Published: June 23, 2015

Augmented reality and virtual reality are different ways to consume digital content. 

With all the talk about Virtual Reality (VR) over the past 12 months, poor old augmented reality (AR) has felt a little put out when it comes to grabbing the headlines. The relentless march of innovation decided that augmented reality was obsolete, assigned to the scrap heap after someone said “why don’t you just fill out the whole camera view with content” and be done with it. AR was VR lite, and now VR full strength is here then it’s game over for the competitors. Anyone remember betamax?

As we all know, the news cycle waits for no one and the clamour of ill-researched journalists with 15 minutes to file a post began looking for a winner and a loser that anyone could grasp in an 25 word article. In 2014, the news cycle got its wish when Facebook rode in on its privacy-challenged horse and paid $2bn for Oculus Rift, a VR company with no VR headsets in production and a demo that was, well, incredibly poor. The social media behemoth would kick start VR for everyone, allowing virtual reality headsets to revolutionise the way we shared pictures of our dinner, offering 360 panoramic videos of cats would inevitably be our future - obviously. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said the product will "revolutionize gaming” and that would just be the beginning. Frothy mouthed pundits labelled it the future of everything. And despite my best efforts to be cynical I can’t help agree when it comes to the death of cinema and sport broadcasting as we know it right now. Live experience is changed forever and is going to be incredibly awesome.

AR on the other hand was a gimmick, a trick of the light that had fooled many into thinking it could change the world. AR was stifled by the fact that its early adoption within advertising circles lead to anyone with an account deciding they could create an augmented reality experience. The result was, and continues to be, a flawed use of AR and it continues to damage the industry and public take up across the world. 2014 most certainly saw augmented reality at the bottom of the Gartner hype cycle which thankfully saw an end to its use for one-off advertising campaigns and a refocus on how it can be applied on hundreds of products worldwide. We include ourselves in that.

The truth is and remains that the despite best efforts to lump them into a VHS / Betamax grudge match, AR and VR are totally different beasts. They offer their own challenges, are built with different hardware and software, and often find themselves complimenting each other. Depending on a range of factors, each have their place in industries as diverse as automotive to adult entertainment, museums to medical training. 

At INDE Appshaker we’re often asked which technology we prefer and the answer, without any remorse, is neither. Traditionally our product base has utilised augmented reality technologies and content development and we’ll continue to do that across the world. Product development in our business going forward utilises AR and VR both in equal measure. For every time that augmented reality offers a potential market defining product, virtual reality offers another and it's important to appreciate the merits of each. Here’s why:

VR creates environment, AR uses the real one as context

For those with little or no knowledge of either technology the differences can be confusing. Put simply, VR creates a fully immersive world that you can navigate using a variety of tools such as hand gesture or a keypad. The world that you’re “inside” can be created entirely in 3D or shot using cameras to create 360 panoramic video experiences. Augmented reality places digital content (3D or video) on a real world camera view to deliver digital information in a real world space. AR's "reason to be" is that it relates digital content to an analogue view.


VR is a single experience, AR is not

At this moment in time, VR is a large, slightly unwieldy headset which fully immerses you by completely closing you off from the outside world. Once inside a VR headset you cannot see anything in the real world around you. AR on the other hand is currently delivered through large screen or through many mobile devices with Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap style wearable devices rumoured to be appearing in 2017 / 2016. These devices allow you to see elements of the world in front of you.


VR takes you there, AR brings it to you

VR operates on the principle that it can immerse you to such a powerful extent you will feel that you have “travelled” to a location whether that be the wilds of Africa or a courtside tennis match in Sydney, Australia. AR can deliver digital experiences to you wherever you are, in real time and very probably in the context of your real life.


VR is inside, AR is both

With the current VR offerings from Sony, Oculus, Valve et al no one has discovered how to deliver virtual reality experiences that allow the user to navigate physically around a space without a totally controlled physical environment. In short, with both eyes covered you’re prone to fall over quite quickly. AR mobile or Hololens style setups allow the user to navigate the real world while receiving digital information overlaid on their eyeline.