VR | AR | MR — What do these buzz words really mean & what can they do for your business?

In 2018 we are now able to mix the real world with virtual worlds in very realistic ways — and this technology is just getting started!

The past 2 decades have set the stage for technological advancement at an unprecedented scale. The rise of the internet, personal computers and smartphones have launched us into a digital era way beyond what we could have imagined.

We’ve all heard of virtual reality, but what do all of these acronyms mean and how can you begin to use them to connect with your audience? Let’s dive in a bit deeper…

Extended Reality (XR)

First of all it is important to understand that extended reality, immersive technology and cross reality signify the umbrella that encompasses all of these specific innovations: AR, VR, MR — and any other invention that might come next.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR uses computer generated images and sounds to completely immerse you into a digital world. The level of engagement depends highly on the ability of these effects, reaching your different senses, to make the virtual environment feel as real as possible. To experience virtual reality, you need to use VR headsets which are either connected to a PC (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift) or standalone headsets (Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Go).

KCL VR Labs — Virtual Reality for psychosis

VR Use Cases:

While VR got its push from the gaming industry, there are plenty of other use cases today which are improving our society and way of living. Using VR for education is perhaps the most beneficial use of this technology. Having educational courses available via a headset gives youth access to profound knowledge, regardless of their physical location or even their ability to access a good school system. Along with this also comes educational training. Doctors for example can get surgical training in a digital, yet very real, environment. Another practical application of VR is travel. Besides giving people access to traveling around the world, where they may not have the possibility, it also lets them experience new cultures. This puts us well on our way to ending racism and having a better understanding of different customs.

Pros: VR fully immerses a user within another world, making it the most impactful way to communicate with them. You have their full attention — there are no distractions or noise as with other communication channels.

Cons: While new products like Oculus Go are making headsets more accessible, they are still far from becoming a mainstream household product. This makes the target market more limited compared to other immersive technologies.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Unlike VR, where you are fully immersed in a digital world, AR takes the existing world and changes certain aspects of it. It basically means that our reality is augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated inputs such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data. Mobile phones or tablets are easiest and most popular way to experience AR, but we also see custom headsets or glasses emerging in this space as well.

Ikea app using ARKit to help customer shop for furniture

AR Use Cases

We can’t forget Pokemon Go and Snapchat filters, as they put AR on the map. However there are also other beneficial uses of this technology. In retail people are turning more and more to online shopping. While some businesses try to fight it, others have embraced it with AR. For example Ikea provides an app to see how furniture will look like inside a person’s house. People are happy to have this technology to make it easier to decide on an item and Ikea is happy to have less returns. In manufacturing, AR applications have significantly increased productivity and reduced human errors as workers are able to visualize instructions right in front of them rather than have to look it up in a manual. Likewise for repair we have seen instructions displayed in AR for car parts and engines, giving more people access to knowledge and information that they may not have when something breaks down unexpectedly.

Pros: The launch of ARKit and ARCore have made augmented reality technology much more accessible to app developers — something which used to require complex calculations only for those specializing in AR. The quality and capabilities of these SDKs are quite amazing as they calculate the surface space and lighting around the object to make it look very realistic.

Cons: As AR does not immerse the user fully into the technology, they can easily get distracted by a push notification or something else on the phone. Also with such a wide range of phones, especially for Android, it is hard to optimize AR for each one. AR apps require a good processor otherwise any renderings will have a very low performance.

Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed reality is exactly what the name suggests: a mix between AR & VR. It is everything that we dreamt immersive technology could be — mixing digitally rendered objects into our real environment. Essentially MR merges the real and virtual world by having physical and digital objects coexist with each other. It’s taking the best parts from VR and AR and blending them together. MR can be experience with holographic devices which are transparent to see the world around, or with immersive devices such as headsets where you do not see the environment.

Bridge — Mixed Reality for iPhone

As shown in the Mixed Reality Spectrum, there is no clear border of where mixed reality ends and augmented reality starts. Depending on the environment, devices used, and effects, you will either be more or less immersed into a virtual world. In this case there is no better or worse implementation — it fully depends on the experience that you want your users to have.