Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are everywhere lately. Every week brings another announcement of a major buy-up or a new technology launch that will revolutionize the worlds of AR and VR. The number of zeros quoted in market predictions are staggering and major tech companies are rushing to establish dominance as it unfolds.
To understand why AR and VR are becoming important, let's backup and understand what they are and what they can do.
AR and VR are steadily becoming part of our daily lives.
Many people are already using AR without realizing it. AR doesn’t require specialized equipment. With improvements in smart phones, there is now an AR device is everyone’s pocket. People are already using AR to do things like:
- Use filters on popular social networks like Snapchat and Instagram
- Try on different make-up looks virtually through the Sephora app
- Visualize furniture and goods in a room with Amazon
- Design an entire home with Ikea
- Chase Pokémon for fun
The 2016 launch of Pokémon Go was a major tipping point for mass adoption of AR. Suddenly the camera on everyone’s phone became more than a camera. Pokemon Go had more first week downloads than any other app in the Apple App Store history. It reportedly has 750+ million downloads with over 20 million daily users as of December 7, 2017. It was the fastest adoption of any type of AR content in the world to date.
Similarly, VR is catching on. The general adoption of VR has been slower because the equipment isn’t as ubiquitous or as easy to use as the smart phone. That is changing. VR technology is now an exciting field bursting with new hardware manufactures rushing to market with innovative new formats. Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Google’s Cardboard are a few of the products designed to popularize VR. No more specialized, expensive equipment attached to a computer and a lot of technical knowledge required.
Understanding the key differences between AR and VR is important. As this field continues to evolve, it’s important to understand the differences between AR and VR to make sense of what’s going on.
AR presents images and information in a display and projects it onto the user’s view of the real world. Put simply, in AR the world is the screen. AR technologies can be separated into two groups—Mobile AR and Ocular AR. Mobile AR is the most familiar to many and is experienced through a mobile device. Pokémon Go is a great example of Mobile AR. Mobile AR devices are most commonly a smart phone or tablet with a camera that allows a generated image to be displayed on a real-world backdrop.
Ocular AR is AR delivered through a wearable visual device. Ocular AR means that user’s hands remain free. Ocular AR can take many forms--glasses, goggles, and even helmets. Examples of some of the larger manufacturers are the Epson Moverio, Microsoft Hololens, the Daqri helmet, the forthcoming Magic Leap or the early Google Glass. With these devices, information is presented to the user in either a heads-up display, or in-line with the user’s sight line.
Where in AR the world is the screen, in VR the screen is world.
In contrast to AR, VR provides a visually-immersive world that is generated or filmed.
For years, people thought of VR as only for playing games. VR was popularized in the 1990’s by science fiction writers like Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) and Neil Stephenson (Snowcrash) and movies like Virtuosity and Lawnmower Man. These depictions were highly conceptual and largely impractical for most people. The upcoming movie Ready Player One will only make VR seem more fantastical. Movie representations make it difficult to imagine anything else that VR could be good for.
Now, VR is becoming recognized as an entirely different way to experience the world. Artists, producers and developers can transport users to far away places or build new environments. VR experiences can be created by filming existing locations using specialized 360 degree cameras or completely generated using specialized tools like Unity and Quill. Whatever format used to create VR, the viewer is transported into a reality of the creator's making.
What we are experiencing now is a democratization and popularization of VR. Newer, better and cheaper technology has taken VR out of science fiction and turned it into a powerful way to educate, entertain, interact and more. VR is popping up everywhere. The cost to develop content for VR is dropping and the opportunities to leverage VR are rising. It’s a powerful trend.
The potential for AR and VR is limited only by creativity. Companies are recognizing the commercial power and will only continue to invest more in these areas as the technology advances. Devices are cheaper than ever to own with technology costs falling rapidly, and big investments are being led by names like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple to expand the AR and VR fields.
Soon, the only limiting factor will be our imagination.