Virtual Reality Has a FAR Greater Future Than Augmented Reality

I laugh every time someone starts hyping up augmented reality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly cool. Magic Leap is one of the best examples right now. Check out this video…

Nobody can possibly deny that this is awesome. I might go buy a headset just on the basis of how cool it is. But anytime someone starts hyping up augmented reality (or mixed reality as some call it), they fail to explain the business case for it.

For people unfamiliar with the definitions, it’s pretty simple. Virtual reality starts by putting on a headset that eliminates your field of view. Because it takes your eyes and ears outside of the real world, it creates an entirely new world. Anything is possible because developers are starting from a blank slate. And so they create a scene that tricks your brain and senses into believing you’re in this new world. Augmented reality lives up to its name, as it augments the real world with digital objects (which may be indistinguishable from real objects).

So you’re left wondering whether it’s better to transport to a new world or to program new things in your existing one. And here starts the flawed reasoning for many people. The augmented reality fans say that virtual reality has no real world applications because you’re stuck in fantasy-land. They think the average person will opt for the real world and prefer to add to it.

But that’s the wrong way to look at it. The better way is to imagine what it’s going to be like in 5–10 years when both technologies reach greater maturity. The customer doesn’t know what they want until you can accurately present a new product to them. If you pitched the internet to someone in the 1980s, they would likely say it sounds interesting but wouldn’t be useful in daily life. That’s because they would be visualizing something basic. Now that they have Google Maps, Facebook, Skype, and other wonderful applications, it’s a very obvious case. But they didn’t know this would exist back then.

When you consider the future possible uses, VR pulls ahead by a long-shot. Let’s explain all the reasons why…

1 — Virtual reality is a game changer. AR is just moderate enhancement.

Virtual reality is legitimately the next great communication medium and on a very similar scale as the telephone, radio, television, internet, and mobile phone. Here’s why… When the telephone was invented, it totally changed how we communicate. Before this invention, it took significant time to talk to people outside your immediate area. Travel time was substantial. You had to find the recipient of your communication and deliver the message. And then you had to repeat this process in awaiting a response. The telephone changed life by making communication instant and without geographical constraint.

The radio and television were similar. Now people could speak or appear to a mass audience. This changed everything… government, media, entertainment, and how we spread and consume information. The internet and mobile phone did that on another level where we can search for any information we want and produce/consume any content instantly.

Virtual reality is a similar scale of change. Now we can enter a 3-dimensional world where we can communicate with others, produce and consume content, and experience simulations that aren’t possible in the real world. We can time travel or physically experience other parts of the universe instantly (at least in our brains). We can communicate with people like we have a physical presence. Soon we’ll be able to walk around in the virtual world as if it was real (not just a few steps but life-like movement).

In a few years, rectangular screens will be obsolete. The next generation will wonder how we lived by looking at tiny text on a mobile phone or why we watched our entertainment in a box. They will have grown up by immersing themselves in every form of communication, entertainment, and more.

Enough about virtual reality for a minute. Augmented reality is not game-changing at all. It just enhances the stuff we already have. It is entertaining and useful in various ways. But it doesn’t really change anything. It’s like comparing the experience of visiting a new city versus visiting a new planet. Travel is cool and new but a new planet opens up a world of possibilities that we can’t even fathom right now. It would change the world. That’s virtual reality in a nutshell.

2 — Does AR have mass market appeal?

Why go spend a few hundred dollars for a little enhancement of existing life? I just don’t see the average consumer paying for a novelty experience. Likewise, I don’t see developers spending their time on AR. How will they make money on it? Creating a hologram that supplements what we see/hear in real life? What’s the consumer incentive to pay money for an application like that? It might be interesting for 5 minutes but has minimal utility in their everyday life.

In order for AR to be successful, those questions need to be answered. As we share below, there are some interesting niche business uses. But that’s far from mass market to justify major tech companies spending billions on R&D, manufacturing, and distribution.

3 — Critics miss what VR will eventually be capable of doing

Virtual reality critics often fail to use their imagination and often don’t understand what the technology will eventually become. We are only in the first year of this technology and like PCs or mobile phones, the first release is rarely very good. The early IBMs and Macintosh are unusable by today’s standards. People wouldn’t be caught dead today with the original mobile phones. VR is very similar. It’s not even close to what it is destined to become.

