Web-standards-allergic Apple unveils WebGPU, a web graphics standard

Cross-platform dev is for low-rent chumps, unless it's our cross-platform dev

Apple, which once dismissed cross-platform development for forcing developers to use lowest-common-denominator technology, has proposed a cross-platform JavaScript API for 3D graphics rendered in browsers called WebGPU.

The company's WebKit team, which steers the open source browser layout engine that Apple requires in iOS-compatible web browsers, has issued an API proposal for a potential successor to WebGL.

WebGL is the existing standard for drawing 3D graphics on the web. However, Apple's WebKit team argues that advancements in GPU technology and in platform APIs like Microsoft's Direct3D, Apple's Metal, and Khronos Group's Vulkan offer better performance than WebGL.

"The success of the web platform requires defining a common standard that allows for multiple implementations, but here we have several graphics APIs that have nuanced architectural differences," said Dean Jackson from Apple's WebKit team in an online post. "In order to expose a modern, low-level technology that can accelerate graphics and computation, we need to design an API that can be implemented on top of many systems, including those mentioned above."

Jackson argues that the WebGPU should also provide support for GPU usage outside of graphics applications, to support emerging technology like WebAssembly and WebVR. Presumably other processor-intensive applications like machine learning could also benefit, were anyone to want to run that sort of thing within a browser.

Apple's enthusiasm for community-supported technology is selective, however. It opted to support its own Metal technology rather than Vulkan. Its support for OpenGL has fallen behind, presumably to encourage developers to write to its Metal API. And it has yet to support Web Workers in Safari, thereby limiting the capabilities of modern web apps on iOS devices.

Apple's lackadaisical adoption of emerging web technology has earned it the disdain of web tech boosters. As former Opera developer Rich Tibbett opined last year, "Apple is bad news for the future of the web."

At the same time, neither Google nor Microsoft have put the web ahead of their respective native platforms. So Apple is not unique in its prioritization of self-interest.

Now all that remains is for browser makers to join hands, hammer out a universally supported standard, and act for the common good of all. Check back in a few years. ®


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