As consumer and computing devices add 3D capabilities, how will the Web cope in the third-dimension?
Does Content Want More Dimensions?
Last year saw a surge in the range of 3D television models produced, with around 60% of TV models to offer 3D this year. In response, more shows, sports and movies are being produced in 3D, and while sales are still nascent at best, the technology is widely available, if people want it.
This year also sees the wider release of the first 3D-screen laptops from Acer, 3D PC gaming from NVIDIA and a 3D handheld console, the Nintendo 3DS. What's all this got to do with web content? Well, take a look at Panasonic's prototype 3D interface for its range of Internet-enabled television sets.
Taking It to the Next Level
Beats the hell out of current information browser systems, doesn't it? And, with the assumption that it won't be all that long until the iPad and other tablets move into 3D in a bid to differentiate and evolve themselves, users will expect something similarly ground-breaking. With the Internet being consumed on such a range of 3D-capable devices, what better way to redefine web content than with a shiny new 3D paradigm?
With all existing browsers designed around text content, and all the visual stuff bolted on, the time is coming for a big step forward. Projects like Browse3D and even Google Chrome with 3D, are still tied to this decades old system. But, increasing numbers of sites rely primarily on images and even the text is increasingly big and bold for a consumer-centric TV/tablet generation of users (to highlight this move, Opera has signed with Sony so that its browser will be on all Bravia TV models).
Behind the Pretty Face
How would we go about this revolution? Well, we need a future markup language, one that can call 3D effects from a wide range of 3D hardware by referencing your common text and image data, perhaps with x,y,z and alpha tags for position and depth. All the whizzy hardware effects can be called from your code, so creating pages need not be much more complicated than today's scripts.
We also need a parser capable of upgrading existing content — instead of your page having different articles scrolling down, they are dynamically laid out on panes hiding behind the latest content. So, all the hardware types need to do is come up with a very strong library that can leap across PCs, mobiles, TVs and other devices with various 3d component processors. How hard can that be?
Looking For the Next Big Thing
With Google and Facebook now years old and maturing fast, shark-like investors are on the look out for the next big thing. The likes of RockMelt are really just tweaking the current browser, but it only takes the right step to become a massive leap, perhaps from someone developing a 3D device-agnostic browser that can dynamically update old web content and allow for a bright new world of depth-perceived information.
How would this work? Perhaps, instead of a long dull list, your friends list will have your most regular contacts neatly up the front, with secondary contacts slightly out of focus behind and more distant acquaintances trailing off into the, um, distance. Why can't blogs have links to related articles form a neat spider's web to other article headlines on the screen. The presentation is just details — and in a HD world, perhaps a big chunk of your design budget — but the change in accessibility and ease of use could be huge for the user.
Naturally, this won't happen anytime soon, but perhaps by the middle of the decade, the big 3D switchover will be an event worth celebrating. Sure, a few billion office workers will still be tied to IE8, but for the home user, they'll be on to something pretty special by then.