Right now, VR is too expensive, uncomfortable, has a software library mostly limited to gaming, and limitations in connectivity/graphics/motion technology. But these were some of the exact complaints of first generation PCs. Every major tech company and a healthy dose of VC-backed entrepreneurs are working on improving these things. And they’ll get there before many anticipate it (I predict VR is good enough for mass adoption within 5 years).

Once VR realizes its potential, it will change everything and be capable of things we have a hard time imagining.

  • We’ll have virtual offices and VR programs capable of replicating every office function
  • We’ll travel to new places in VR. It will feel like a real vacation and every city in the world will be accessible. Ditto for other planets, other time periods (past and future), any geographic location (under water, on top of mountains, in caves, etc), and fantasy worlds.
  • VR will revolutionize education and training. Rather than reading textbooks or listening to lectures, we will be learning through a perfectly simulated “experience”
  • VR will revolutionize entertainment. Movies and tv on a screen will be replaced by immersive experiences where you feel like you’re in the movie. The story-telling capability is unbelievable.
  • We will socialize via VR. You could go to a dance party and physically dance with friends in the virtual space. You could go on a hike with them. You could take a yoga class with them. And whatever you choose will feel like the real thing.
  • You will be able to simulate anything that can be developed. Things that we can only dream of doing today.

This is just a short list of some of the most exciting things. VR will completely change every aspect of our lives. Can we say the same about augmented reality, which just modifies today’s world? No. It’s not competitive with the vision I just outlined. It might be desirable for certain experiences but is a blip on the radar compared to VR’s potential.

4 — The business use case for AR is significantly lower

The augmented reality crowd hypes up how useful AR will be in business. And there are definitely some good applications. A surgeon can view vital signs next to the person they’re operating on. Likewise, architects and construction workers can use it for life-like schematics on-site. Artists and designers can do some interesting things. Teachers can use it for interesting education displays. The military can use it for simulations and as information support during missions. We definitely think there’s a market in many industries.

But is it a market on par with mobile phones? Not even close. We see the business market as being very niche and even among those industries that can use AR, it’s only useful in certain circumstances. It doesn’t change the fundamental nature of these industries or jobs.

Virtual reality has a much stronger business case. VR changes every industry because it’s a completely different medium. It has all the use cases we described in training, learning, social, communication, and entertainment. Businesses are incentivized to develop apps to accommodate the customers on that medium and will eventually be salivating at the sales/marketing potential. Businesses will adapt to the market and since there is greater mass market appeal in VR, it will be a more primary focus area for them.

5 — The technologies will naturally merge.

AR technology is still in early stages. They haven’t had their first major hardware release yet (although they probably will later in 2017). Virtual reality is out and people are working on building the use cases I just listed (and enhancing the technology to make it feasible). VR will be much further along before AR gets going. And your average person is unlikely to get ANOTHER headset for something that’s only a marginal enhancement of existing life. I predict VR manufacturers will merge the technology. You might flip a button to transition from VR to AR. Engineers may have their hands full in making that possible but I predict it’s AR’s only chance for mass adoption.

Could I be wrong? Perhaps. Some very intelligent people are lining up on both sides of the debate. Apple and Microsoft look like they’re more interested in AR. Facebook, Google, Sony, and Samsung look more like VR supporters at this stage. But even when I try to search for the reasoning on AR and their dreams of what it can be used for, I’m left underwhelmed. AR is really exciting and fun. As a tech enthusiast, I’d love to see it become successful. However, I just don’t see it approaching anything close to virtual reality. That’s the much more exciting technology and has many more applications that people will pay top dollar for. That’s the one that can and probably will change our lives.


About the author: Dan owns several businesses across the futuristic landscape.

Reverse Tide provides business and individual services in innovation. For businesses, this includes business strategy innovation, technology, people strategy and more. And for individuals, we help you innovate your skills-learning and career development.

RT Virtual Reality provides learning and business solutions in the VR space (the tech that will most change the world).

Startup Conception offers services to startups and small businesses including financial modeling & budgeting, investor decks, strategy, interim CFO/COO, international business, and IT outsourcing.

And Modern Accommodation Group seeks to apply future-proof concepts to the accommodation and real estate world.

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