Although virtual and augmented reality has been around for decades in the form of very simple devices, only in recent years, they began to receive much more attention. It is safe to say, that today VR and AR are evolving at much quicker pace making even casual public to get interested in the new content and hardware.
In the extremely short period, the developers have achieved astounding success in integrating the functionality of virtual and augmented in many industries. Famous brands, movie studios, games developers, and news organizations are already using adapted solutions for their needs. According to expert analysis, it is said that VR is going to hold the lead in 2017 and 2018, while AR is going to take over in longer perspective becoming the dominant technology in our daily lives.
And today we want to dig deeper into similarities and differences in Augmented and Virtual Reality in order to give you understanding what technology would be preferred to suit your specific needs or requirements. And also to what you should expect in years to come.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
Augmented Reality is often compared to the Virtual Reality technology. They do go side by side indeed and do share some similarities, but in general, they are inverse reflections in terms of delivering the enhanced reality experience. Virtual reality takes you away from the real world and completely blocks your sight with another digital environment. Augmented Reality brings non-existent virtual objects into the real world transforming the surroundings with overlay imagery.
To get a better understanding of differences and similarities of these two techs, it is important to identify their main purpose and delivery method. The fundamental purpose of AR is to make the real world more interactive and improve your ordinary capabilities through the gamify principle which combines effectiveness, immersion, and fun.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, creates a simulation in an artificial environment where it is still possible to conduct a full spectrum of sensorimotor and cognitive activities. Although it is possible to recreate real world locations in VR they don’t always look as realistic as AR scenes with overlay objects.
The main advantage of Augmented Reality is that the user is not leaving the real world. He or she can still move around and speak with other people, though it would be looking a bit strange when it comes to interacting with virtual objects unseen to others. Another powerful feature of AR is an opportunity to create a shared augmented working space. Imagine a group of people working on the same project in the office who can show virtual objects to colleagues in order to discuss how to make them look even better. And what if those people don’t have to be in one office to do the trick? A mix of virtual and augmented reality can become a potential winner in the competition for working applications.
For now, the gaming industry is bread and butter for Virtual Reality. But it can be successfully used in other areas from marketing to military sector. But with the main emphasis on gaming for VR, Augmented Reality looks a more serious technology. With gadgets like Microsoft HoloLens or still unreleased Magic Leap, we might see the end of smartphone era very soon. Of course, there is still a long way to go as developers need to perfect the interface, adjust communication between devices and their owners, but when it is done Augmented reality will become a permanent part of everyday life.
Main purpose of VR
Since the date of big announces of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR is constantly gaining more attention from media giants and corporations. For example, The New York Times has bought over a million of Google Cardboards for their employees, while YouTube and Facebook enabled a VR mode for digital video players. The popularization of the technology through social networks and websites is the best way to introduce VR to the audience.
But to push the technology into masses, you must identify its strengths first. Today VR is one and only technology that guarantees full user concentration on the content. Virtual Reality provides a unique opportunity to tell a story with full immersion into the process. However, this advantage of VR can also be one of the major drawbacks. The all-embracing nature of this technology prevents users from interacting with the real environment. For a short period they lose all their connections with the real world: cannot move freely, see the surroundings, look at other people’s eyes, and talk with them the normal way. VR technology is a powerful content tool which turns out to be less practical for interactions in the real world.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that there is no better way to introduce the content than do it in VR with full immersion effect. Advertising is not about distracting us from our business but making a brand more effective and recognizable. VR is already revolutionizing our perception of the content, but it is highly debatable whether it will become an everyday use technology.
Main purpose of AR
As for the Augmented reality technology it goes the simpler (in some sense) way using contextual overlays with information or imagery in real time that appear on the gadget’s screen or around you as holograms. Without a doubt, you have already seen something like that in movies. Hovering UI of the Tony Stark’s suit in Iron Man series would be a good example. We believe that rather sooner than later that kind of tech will become available to everyone.
Early AR prototypes and devices had problems with the delivery method when you had to use a smartphone on the printed ad only to see bad unappealing contents. First versions of Google Glass brought some innovative AR apps to the light which eventually proved to be not very successful. Why? Because the hardware and technology were not focused on the consumer problem, they were meant to solve. However, those attempts demonstrated the perspectives of AR, although failing to prove their contextual usefulness.
