Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are playing an increasingly important role in everyday life. As these immersive technologies mature, and more mainstream applications for them are realised, many experts predict that using them will be as commonplace as laptop work is today.
All this anticipation for the future of extended reality (XR) tech begs two questions: where should businesses be investing their time and money? And between VR and AR, which technology is more likely to play a leading role in the future of business, entertainment, education, and communication?
It Depends On The Industry
With Facebook’s announcement of the Metaverse, as well as Apple making a push into the extended reality (XR) market, it is clear that big tech players are optimistic about the future of VR. One might therefore understandably assume that VR will be the defining technology of the future.
VR has wide-ranging applications in a host of industries; from immersive learning, product development, and architecture, to automobile repair and even open-heart surgery! Immersive virtual worlds allow professionals to see problems in a novel and three-dimensional way. VR improves efficiency, accuracy, and job satisfaction. It will become a standard in the professional toolbox of the near future. In turn, the Metaverse will expand social media and business communication, in ways science fiction could only dream of a decade ago.
VR is definitely on the rise. This is precipitated by huge buy-in from tech companies, an increasing range of applications, and constantly improving hardware. The Oculus Quest 2 is an all-in-one package that has standalone functionality. The next-generation Oculus Quest Pro will be even more powerful. Companies should examine how VR can benefit their business before getting left behind — by the inevitable shift towards immersive tech.
The confluence of positives for VR would make you think it will be the stand-out technology of the future. Savvy businesses are already exploring the possibilities of VR. However, AR can do things that VR can’t.
The Unique Offerings of AR
The main upside of AR is accessibility. Everyone carries an AR device with them every day in the form of their smartphone. This is part of the reason that PwC predicted that by 2030, the AR industry will be worth more than double its VR counterpart.
The use of AR in the 2021 Mercedes S-Class illustrates the power of this technology. The AR heads-up display projects a safe following distance, tracks and displays speed, points out upcoming road signs, and directs the driver to their location. Historically, what Mercedes do, other brands emulate. This seamless integration of AR will become commonplace in personal vehicles.
AR offers the ability to integrate digital visual content into a user’s real-world environment. This is a unique selling-proposition that no other technology offers. Superimposing products, tools, diagrams, and more, onto a physical space, allows users to have a previously impossible perspective of the world around them.
Other applications for this technology already exist in tourism, product development, real-time maintenance, and remote doctor visits. AR allows users to have real-time information about complex real-world problems seamlessly and accurately. The efficiency of well-built AR solutions saves businesses huge sums of money, that otherwise would’ve been spent on organisational inefficiencies.
It would certainly be in the interest of innovators in these industries to investigate the possibility of AR revolutionising their market offering.
Is The Comparison Useful?
If VR and AR have distinct use-cases, is comparing them useful? One argument is that the comparison is not helpful because “different needs and problems require different solutions”. This argument is fair, but isn’t necessarily helpful for innovators in medicine, product design, or workplace training. These industries could benefit from applications in both VR and AR. So, where should they put their attention?
It seems like AR will be more mainstream because of smartphones, but increasingly sophisticated VR headsets and solutions will offer solutions that only 360 degree immersion can provide. For instance, lifelike realism in entirely safe and objective training environments, or the ability to create novel experiences that users have never, or will never, see in real life.
The Big Takeaways
Oculus have brought the first practical mainstream VR headset to market, in the form of the Quest 2. VR is more affordable and user-friendly than ever before. The success of XR technology is largely based on the availability of content in a given medium. VR currently has more mainstream applications than AR. That may lead one to assume that VR is where businesses should direct their R&D budgets.
By this token, the mainstream adoption of AR seems to be more proprietary and designed for specific use. The generic adoption of AR on smart phones hasn’t yet delivered on its potential. In addition, most applications that use AR are one-off gimmicks — designed to get people excited about, or attract people to brands.
For the next 5-10 years, companies should bet on VR. The technology will be affordable at scale. It already has some clearly proven applications in training. In turn, there is a growing body of research backing the effectiveness of VR in this area.
In the long-term, AR will more than likely dwarf VR. However, it’s going to take longer for AR to become more practical and mainstream. The main barrier for AR will be mainstream public adoption and investor buy-in.