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VR vs AR: Which will become the dominant technology?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pexels / Pixabay)

Visual communication is changing. While market penetration is currently limited, both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are on the brink of rapid growth. In fact, it could be argued, AR is already witnessing this with the huge success of Pokemon Go in 2016.

Forecasts suggest that the combined global AR and VR market will see huge growth post 2018, reaching $215 billion by 2021. While the US is forecasted to lead the total amount of spending in AR/VR, statistics also show that Europe is gaining ground in the VR/AR space.

The UK, in particular, is the European leader in the VR landscape, with its market value predicted to increase to £354.3 million by 2020—a 390 per cent increase from 2016.

In this exclusive article for Business2Community, I want to take a look at these two technologies and explore where they’re going and which, could emerge to become the dominant medium.

The differences between VR and AR

VR and AR are both transformative technologies, with applications in various industries like entertainment, education, healthcare, science and business.

There are, however, some key differences in applications and how they work:

1.     Purpose

VR is a recreation of a real-life environment or situation. It aims to be a completely immersive experience that brings the end user to a simulated reality by stimulating their senses of sight and hearing.

AR, on the other hand, overlays computer-generated graphics and animation on top of real-world situations and environments.

2.               How they work

For VR to work, users typically need to wear a form of headset and/or body gear to interact with the simulated world (as is the case with video games, which is where most VR content is currently coming from).

For AR to work, the technology is developed into apps, usually for mobile devices. AR tends to utilise a mobile device’s camera in order to overlay pop-out 3D images, animation or text onto the real world. The aforementioned Pokémon Go mobile game utilised this combination to create a fantasy game that takes place in the real world.

3.               Applications

While both forms tinker with the end user’s realities, they differ with their applications.

VR = content

VR is focused on content as it is this that is all consuming, taking the viewer out of the real world and putting them into another virtual one. The completely immersive nature of VR is also its main limitation—that is, you cannot interact with your real-life surroundings when you’re inside a simulated reality.

This represents a problem with advertising tactics. Whilst VR provides a powerful way to experience a brand’s content, the question remains as to how many people would be willing to put on a headset just to look at branded content. Because VR is so immersive, interruptive branded content may detract or distract from the user’s experience.

AR = real world

AR, on the other hand, adds layers of elements to consumers’ lives in real time. It’s not as disruptive as VR, as you can still see, hear, smell and even feel your real-life surroundings.

The problem with AR, however, is that it can quickly feel gimmicky if the applications aren’t practical and relevant to the user.  That said, the future remains bright to continue developing AR tech, as with the case of Microsoft HoloLens and Google’s Magic Leap.

Virtual reality aplications

The VR industry in the UK is predicted to grow at a faster rate than any entertainment and media industry. A recent study by PwC shows that 16 million UK residents will be in possession of a VR headset by 2021.

Here are a few applications outside of the traditional video game medium that VR has already gone a long way to establish itself in:

1.     Workplace communication

With VR tech, you can be anywhere in the world without being physically present. You can use it to interview candidates or conduct a virtual conference in ways that phone/video call cannot do, since you now have the added experience of interpreting someone’s body language.

2. Healthcare

For those in the medical field, VR technology creates a better practice environment, especially for procedures that are rarely performed. It also allows for a more immersive experience, as opposed to training via textbooks.

VR can also help teach med students empathy, as with the case of a program designed by Embodied Labs, which allowed young medical students to experience being an elderly.

 3. Software developing

Software engineers use a 2D screen (laptops, desktops) to create their source codes. While this has been effective, it limits a developer from using human perception to create their software.

VR would then allow engineers to interact with their programs in a 3D environment, lowering the learning curve and increasing productivity.

Augmented reality applications

Research suggests that by 2020, AR revenue will be four times higher than VR. This is a huge growth and suggests that AR will become the dominant format in the future. This is perhaps more to do with the fact that AR is already more established and has more obvious applications that don’t take people out of their real world environments.

Current AR applications in the workplace include remote business, overlaying information on top of real-time situations, transportation and even holographic meetings.

Other AR applications could include:

1.     Gaming

In this industry, gaming elements are usually superimposed on real-life environments. Users can then interact with the characters on screen.

2.               Retail

Consumer have become desensitised to traditional advertising methods. With AR, brands can bring their products to life, allowing buyers to engage with them in a different way, whether that be online or window shopping in the real world.

3.               Navigation

Taking map apps a step further, AR navigation apps highlight where you have to walk and various points of interest near your location. It is also more accurate than GPS. The Blippar app (currently in beta) is one example.

The verdict: AR or VR?

Perhaps unsurprisingly there is no obvious winner to this question. As we’ve seen both these technologies offer very different experiences and therefore have very different applications and futures. The immersive nature of VR requires more commitment from the user, which as we’ve seen is one of its drawbacks.

I think Google’s Clay Bavor puts it best when he tweeted the following conclusion about VR vs AR:

“VR vs. AR cheat sheet:
VR can take you anywhere.
AR can bring anything to you.
Both are important.
Neither will "win". 

Of course there is also the possibility that we may see the two mediums eventually start to overlap or even merge completely.  Some experts believe that as more equipment is developed, the line that delineates the two will actually start to get blurry.

What you can do, however, is to look at the pros and cons of each one and see which applies for your brand’s current needs.

Evelyn Timson is the Managing Director of Aspect Film & Video
Image Credit: Pexels / Pixabay

Evelyn Timson is the Managing Director of Aspect Film & Video and has worked with some of the world’s most recognisable brands like UNICEF, Nationwide, North Face and Etihad Airlines.