As for today, AR has a bright future on the horizon thanks to several major projects with large investments that expand the limits of the technology. Those are various models of smart glasses developed by Google, Sony, Vuzix, etc., HoloLens by Microsoft, and mysterious Magic Leap device, of course. The last one, however, steps in the Mixed Reality territory we’re also going to explain in this article.
Both Virtual and Augmented reality are experiments on our normal reality. But while AR is trying to enhance it, VR prefers to take us away from it. If we don’t see a technological breakthrough in next two years, most likely, Augmented reality will suppress VR offering more useful features for marketers and consumers as well.
In between AR and VR: Mixed reality
Mixed reality is going to be the next major step from ordinary reality as we see it. MR delivers most realistic virtual object flirting that way with virtuality. The Mixed Reality technology is all about bringing virtual images in real time and space, visualize them, and make them appear as good as real ones thanks to the advanced algorithms of coordinate calculation. Mixed Reality combines best aspects of AR and VR. Users receive an opportunity to interact with the real world which is «enhanced» with hyper-realistic virtual objects.
MR is still a very young technology in compassion with AR or VR, but it has already found its application in different areas of life. Starting from most logical spheres like arts and entertainment and reaching more sophisticated ones like business and education. MR’s functionality is successfully utilized in simulation-based learning, interactive product content management, and military training.
Magic Leap which we briefly mentioned above perhaps is the most notable MR device to date. There are no concrete details about its hardware and technology and all we got are several video demonstrations on their official YouTube channel. On the Magic Leap website, you can also watch a video with a giant whale jumping from the floor or the process of shooting evil robots in real time. Those images are just an overlay for normal reality but can also be used as a user interface. Thinking of it, it is possible that Magic Leap can replace mobile phones, tablets, and laptops combining features for virtual and actual reality in one.
Magic Leap uses dynamic digitized light field signal technology which is considered controversial by many experts. This technology goes beyond screens for implementing mixed reality experience. Without a touchscreen, you’re going to use your own voice and gestures to operate the digital overlays.
Right now Mixed reality is still largely underrepresented but having best VR and AR features on board promises to make this technology a big hit in future.
Which one is better?
In the end, all these technologies will become one. There are not that different and even share some mechanic similarities. We believe that most innovations and breakthrough in Augmented reality technology area will also serve well for Virtual reality and vice versa. Even today VR systems are used for prototyping AR projects that cannot be constructed in the real world.
Virtual Reality will be dominant on the market for the next few years. There are two main reasons to prove that point. Firstly, the Augmented Reality technology is more complicated when it comes to implementation. Secondly, VR is making progress at higher rates right now.
On the other hand, AR has several cards up its sleeve too. The Augmented Reality technology is more suitable for daily life. Using a small gadget or smart glasses allows you to see the world around with its objects and people adding an option to enhanced the picture with digital overlays. For example, you can easily augment a piece of art at the museum to see it from the side you have never seen it before.
If in the case with the mass consumer the situation is more or less clear, but which side should developers and companies choose? Let’s dot the «i» here: that depends on their goals.
Undeniably, Augmented reality is more affordable today in terms of development. There are tons of options for creating AR projects where simple smartphones or tablets are more than enough. Plus, it won’t be hard at all to spread the word about your app via popular services.
VR, on the other hand, is experiencing a boom, and certainly is more popular. However, it is harder for company managers to implement VR technology and make it work as they want to. Despite the big releases of 2016 – HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – these headsets and other device are far from mainstream and require additional time to settle.
We are inclined to think that the situation will remain unchanged as long as the price for VR gadgets stays as it is. When it goes down, consumers (including developers) will see it as a common device that can be used not just for gaming but for many other practical tasks. In addition to that, one professional VR camera is worth a fortune, so companies who are not aiming to become major trendsetters on the VR stage will wait for the price to be more accessible.
Thanks to the availability of smartphones and tablets with powerful hardware there is a world of opportunities for AR to develop. As the developer, you’re free to choose whether you want to focus on the mass consumer in the entertainment sphere or target whole industries with their specific needs.
VR can boast such availability, but maybe it is just too soon to judge. Nevertheless, there are numerous methods of VR applications are discovered by various companies. Some of them are experimental; some are fully-integrated. Who knows, maybe the mass adoption of VR for marketing needs will play a decisive role in the future making this technology «not just for gaming».
As for Mixed Reality, it has a great potential to the needs and requirements of both sides – consumers and creators – but there are too many unknown variables in the equation to make predictions.