your numbers are out too.

        1. Kristian Walsh


          Ooops, my numbers are out by an order of 1,000, which is a typo on my part, and for which my apologies. That should be millions, not thousands, of course.

          To anyone who honestly thought that I believed the installed base of iOS8-capable devices is less than one month's sale of iPhones, I really don't know what to say to you...

    2. Alan Bourke

      Um are you possibly confusing

      3D graphics, i.e. representations of 3D space on a 2D screen, or what 3D TV and cinema do, which is trick your eyes into seeing actual depth?

      1. P. Lee

        Re: Um are you possibly confusing

        > 3D graphics, i.e. representations of 3D space on a 2D screen, or what 3D TV and cinema do, which is trick your eyes into seeing actual depth?

        Either way, if the use-case is business graphics, I'm not sure adding lots of phone-screens into the mix is going to start a revolution. Ditto tablets. Sadly, I fear a web-based candy-crush embedded in a facebook page is where this is going.

        Ok, it isn't all doom and gloom, if it makes for better web-apps in general then it will be a good thing. The main thing is that it enables better platform independence. I just think it will be useful on the desktop before the phone.

        I'd forgotten about VRML - very cool in the day but before its time on the hardware front - too slow to have even a trivial use-case. In this case though, candy-crush can drive dev familiarity and hopefully it will trickle into things which are useful.

  5. Alan Denman

    A sabotaged WebGL !

    Whilst the Rip Van Winkle OS has finally made WebGL work, it is artificially limited to be near useless for many.

    Maybe it is that old chestnut, IOS memory problems that limit any sensible multi tasking. They also parameter constrain WebGL like it is a iPod touch 5th gen.

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: A sabotaged WebGL !

      Where "iOS memory problems that limit any sensible multi tasking" means "iOS will evict software that is in the background if software that is in the foreground needs the resources". It also has no relation whatsoever to what you're otherwise discussing: that if you write for WebGL rather than native on the same iOS device then you potentially have access to fewer extensions and lower numbers of varyings, uniforms, etc.

      I'd have thought it was something to do with this being the first version of Apple's WebGL sandbox (WebGL having previously been available for iAds but not in the browser).

  6. Michael B.

    Blimey Windows Phone 8.1 supports WebGl as well

    so make it 3 billion and 1 devices. Though not all the samples on the web seem to run so there must be something missing from the implementation as some sophisticated samples run great whereas some simple samples don't.

    Looks like I will be digging out my 3D geometry and having a bit of a play this weekend.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Blimey Windows Phone 8.1 supports WebGl as well

      IE introduced it in either IE10 or IE11.

  7. Neil Lewis

    Working fine here on Firefox on OpenSuse Linux, as it has for ages

  8. Identity

    A Little Revisionist History

    At the time, Apple had a (late, unlamented) plugin known as QuickTime VR [QTVR], initially released in 1994 (if Wikipedia got the date right). It worked both with QuickTime and as a browser plug-in. As i remember, it was best suited for spinning things around...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Little Revisionist History

      It was a fascinating novelty at the time for stitched panoramas - I seem to recall a very basic walkthrough of the entrance and foyer of Apple's HQ, with hotspots to link the different 360s, as the demo. The guy who bought my powerbook 180 about five years later wanted to use it as mobile storage while he was out doing his own around London.

  9. donguevas

    Android has had support for it via Chrome since 2013...

  10. Alan Bourke

    So WebGL

    Why is it better than, say, Unity?

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: So WebGL

      It's non-proprietary and doesn't require a licence for any sort of deployment.

      It's also a completely different product. WebGL is a thin hardware abstraction. Think of it like assembly language. You directly control the primitives to be drawn and the function applied to determine the colour of each pixel of each primitive.

      Unity is a game-engine. Think of it more like the combination of C# and the Windows Presentation Foundation. You describe a number of objects within a scene and their properties. So it's a much higher-level thing that technically constrains you to certain semantics but which is designed to be broad enough for a huge proportion of use cases. It will be using WebGL to render.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: So WebGL

      I wouldn't say "better" - in fact as a developer I would say the opposite. But as a consumer it means it is supported natively in the browser without the need for plugins. Unity doesn't work on iOS or any other browser which doesn't support plugins, unless you package it into a standalone app. If what you are making is a website with 3D content, that's not great.

    3. E Haines

      Re: So WebGL

      That's not really an either/or question, since Unity supports WebGL publishing with Unity 5.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: So WebGL

        Since their entire business model is about to be wiped out by browsers blocking plugins, they have little choice - like Adobe trying to migrate their tools to HTML5 from Flash.

  11. ThomH Silver badge

    That's nothing like why VRML failed

    VRML was a declarative scene description. So it failed for the same reasons that all of the scene graphs around then — Direct3d retained mode, RAVE, etc — also failed. Developers don't want that. It makes it incredibly difficult to produce an efficient rendering because you can't apply domain-specific algorithms. So you can't do Doom because there's no way to provide a BSP tree or write special-case linear-along-spans polygon fillers. You can't do Descent because there's no way to walk a portal tree. You can't do most racing games because you can't reduce visibility and clipping of extra-track detail to a one-dimensional problem. Etc, etc.

    Scene graphs are in better shape now just as you wouldn't think twice about using a compiler: they're better at management (thanks in part to dynamic tools like the occlusion query reducing some of the need for ahead-of-time calculation) and, anyway, the processing budget is so huge that optimising for project creation time is smarter. This was definitely not the case in 1994.

    Arguing that VRMLs issues were overwhelmingly on the business side is disingenuous. Think of almost any significant 3d program from the mid-'90s. VRML is a bad fit for the program you're thinking of.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too bad

    I would have read the article, but it used the f***** word.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. El Zorro

    The problem with WebGL on a professional level having to not only worry about website or app rendering correctly on a dozen different browser and OSes, but also whether or not x million different graphics card and video driver version configurations are breaking your user's experience. ( much like traditional game development ).

  14. JLV

    Candy Crush!!! OMG!!!

    >The long game for WebGL isn’t a better version of Candy Crush, but a clearer view into the galaxy of data that we own but can’t get handle on.

    If only that were true.

  15. Inachu

    Man I miss VRML files!

    I used to love zooming around inside my netscape gold and clicking and viewing

  16. Robert Grant Silver badge

    I prefer the original title

    Changed the title but not the slug: after_20_years_apple_finally_enters_the_third_dimension :)

    I'm sure if this were MS and IE then some Apple happy subeditor wouldn't have considered changing it.

  17. Annoyed Grunt

    None of the demos work under IOS 8 on ipad air.. So im not sure this article is strictly correct.

  18. Zot

    I find this very exciting.

    WebGL is a very capable hardware rendering API.

    Here's a ray-tracing demo that uses the text on the right to mathematically render shapes.

    There are no polygons here, no resources other than a few textures, it's ALL ray-traced:

    Animated Morph....

    I am a little nervous of animated banners coming back though. Will we see web pages full of animated bars all vying for attention?

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