At Web Geeks Marketing, we’re always staying up to date on the latest technology trends. Two pieces of technology that we’re very excited for in the future are augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) platforms. This new technology is no longer just something that is seen in the movies—it’s on the fast track to becoming a reality. Virtual reality has already been released in several manifestations on different devices, with 2016 seeing even more platforms coming in. Augmented reality isn’t far behind, however, with technologies like the Microsoft HoloLens being released very soon.
But the debate remains, which one is going to win the technology war? We’ve seen this scenario in the past— two similar modes of technology being released in the same time period, with only one holding up into the future. It takes us back to a decade ago, when Blu-ray & HD DVD were battling it out for the hearts, minds, and dollars of the people. Though we may not see one disappear from the AR vs. VR war like we saw with HD-DVD (both technologies have their advantages to different applications), there’s no doubt that one is going to be more successful than the other. The question is, which one?
While virtual reality and augmented reality may seem similar on paper, their applications differ greatly. Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation that transports you to a completely different and artificially created environment. It sets you in the middle of a YouTube video, or in a fantasy world inside of a video game that you can interact with.
VR is created with more commercial implications in mind. It’s made to steal you out of the real world and place you in a whole new one. Video games, movies, and even swimsuit magazines will employ virtual reality as a new media platform. Facebook and YouTube are already making use of this, creating 360° videos for viewers to enjoy using the different virtual reality platforms. Of course, there’s use for virtual reality within the business world as well. VR has already greatly impacted various industries and employment sectors, from gaming and entertainment to medicine and tourism. VR training modules are already being increasingly used today to help train pilots, surgeons, and military personnel.
Unlike VR, augmented reality allows you to interact inside your real-life environment and is meant to enhance your surroundings by superimposing things like images and labels onto your physical world. So for example, with Microsoft’s new HoloLens, you can project a television screen onto the wall, or look at the specs of a car by placing it in the middle of your living room. In addition to gaming or entertainment, it can be used for education, e-commerce transactions, manufacturing, and much more. Lockheed Martin, for example, has invested in this technology for its engineers, who wear AR glasses to see the names of the engine parts as they work. If augmented reality glasses sound familiar (enter Google Glass), it’s technologies like this that will potentially become available on a mass scale. While Google’s hopes for its glasses to go mainstream may have shattered, newer startups like the Google-backed Magic Leap are working to create even more inconspicuous AR technologies that could soon become a reality.
On an individual consumer level, AR allows your surroundings to be informative, personalized and even “shoppable.” It can help you find out more about an object you see or navigate your way through a new city with directions and labels guiding you. Imagine seeing a product you really want to purchase while you are out for a walk, and instantly receiving a link pop up in front of you to buy it. AR offers this sort of tangibility that VR cannot yet provide.
VR vs. AR
Let’s look at a couple of the factors that differentiate VR and AR. While we’ve seen that both technologies have significant uses today, one may be more feasible than the other when it comes to mainstream consumption.
The production and manufacturing budgets to create VR equipment alone are substantial, and that’s not including the added time and cost it takes for companies to assemble and then distribute the hardware. In addition, the actual immersive VR software content is extremely expensive to program.
AR can be incorporated into existing technologies such as smartphones and mobile devices, with the development of applications already underway. In addition, wearable AR technologies are more user-friendly and affordable for consumers. AR allows brands to be profitable in a broad scope of industries due to AR’s versatility, and this saves them more time and funds too. Because of the limited everyday applications and the high costs of VR, it’s easy to see why the AR industry will be much more profitable.
While the wearable gear that VR requires, such as Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear, is crucial for a unique, immersive experience, it can often be bulky, cumbersome, and downright strange. A virtual world is not a readily accessible one because it heavily relies on the special hardware designed specifically for its purpose.
When it comes to AR, smartphones are becoming the means for delivering AR software, apps, and much more, meaning that you can have access to AR right in your hands. The accessibility and mobility of AR suggest that users can engage more intimately with the world around them no matter where they are. This is a great next step for brands that seek to increase their reach and offer more branded experiences to consumers.
It isn’t lights-out for virtual reality by any means, and the developments currently taking place in the VR world are nothing short of exciting. While VR and AR can certainly coexist, AR carries more feasibility, accessibility, and convenience for consumers and brands alike, and we can expect to see more companies investing in AR initiatives. Both technologies are opening up new worlds, both real and virtual, and it will be interesting to see what the future has in store and who will prevail.