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Over the past year, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology have become hot topics, particularly when it comes to how they stack up against each other. Enthusiastic publications are treating these two as fiercely competitive technologies, while in fact, it’s much more likely there will be a place for both in our future.

AR and VR both provide next-level viewing experiences, allowing us to see things as if they’re right in front of us. The big difference between the two? The worlds they immerse you in.

With AR technology, you see 3D graphics overlaid onto the world in front of you. AR enhances the real world, by introducing digitally-designed elements into it. With VR technology, you are taken out of the real world entirely and surrounded by a new digital world — one that exists 360 degrees around you.

Think of VR as the next “TV” and AR as the next “mobile” — coexisting, each making its own imprint on our lives. Instead of pitting them against each other and analyzing which will dominate the next tech revolution, let’s consider the much more realistic concept that AR and VR will both become part of our future.


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How mobile changed our lives

Mobile technology has changed the way we find information, entertain ourselves, interact with other people, and even tackle our to-do lists. People use mobile devices to assist in everyday tasks, from finding and booking a flight on a mobile app to following directions to a new restaurant on a digital map that fits in your pocket and tracks your movements.

Mobile technology hasn’t taken us out of the real world, but has instead intertwined itself with our world — both to help us and entertain us — becoming more and more a natural part of our everyday life.

AR: the next mobile

AR is shaping up to be the next big thing that intertwines itself with the world we live in, enhancing our experiences in day-to-day life — beginning with what we see.

Location tracking was the critical piece that made mobile apps what they are today. It only makes sense that the next step would be for phones to know what we’re seeing. The types of data and services we can provide users once we know where they are, what they’re doing, and now, what they’re seeing, is remarkable.

Pokémon Go is one of the most recognized recreational applications of AR, but there are many apps we use every day that we may notrealize provide us with augmented reality. For instance:

  • The helpful Augmented Car Finder that ensures we never lose our vehicle,
  • The entertaining Snapchat filters that allow us to share funny looks with family and friends,
  • And the invaluable Yelp Monocle that makes sure we never support a business that has bad reviews.

The success of these three AR apps lies in their ability to integrate into users’ everyday lives seamlessly. With virtually no limit to the ways this tech can make our lives more exciting, engaging, and convenient, who knows where AR will take us. One thing we do know: the goal of AR is to become part of your everyday life, just like mobile technology did. The goal of VR, on the other hand, has much more in common with the way TV fits into our lives.

How TV changed our lives

Television revolutionized communication, learning, and entertainment from the early 20th century onward. The ability to watch moving pictures — both real and fictional — in the home quickly enhanced the way people got their news, spread ideas, marketed products, and kicked back after a long day at work.

TV offers us an engaging way to share information, and the ability to view different realities — but it doesn’t merge with our actual reality. Unlike mobile technology, TV has not pervaded our daily tasks and interactions — we don’t use it directly to remind us of calendar events, get to the airport, or tell our friends what we’re doing. We use it to consume media, whether for fun or informative purposes.

VR: the next TV

While AR can take our mobile-assisted lives to a whole new level of convenience, VR is likely to evolve to fill a role in our lives that’s very similar to TV. Let’s say you’re sitting in your living room watching your favorite TV show to escape from the stresses of your workday. Replace the TV with a VR headset, and now you’ve escaped from your reality entirely. Goodbye, outside world!

The ability of VR to fully immerse people in environments and let them engage with those worlds will be wildly entertaining and educational. Beyond that, it’s difficult to see how VR is going to become part of our day-to-day tasks and interactions.

The Oculus Rift, for example, requires a gaming PC with high specs and needs HDMI and USB cables linked to the PC. While the Oculus Rift does have position tracking (it can sense your movements, such as walking and jumping), its physical cable requirements severely limit the playable space. In other words, using the Oculus Rift is very much like watching a show on TV. It’s fun, but there’s not much mobility to it.

There are mobile VR options available, including the Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and Daydream, which only require compatible smartphones (so you don’t have to plug into one spot). But even with their potential for mobility, we still have to consider the hindrance of the headset. It’s unlikely people will travel with their headsets, and strap them on in a public place to begin playing their game. VR just isn’t as simple as pulling out a smartphone you already have in your back pocket.

A future for both

TV and VR are about media consumption, creating new worlds, and “suspending reality.” TV changed the world, and VR can change the future, by offering new ways of creating media to satisfy media-craving audiences.

Mobile and AR are about “enhancing reality” — adding something valuable to help, entertain, or inform us in our day-to-day existence. Aside from successful media creation, AR also offers limitless opportunities with data, services, user-interaction, and growth.

Once you dive into the applications of the two technologies, it seems almost silly to imagine them as competitors. Sometimes you may want to escape into an immersive VR experience, and other times you’ll want to use AR to go out and explore the world in a way that you couldn’t have a decade ago. Why wouldn’t we have a place for both in our futures?

Hunter Jensen is the founder and CEO of Barefoot Solutions, an innovative digital agency headquartered in San Diego. 

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