In today’s world, the thin line between real and virtual is blurring rapidly. This has been possible primarily due to the advancement of digital transformation, particularly with the rise of augmented reality and virtual reality. More often than not, these terms are used synonymously and tend to replace each other. While it is true that both augmented and virtual reality have a close connection, there are significant differences between them. Therefore, augmented reality vs virtual reality is all about understanding the differences between these two technologies.
Invariably, the focus here will be on comprehending these differences from several aspects. The discussion will revolve around the specific meaning of the two technologies and what they entail. Secondly, there will be focus on the medium through which humans interact with them. Thirdly, we will throw light on what is the objective that each of these technologies seeks to achieve. Finally, there will be a discussion around the use cases of the two. In addition, there will be a small discussion around the advent of mixed reality and what it means and where it lies in the whole augmented reality vs virtual reality debate.
Decoding the Meaning: Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
Any discussion on differences between two technologies begins with comprehending the meaning of the two. Augmented reality vs virtual reality will definitely follow the same suit.
Investopedia defines augmented reality as “an enhanced version of the real physical world through the use of visual elements, sound or other sensory stimuli. It is a growing trend among companies involved in mobile computing and business applications in particular”. Put simply, augmented reality is all about technology overlays on the digital information in the real world. Invariably, it doesn’t completely take the user into a virtual world. Rather, it augments the features of the real world of images, texts and other digital media.
On the other hand, Investopedia defines virtual reality as, “computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within an artificial three-dimensional environment using special electronic devices”. With this, the user is completely immersed in a computer generated reality, which is completely virtual in nature. Offering a full immersive experience, virtual reality tricks your brain into believing that it is in an entirely different environment, away from the real world.
This is where the first difference of augmented reality vs virtual reality lies, in the balance between the real and the virtual world. Augmented reality builds on the augmenting principle and enhances real life experiences with technology overlay. Virtual reality creates a whole virtual experience through immersion.
Medium of Contact: Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
With a fair understanding of the meaning, let’s quickly move on to the medium through which humans engage with these two technologies. While there is no thumb rule that humans will engage with AR/VR only with particular gadgets, there are a few which are predominant.
Augmented reality is best experiences through apps in smartphones and tablets that enhance the images and texts. Holograms and 3D images are the top examples that come to one’s mind when you think about how we interact with augmented reality. Smart lenses and specific AR devices also have come to the forefront recently to refine the AR experience.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, comes to life with mostly VR headsets. Often, these headsets are connected to consoles or PCs to provide the virtual experience. These headsets trick people into believing that they are actually in a virtual environment, physically and mentally.
Here the difference between augmented reality vs virtual reality lies in what one needs to experience them. While AR requires smartphones and tablets with a technology overlay, VR requires headsets to offer a robust experience.
Use Cases: Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
Finally, the next difference is the one that matters to users the most. We are talking about the use cases of augmented reality vs virtual reality. Let us quickly explore how augmented reality and virtual reality is being increasingly adopted today by different industries and array of users.
The top use case of augmented reality lies in interior designing. Plenty of giant retailers are rapidly adopting AR to offer their customers a unique shopping experience. For instance, IKEA has adopted augmented reality to enable potential buyers to visualize how certain products will look in their houses. AR allows users to get an overlay of their preferred products on the physical space of their homes (real world) and judge its appropriateness. Additionally, museums and other heritage walks use AR to augment the visit experiences. They use it to add an overlay to paintings and fixtures, giving the viewers a deep view into its history, etc. Gaming is another industry that is using AR to augment user experience. Pokemon Go, which was big a few years ago, leveraged augmented reality technology.
Virtual reality has its own set of use cases. Invariably, its adoption by the gaming and entertainment industry has been high. In fact, these days, most shopping and gaming arcades have VR headsets that offer virtual experiences for kids. They make them believe that they really are in a different world, like space. Additionally, VR has also found its application in the healthcare sector. Surgeons use VR to enter into a virtual world and plan a surgery before they actually perform one. This virtual world allows them to do a test run before the real match.
To really pinpoint the difference between augmented reality vs virtual reality lies in understanding their application. Once you get a significant hang of which industry and function uses which technology, your understanding will be a smooth sail.
Enter Mixed Reality
Going one step deeper into the virtual world, comes mixed reality. It goes a step beyond augmented reality. MR allows users to interact in real time, with virtual objects, placed in the real world. It generally relies on the MR headset for a great experience. Microsoft Hololens is one of the biggest examples of mixed reality today.
Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: Is One Really Better?
A comparison of augmented reality vs virtual reality cannot be a deciding point for which technology is better than the other. Rather, the objective is to simply understand where both of them stand in the technology spectrum. The comparison is an effective tool to visualize their potential to transform the real world experiences and create widespread impact!