After decades of popular culture exposure, most people are familiar with virtual reality (VR) technology. Put on a headset or get pulled into a video game, and you can interact with a digital world. Science fiction films like TRON and The Matrix have been promising immersive VR experiences for decades, and while it doesn’t look exactly as predicted back then, new technologies have made VR experiences easy to create and inexpensive enough for average consumers to enjoy.
As the name suggests, augmented reality (AR) uses technology such as a smartphone to overlay images or information on the world around you. Simply put, the difference between AR and VR is the level of immersion each technology offers. VR typically uses audio-visual headsets to immerse you in an experience, while AR leaves the user free to move around the world.
In an email interview with Engadget, DAQRI Managing Director Gaia Dempsey explained the difference simply, “VR totally immerses the user and puts them into a virtual world, which is great for gaming, and also training scenarios,” Dempsey said. “If you want to control the entire view, VR is best. AR, on the other hand, puts digital information into the real environment so you can see it in context of the world around you.”
It’s the real-world applications of AR that have many experts predicting it will live up to the hype that VR has fallen short of for decades.
While unobtrusive AR applications like Snapchat filters have been used for years, AR went mainstream with the launch of Pokemon Go, the smartphone game that allowed users to wander around and capture digital versions of the video game monsters. While it became a social craze with more than 650 million downloads, it also proved the business case for augmented reality as it recently crossed $2 billion in revenue.
Virtual reality has yet to make as much of a splash, but it continues to catch the imagination of businesses and consumers. Advances in technology have made the headsets and controllers necessary for VR much more accessible to consumers.
Augmented reality is mobile-first
Where VR requires a full headset and controllers to interact with a digital world, AR apps can be used on smartphones and wearable technology like smart lenses. Google Glass may have been an initial failure in the marketplace, but it helped prove the public’s interest in augmented reality.
Though they might not know it, many people use AR every day without considering it. Snapchat popularized social AR with its playful photo filters for selfies, and companies like Pepsi, The Home Depot, and Marriott Hotels are using AR to attract new customers.
The rise of AR and VR in business
An Orbis Research report predicts the VR marketplace will surpass $40 billion by 2020. And Facebook, which acquired VR headset startup Oculus, has put AR and VR among the company’s top three priorities according to CTO Mike Schroepfer.
Tech giants and startups alike are looking at ways to blend AR and VR together for mixed reality. These new experiences will continue to blur the line between digital worlds and our own. While VR has the capability to take people to new places and immerse them in new environments, in a few years, augmented reality experiences will likely be all around us to enhance our world through the technology in our pockets.