Why AR Beats VR in the World of Alternate Realities

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Why AR Beats VR in the World of Alternate Realities
Why AR Beats VR in the World of Alternate Realities

On December 7th 2016, Google, HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Sony and Acer joined together to create the Global Virtual Reality Association GVRA) with an “aim to unlock and maximize VR's potential.” That's right, these big competitors want to promote the overall adoption of virtual reality by serving as a resource and promoting best practices for creators and consumers.

We've all heard the heady predictions of how impactful these immersive experiences can be, so why are these big players working together? On the surface, it may seem that they all have a vested interest in getting people who aren't early adopters to strap on a headset and give VR a try. The classic marketing funnel starts with awareness and consideration before any conversion can take place. 

Except... these players aren't just competing against non-consumption or each other. There's another immersive experience in town: one that fits better into your everyday life and has the potential to better solve your everyday problems.

That solution is augmented reality, and it's expressly designed to make you be a better you, rather than a different you.

You know why virtual reality is so awe-inspiring when you first try it? Because you can marvel at the advances we've made in technology. This stuff looks real! Real enough that doctors have found we can trick our brains and bodies while interacting with this virtual world. But the whole point is that we are distancing ourselves from what IS real. It is a completely immersive experience and you have to put the rest of the world around you on hold. That's a big investment.

Contrast that with augmented reality, a thin layer of (generally contextually-related) information laid over the real world. Augmented reality fits your life because it doesn't try to stop you from living it. It is expressly designed, well, to augment it.

We are already enjoying these assistive agents on our smartphones. My Google Pixel reminds me where I parked my car and what time I should leave for the airport to get there on time. This is contextual information when I need it, but I still need to glance down to access it. I need to perform a small action to get what I need. With augmented reality, it is surfaced for me within context (imagine if my Google maps driving directions were semi-transparently overlaid right in front of me!) so not only do I not need to request the information, I don't have to figure out how it relates to the real world. If this is the ultimate experience in terms of ease of use and applicability to tasks, virtual reality is just one step too far.

Yes, virtual reality can help people learn new skills or overcome fears in a controlled environment, but then that experience needs to be integrated back into the real world. This is a serial process: first you interact in the virtual world, then you have to apply that to make meaningful impact on the real world. With augmented reality, this happens in parallel: you are interacting in the real world in an enhanced fashion.

It's no surprise that Samsung and Sony are early champions to usher in this new age of immersive experiences. These are television guys. Sit and consume content; relax after a day at work and get lost in a storyline. You know, entertainment. You're not going to just kick off your shoes and relax with a drink and an augmented reality experience. Because augmented reality isn't just some better way to play, it's a better way to work and live. In my book, that beats out VR hands down.

Andrea Hill, Manager of Innovation Strategy, ReadyTalk

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