Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Part 1

May 14, 2019
the Wheelhouse Immersive Team

AR - “Seeing the World Differently”

Over the past few years, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have become two of the most talked about technologies amongst marketers.

Many people often bundle them together (under the term“Immersive Technology”), which in parts makes sense but also creates confusion, preventing a deeper understanding of how each can be deployed in the best way to elevate your product/services.

The best place to start is to understand what each technology is, how it is made and how it is consumed. With that understanding, we can explore ways to use it in order to achieve business results.

First, we’ll start with a definition of Immersive technology as the placement of digital content in the user’s space, in a way that convinces the user’s brain that it’s really there. The distinction between Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality is how much of the real world the user sees.

If the user still sees the real world and the device adds a digital element in that environment (say, an elephant in your living room), that’s Augmented Reality. If the user doesn’t see any of the real world, but instead is transported to a virtual beach, or a forest, space, underwater or anywhere else, it’s virtual reality.

One way to think about it is that AR is “Seeing the world differently,” while VR is “Seeing a different world.”

Let’s start with AR.

 Augmented Reality (AR) - “Seeing the world differently” 

An AR device is essentially a computer with sensors that allow it to “see” the world and show digital content that blends with it. Most commonly, these sensors include a camera and depth sensors that, when coupled, allow the device to understand its position in space, so it can add digital elements that “anchor” to a specific location and orientation in that space, and stay there even when the user moves around and interacts with them.

Most commonly, people experience Augmented Reality on mobile phones (think Snapchat filters or Pokémon Go) but, recently, several AR glasses have been released by companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap, that allow the users to wear AR glasses that provide a higher fidelity experience.

The power of an AR device is in its ability to see the world, understand what it sees, and display information in context to what it sees. A few examples:

  • Imagine you are wearing AR glasses that help you navigate when you are driving, without the need to remove your eyes from the road. The glasses paint arrows and information such as speed, time of arrival, etc. in your field of view, so you can remain focused on the road ahead.
  • If you like to run or cycle, what if the glasses could show your run data on the road, paint mile marks on it, and even display a shadow avatar of your time record running ahead of you? What if you could run with friends who are somewhere else in the road, but the glasses would paint them as holograms running next to you?
  • If you work in business development, what if you could attend a conference and the glasses would show you an info bubble with LinkedIn data, and tell you which person you should talk to?
  • What if your glasses could see that your conversation partner was offended by something you said and haven’t noticed, and let you know so you can apologize?

There are infinite examples of how AR glasses can completely change the way we use technology to live our lives. There are many complicated and important topics around the social impact of this technology, but it’s also clear that it has the power to change people’s lives for the better.

It can give sight to the blind, voice to the mute and make life much easier for a lot of people. 

There are 3 types of AR content: 

  1. Marker based – The device (phone, tablet or AR glasses) sees an image it recognizes (like a brand logo), and it places a 3D object on top of it. This type is highly effective in marketing campaigns that can bring a logo or label to life.
  2. Marker-less / World Tracking – This type allows the device to place 3D content in space without the need for a recognizable marker. The device needs to scan the area for a few seconds to detect the floor or wall, and it can, than, anchor digital elements to that floor or wall. This type is highly effective in retail apps (e.g. Ikea, Amazon), games, educational content and more.
  3. Face Filters – Made popular by Snapchat, this type also has a lot more applications beyond fun communication apps. For example, it can show how cosmetic surgeries or orthodontic treatment would look, help a person visualize a change in hair style/color and more.

AR Content is always created with code, as is interactive VR content development.

We’ll discuss Virtual Reality next.

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