It’s been over a year since ARPost introduced readers to Frame, the hardware-agnostic web-based virtual meeting platform. The team, a part of Virbela (which has its own app-based virtual world platform), just announced a major update. It was time to step back in with Vice President Gabe Baker.
A Peek at the Update
Frame’s update was all about adding power to the platform while making it easier to use. The result was added or improved tools with a more streamlined user interface so that more advanced users can access the tools without cluttering the view for everyone else.
New tools include advanced analytics and new APIs for adding members and admins and editing assets. There’s also a new question queue system for support centers, classrooms, and other large-scale discussion cases, and a partner program that rewards users for attracting subscribers to the platform.
“Fundamentally, we believe that the web browser IS the metaverse and that we’re entering a new era of spatial computing that will result in many traditional websites, apps, and services existing on the spatial web alongside the 2D internet that we’re used to today,” Baker wrote in a blog post announcing the update.
Even if you’re not building and hosting your own frames, there are benefits coming for average users as well. These include new environments, graphics updates like real-time light and shadow, and a still experimental option to use full-body avatars.
Also announced were coming roadmap updates including increased asset storage and support for multiple web browsers. Some of these will be limited to the paid subscriber tiers, but will all be rolled out “while maintaining a robust free plan.”
Seeing Is Believing
Reading about the updates is one thing, but I jumped into the platform, first solo and then in a live session with Baker to check them out for myself. As a connoisseur of VR avatars, I was pleasantly surprised before even entering a Frame.
I Have Legs and a Jacket. Life Is Good.
The avatars weren’t one of my favorite aspects of the platform last time around, but they’ve come a long way. Even if you don’t opt for the full-body avatars, the “classic” avatars are a lot more expressive and have some layered clothing options that were missing before. You can also use your Ready Player Me avatar, but not in full-body mode.
“[Full-body avatars] are hard to achieve on the web just for performance reasons,” said Baker. “We still have a ways to go on the full-body customizations.”
I was curious about whether Frame had had some conversations with parent company Virbela, who have had full-body avatars since the beginning. However, it’s not that simple, as Virbela is a native app as opposed to a browser-based platform.
“It’s a bit of a different world because they’re a Unity-based application,” said Baker. “In terms of the back-and-forth, there’s not really much because we use Babylon.js.”
All the Pretty Lights
Frame is also a year behind Virbela in announcing graphics performance updates. Graphics and display are big topics at the company because they are key areas where developers can compromise to achieve performance. That’s a big deal for a platform designed to run on everything from headsets to computers to mobile phones.
“It’s always going to be more important to us that people can get into Frame than that they can have an amazing graphical experience,” said Baker. “People do use Frame to explore digital twins and then they do need that level of graphical fidelity.”
And, that level of graphical fidelity is available to those users. The platform has long had a feature that tones down display quality automatically to the highest level that can be achieved by the user’s hardware while maintaining a stable experience. There is also a system in the works for builders to upload separate versions of their worlds for devices with different abilities.
Performance requirements aside, one of the worlds that we visited was at least as visually impressive as the average VR application – and more impressive than a number of them.
“There are still some visual experiences that you really need to be in a native application for, but the gap is narrowing,” said Baker, who was also the guest on our latest episode of XR Talks. (If you missed it live on Twitter Spaces yesterday, you can listen to it on YouTube here or Spotify here.)
Tools for Builders
Another area where the company tries to achieve compromise is with developer tools. The plan has always been to keep the platform agile and approachable, but it’s quickly growing into a fully-featured world-building tool for developers who need it.
“When we first started Frame, our whole thing was like ‘no nonsense, no download, no code,’ and we still very much believe in that vision,” said Baker. “But now we’re kind of branching out because we do see people that want to do those kinds of things… and if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
Worldbuilders have more ability than ever to create and bring in their own assets, as well as enable visitors to do the same. They can also see who created or edited which assets and when through new analytics tools.
Welcome to Frame 3.0
There are a growing number of browser-based immersive spaces. And most of them can be accessed from portals placed within a Frame. That is one of the many reasons that this is one of our favorite platforms in the immersive web. And it just keeps getting better.