Metatron’s Browser Bubble is an app intended to greatly improve the usability of Internet browser technology in a mobile context. Reading and interacting with webpages via one or more large physical monitors alongside a mouse and keyboard is considered an optimal browsing experience, but with people increasingly seeking to access websites on the go, laptops, tablets, and smartphones fill the need. They do this in an increasingly sub-optimal way, however – vanishingly few people prefer a touchpad to a mouse; ever-smaller screens improve portability but sacrifice readability and image fidelity; and smartphone-based browsing, while functional, is rarely preferable to a native web experience.

Virtual reality presents an opportunity to claw back some of the usability and satisfaction inherent to a monitor-based web surfing session, while maintaining the portability of the Galaxy Note 4 and its Gear VR peripheral. This is accomplished via a Chromium Embedded Framework plugin for Unreal Engine 4 that has been modified to overcome the unique challenges presented by VR. Chromium-based browsers can be arrayed around the user in a highly configurable manner, and interacted with via some combination of gaze-tracked raycasting and the integrated touchpad, no mouse required. Multiple text input methods are planned (both keyboard-layout virtual buttons and a fast-type character lassoing system, at least), with clicks simulated by either a hands-free timed hover mechanic (with optional nod confirmation) or via the touchpad. Support for additional Bluetooth accessories will be explored in future iterations.

Note that the aim of Browser Bubble is not to improve upon a monitor-based web experience to the point of invalidation, but rather to present users with a web browsing option that will merit entering VR rather than relying on the Note 4 alone under certain mobile use cases. Media consumption via a huge virtual screen seems greatly preferable to doing this on a 5.7-inch device, and raycasting represents a much finer per-pixel cursor manipulation method than swipes and pinches. Additional use cases abound in which one or more concurrent virtual browsers will beat out a single smartphone interface, and even the known and obvious ones are too numerous to mention here.

Don’t leave your laptop at home, but if all you have is a Note 4, there’s a better way to browse the Internet!

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