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Apple iOS 5's hidden 3D revealed

Aussie dev's tweak could mean spinning teapots for all

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

iOS 5, the latest OS for Apple trinkets, has hidden depths in the form of support for 3D objects embedded in web pages though the use of WebGL, and not just for paying customers.

At first it seemed that WebGL would only be available for advertisements using Apple's iAd framework, but Aussie developer Nathan de Vries has worked out how to get a 3D render out of the iAd frame and into web component of any application, though notes he had to use a few private APIs to get there.

WebGL is today's attempt to get 3D objects into web pages, using JavaScript this time around. It's not as interactive as the HTML-based VRML was, though watching the rotating-teapot demonstration one is struck by a certain sense of nostalgia. WebGL is heavily backed by Google, and Apple, with the latter announcing that iOS would support the standard back in June, but only within advertisements.

Having tested the iAd support for WebGL, Nathan de Vries started looking at the private frameworks being called to make it happen. Linking against the same private frameworks enables WebGL to be used within embedded web views, and outside iAd. Nathan then took the next, and most impressive, step of disassembling those private blocks to work out, and replicate, what they do.

He has posted demonstration projects, so everyone can have a go dropping WebGL code into their iOS applications, but it's worth noting that as such applications make use of private APIs, they're probably not going to get through Apple's approval process for listing in the iTunes store.

Nathan reckons that's not important – his interest is academic – and he concludes that the hidden functionality indicates that Apple has long-term plans to support WebGL more widely, rather than restricting it to their paying customers via iAd. ®

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