Recognizing the differences between VR, AR, and MR helps you grasp their benefits in a variety of settings

Key Takeaways:

  • Virtual reality is a 3D digital environment where users are fully immersed and can manipulate what’s around them
  • Augmented reality is when a device can be used, like a smartphone, to overlay digital experiences on top of real-world environments
  • Mixed reality goes beyond augmented reality and allows users to manipulate the digital images they’re seeing
  • Trends to watch for:
    • Better tech is coming
    • Enhanced consumer experiences
    • Embracing the metaverse

Immersive experience technology is becoming a crucial element for innovation and progress in nearly every industry, from retail to logistics. Consumers are demanding more interactive experiences, and companies are seeing how much digital technology can improve their processes and systems.

But while there’s a great deal of information available about immersive experiences, grasping each technology’s defining characteristics, pros, and cons can be an enormous challenge. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality may be hard to differentiate or understand.

Let’s start by defining the key terms involved in the world of immersive experiences and talk about trends to watch for.

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality, or VR, is a digital world created by a computer, where a user is fully immersed in another environment. They can interact with this other world using a controller or mouse, while head-mounted displays or headsets now make it possible to surround the senses with VR.

The digital environments replicate real environments, complete with a three-dimensional perspective. They replicate the sounds and sights of the real world. Additionally, users can move through the digital experiences as if the spaces actually exist.

VR simulations have been popularized in movies like the Matrix and video games like Second Life. But VR can also be beneficial in work settings, where users can recreate processes for study and planning. For instance, in healthcare, doctors can study simulations of health issues to better understand how a patient experiences a condition. In manufacturing, VR can be used to gain insights into how machinery works or to train employees to improve efficiency.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is similar to VR but isn’t quite as immersive. AR uses digital elements on top of real-world experiences. For example, a user will employ a device, from smartphones to headsets, that overlays the actual physical environment in front of them to provide a digital enhancement, such as information about that environment.

One example would be the PlayARt App. PlayARt was developed to provide user interaction with album covers via AR, in part in an effort to drive more traffic to independent music stores. Simply holding a device with the PlayARt App over the album cover creates an AR experience, using video and 3D multimedia to bring the album to life.

Another example is the game Pokémon Go, where players use their mobile devices to visit specific real places, hold their app up to the location, and gather characters to advance in the game. In movies, AR has been exhibited through headsets characters wear, which tell them information about the world around them in a digital format, such as elevation, temperature, or speed.

Essentially, AR integrates the real world with digital experiences. It’s not fully immersive like VR, however, since it relies on real-world environments.

What is mixed reality?

Mixed reality (MR) goes further than AR, though it’s still not as digitally immersive as VR. MR uses the same elements of AR, in that the real-world environment is overlaid with digital components, but users can also start to manipulate those elements in MR. In AR, they can only view the information.

Moreover, MR is similar to VR in that the user has more control over digital experiences. But those experiences are still reliant on a user’s actual physical surroundings. They have a hand in both digital and real-world spaces.

Furthermore, education settings use MR to help students understand concepts with more interactive images they can manipulate. MR may project an image of a car engine, for example, and students can identify parts and move the images to enhance learning. Or they can visit historical sites such as ancient Greece and explore far away nations to experience new cultures. A Snapchat or Instagram Story filter relies on MR technology as well.

Staying ahead of the game

Overall, understanding these critical differences in immersive experience technology is the first step in being prepared for the future. More and more of daily life is being moved to a digital space. Work now takes place largely online. Gamers interact with people from all over the world in real-time as they play and plot in worlds of fantasy. Companies rely on instant data about inventory and the supply chain that they can track digitally for greater efficiency.

VR, AR, and MR dramatically impact how people learn, work, interact, and innovate. World events like the global COVID-19 pandemic have furthered everyone’s reliance on digital tools and the acceleration of immersive experience technologies.

Other extended reality trends to watch:

Better technology is always coming

Headsets, apps, and devices that improve immersive technologies are continuously being created. Holograms have become common to transport images of people, living or dead, to concerts and events. VR headsets are becoming more and more advanced to create more realistic digital experiences. AR contact lenses are in the works. These technologies will only improve as we continue to enhance our understanding of how to develop and harness them.

Enhanced consumer experiences

Online shopping continues to grow in popularity. Over 263 million Americans shop online, or 80% of the population. But brick-and-mortar shops aren’t dead. Just different. Stores are now making at-home shopping experiences feel more like in-store shopping. Users can virtually try on clothing, makeup, and accessories with AR-enabled mirrors. They can use digital avatars via VR to see what clothes might look like. When people do visit a store, they can use an app to find products and view product counts instantly.

Consumers are also taking advantage of immersive experience technologies to evaluate homes and furniture items before buying. They can virtually tour a home or see how a sofa will look in their space. These improvements make shopping more efficient and satisfying to many users.

Embracing the metaverse

A full-blown metaverse has been on the horizon for a while now. Many brands have already tried to create it and are still working toward it today. Facebook changing its name to Meta is a sign it’s coming. The makings of a metaverse are already in our daily lives. We interact on social media and create online personas. Games like Second Life and The Sims create simulations of real life where users have control of what happens in entirely digital environments. And new VR games are currently being released, like Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

These concepts continue to infiltrate goals and plans for tech companies, and consumer sentiment continues to demand enhanced experiences. As such, immersive experience technologies will only continue to expand and improve, eventually touching most aspects of daily life.

Why Shockoe?

At Shockoe, we believe that AR, VR, and MR can provide nearly limitless benefits to our clients, including improved employee training, increased revenue, reduced costs, and more efficient lives. We deliver mobile app development, immersive experience services, digital transformation, and many other solutions to our clients.

Contact Shockoe today to learn how our custom-built solutions can help with your business needs.