I’ve recently been devoting some time in my internship reaching out to companies involved in the VR and AR ecosystems, especially in the California area. As a result, I thought that I’d briefly discuss the pros, cons, and differences of Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Virtual Reality is designed to be fully immersive; 360 degree vision and audio in a virtual world of your desire. Imagine flying across the moon of Pandora as a blue-skinned alien, leading a group of rebels into battle, or watching your favorite video game series rebooted to place you in the middle of the action. This is the end goal for VR companies, of which Facebook’s Oculus Rift is probably most well known. I would also say that the Samsung Gear and HTC Vive are major competitors in the VR space.
The positive aspects of VR extend to better gaming, entirely new storytelling mediums in a 3D space, and many educational benefits, including greater empathy towards others when you see experiences through their eyes. On the flipside, VR has the potential for overuse, increasing the ability for people to retreat to their own virtual Edens and ignoring the beauty of the real world. VR also is not for the motion-sick, and still has a ways to go to improve display quality, audio quality, and eye fatigue for extended periods of use. Although it makes for a novel experience now, VR is at a point where rapid expansion into consumer markets could become a reality within the next five years.
While VR is focused about total immersion, Augmented Reality tries to enhance your environment with useful, virtual material. Think of Iron Man’s facial display, or a holographic projection of a computer or TV screen on your wall. The goal of AR companies is to encourage you to make the most of reality by merging the real and virtual worlds. In this sense, Magic Leap, Google Glass, and Microsoft’s HoloLens are all well-known competitors.
Some of the negative aspects of AR have recently come to light with Google Glass and “Glassholes,” really creepy early adopters who freaked out other, privacy-conscious people. Microsoft, too has come under criticism for its HoloLens, which can only really create solid-looking holograms within a 40 degree field of vision. These companies are getting off to a rocky start, and yet both of their products are actually very useful, with great potential; for Google in particular, if it overcomes overblown media reports, Glass technology is extremely close to the ideal AR device, something as unobtrusive as wearing sunglasses (the Glass camera on the side is still too large to be ideal). Positives for AR, however, abound: education, more accurate surgical procedures, reading email hands-free, and more. In fact, AR technology is perhaps the more feasible between AR and VR to integrate and grow in everyday life, even to the point of rendering other mobile technology obsolete.
VR may focus on total immersion while AR only partially fills your world with the virtual, but both technologies promise to open up new worlds to users. Together, the AR and VR markets contain a potential market opportunity of more than $100 billion in the coming few years. It should be interesting to see how things pan out.