There’s been much talk about immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Experts predict that the virtual and augmented reality market will grow to $192 billion by 2022 from $12 billion (in 2018). With the rise of virtual reality and augmented reality, there is often confusion about how the two concepts differ. In this article I review the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality.
Virtual Reality (VR)
In a virtual reality experience, users are fully immersed in a simulated digital surrounding via VR headsets. The technology has evolved massively over the past few years and computer-generated reality has become extremely realistic, thanks to interactive features such as haptic feedback (feedback you feel) along with lifelike graphics and surround sound. Virtual reality can simulate a real environment such as a moonwalk, ocean exploration or a visit to another country or it can create a fictional world with 3D objects and other virtual elements.
Virtual reality is the most well-known immersive technology. Once a user puts on a VR headset or head-mounted display, their brain is fooled into believing they’ve stepped into a new world where they can move and interact with virtual objects on the screen. The headset is tethered to a PC or console that powers the imaginary experience. For VR headsets such as Google Daydream, Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR, a smartphone rather than a PC is the device that creates the experience. Today, there are even standalone VR headsets such as Oculus Go. The headset design and the two video signals sent to each LCD display is crucial to trick the human’s binocular vision and help the brain imagine it’s in a physical world rather than just watching a video.
Even though the world of gaming and entertainment were early adopters of virtual reality technology, VR applications are now used in many industries and organisations including healthcare, education, sports, engineering and construction, military, fashion, business and more. From training soldiers on what to do in a combat situation to helping surgeons plan surgery, virtual reality has incredible applications in many industries.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Whereas virtual reality is complete immersion in a digital environment, in an augmented reality virtual information is overlaid on the real world. The real world is enhanced (augmented) by digital details such as animation, text and images in real-time and users aren’t isolated from the real world and what’s going on in front of them. Many people got a taste for the potential of augmented reality when the mobile game Pokémon GO rose in popularity and had people chasing down digital animals and doing battle in parks and public places.
The applications for augmented reality go beyond gaming and into industries such as aviation, automotive, healthcare and more. The rich audio-visual experience enabled by augmented reality includes the vital flight data projected in a pilot’s line of sight from their helmet, apps from retailers such as IKEA’s Place that helps you see what furniture might look like in your home by placing a digital version of it into your room using your smart phone and AR diagnostic tools that help model disease conditions in a hospital setting.
The additional layer of information augmented reality provides to what we can see with our naked eyes is enabled through devices such as AR glasses, smart lenses, heads-up displays, smartphones and tablets. Smartphones are by far the most commonly used AR device. ARKit by Apple and Google’s ARCore are powerful tools that help developers continue to add to the AR apps on the market.
Travel Industry Use of VR and AR
To illustrate how virtual reality and augmented reality can be used simultaneously to enhance the user experience, let’s look at how the travel industry uses the technology. Since consumers of travel are looking to purchase an experience rather than a product, helping them “feel” and immerse themselves in a travel experience can be powerful to help them feel comfortable to make a buying decision.
Virtual tours of hotels and hotel rooms allow a transparent view of what to expect if customers booked there. Another way to boost bookings is to provide a virtual reality experience of some of the main attractions in a destination that would then cause a prospective customer to book a trip there. Some in the travel industry have even enabled a virtual booking interface so customers don’t even need to leave their virtual world to book their trip.
Augmented reality is enhancing travellers’ experiences in many ways as well. From hotels that add information to help guests navigate and learn more about the property once on site to walking tour apps that provide additional details about noteworthy buildings when a traveller points their phone at it or even to see a menu at a restaurant, AR helps businesses in travel and tourism provide a better, more useful experience to their guests.
I help companies understand the potential impact of new technologies as well as the business opportunities they bring. I have a lot more articles on MR, VR and AR. For more on augmented, virtual and mixed reality check out this section of my website, or check out this page for the other major tech trends transforming businesses today.