VR vs AR: Which will come out on top?

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A battle is brewing between two cutting edge technologies: augmented reality and virtual reality. The two are certainly related to each other, but there are enough differences where each tries to stand out. You’ve likely heard about attempts to turn these technologies into viable market items, ones which have the potential to transform hardware and entertainment like never before. However you look at it, both VR and AR could be viewed as the next great revolution in technology, but crowning a winner requires having a glimpse into the future. Could virtual reality live up to the promise that science-fiction has envisioned, or will augmented reality be the dominant choice for most consumers?

To properly compare VR and AR, it’s important to understand the main points that separate them. Most people are likely familiar with virtual reality due to Hollywood storytelling, and while movies and television tend to embellish the technology, they still get the point across. VR creates an entirely virtual environment with which the user can interact. The real world is (ideally) completely concealed, meaning all of your senses are filled with the virtual world. Everything outside of it might as well not exist for the time being.

Augmented reality works differently. While it still has the recognisable headset, as evidenced by the name, AR doesn’t conceal the world but augments it. The most common way this is done is through 3D graphics and added contextual layers that the user can then interact with. Essentially, AR creates new interactive options that you can view through the headset display.

In the battle for supremacy, it would appear that VR has all the momentum, at least right now. The Oculus Rift, a VR headset, was recently released and has been getting good reviews among the gaming community. With all the attention being paid to it, much of the focus is now on virtual reality, which can be seen in other products that are set to be released soon. Samsung has gotten into the virtual reality business with their own Gear VR, which looks to take advantage of working with other Samsung devices. Sony is working on their own VR product with the Playstation VR. There’s also the HTC Vive. So at the moment, VR appears well on its way to having a significant impact in the technology market.

This would make it seem like augmented reality has an uphill climb. In many senses it does. Perhaps the most notable effort at an AR device is Google Glass, and while that had a great deal of hype and publicity accompanying it, Google Glass is perhaps best known for never actually getting off the ground. Despite this, AR does seem to have a bright future ahead of it. Most promising is Microsoft’s efforts with the Hololens device. Others like CastAR also look to harness the potential of augmented reality with ways to enhance the environment around them. Some experts believe Google Glass wasn’t a success due to a lack of focus in its features, but these other AR devices look to correct those mistakes. Others say Google Glass was simply ahead of its time and were it to be released now, it would be more successful.

AR’s real strength may lie in capitalising on a potential weakness of virtual reality. One of the main selling points of VR is that it is all-encompassing, effectively shutting out the real world and creating a virtual one. But the way people live now makes using VR a significant interruption in their lives. AR features no such interruption, instead allowing people to take in the world around them without ignoring it. Augmented reality can also facilitate interaction with other people, perhaps leading to more applications for the technology. People rarely place their focus on any one thing anymore, but with virtual reality, that’s a necessity. Not so with AR, making it a possible dominant force in this market.

Picking a winner in this battle doesn’t necessarily mean only one will exist in the future. If anything, both will flourish but be used for different reasons depending on the need. With both featuring strengths, a marketplace where both have a noticeable presence is the likely outcome. As the technology advances, and cloud computing and software defined storage vendors get tuned into what it offers, we’re likely to see AR and VR thrive.

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