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Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?

Posted March 15, 2019

Exciting, innovative and often confused with one another: augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are two of the latest technologies that are changing the way we see and interact with the world.

Free image via Pixabay

Despite their similarities, there are some distinct differences between these two innovations and in how they are used. In this article, experts at Iflexion will help you get to know the technologies better and discover their potential uses––for pleasure and for business.

AR at a glance

Augmented reality is a technology that augments the way we see the world by superimposing digital images on real-life objects. For this, it uses a screen––tablet, phone, smart glasses––and a camera. This can be to create entertaining items, for example, games, or something more informational, such as an interactive street view.

Best known examples include Pokemon GO, Snapchat lenses, and Night Sky/ Sky Walk mobile apps, among others.

AR has various uses in entertainment, business, and everyday life. While AR applications are more prominent in gaming, it has also been featured in education. Some of such learning apps are Elements 4D, an interactive app that teaches chemistry without a physical lab, or Quiver, which provides students with the opportunity to interact with their textbooks, proving it is not just for entertainment.

In addition, AR technology has also found its way into the medical world. There, it provides various solutions such as accessible imaging for surgeons during operations and overlays of informational prompts.

VR at a glance

Virtual reality is an entirely immersive technology that takes its users to a completely digital world. Commonly associated with standalone headsets such as HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Samsung Gear VR, and PlayStation VR, it works by submitting users’ senses to the digital reality.

Best known examples include such games as Skyrim VR, Beat Saber, and Arizona Sunshine, among others.

Aside from its popular uses in the gaming industry, VR is seeing many applications in science. VR has long been used in flight simulation and has had immense success at lowering a pilot’s risk by improving decision-making skills. Now, it is also beginning to enter other fields such as medicine.

VR has been proposed as a solution to pain management for chronic patients (through apps like Karuna), for improving surgery success, and as a treatment for various psychiatric conditions.

How are they similar?

Both technologies are designed to help their users interact and immerse themselves in the digital world, sharing the property of augmenting the physical world to a particular extent.

In terms of similarities, both AR and VR also share their domains of applications––entertainment, education, and professional assistance.  Accordingly, they find their uses in gaming, engineering, healthcare, manufacturing, and many more industries. The market is still young and ripe for more developments, though.

How are they different?

Despite their similar use cases, AR and VR differ in a number of ways. These differences boil down to two things––function and execution. Let’s dive in a little deeper.

– Function

In terms of function, VR aims to create an entirely new reality. This helps in flight and surgical simulations, or to provide a more immersive gaming experience, allowing for a complete detachment from the physical reality.

AR, on the other hand, enhances the current reality with digital elements without completely immersing the user into the virtual world. That’s why the resulting experience can be called a hybrid reality, using the best of the two worlds.

– Execution

Augmented and virtual realities differ in how the technology is delivered to the end user. While VR blocks the user’s perception of the physical reality and replaces it with the virtual one, AR only partially embraces the real world so that the user stays aware of both their physical environment and superimposed digital elements.

The devices for channelling AR and VR also differ. For AR, this may be hand-held gadgets or computer screens allowing a mergence with the real world before the eyes of the user. At the same time, VR requires standalone headsets, devices or hardware simulators to get the job done.

Future of AR and VR in 2019

Both virtual reality and augmented reality are still in their infancy in terms of their capabilities. As they are becoming more common in our everyday lives, we are likely to see many new and innovative solutions that work together with the gadgets we own.

The trends predicted for VR and AR in 2019 include the use of these technologies in translation software, personalized advertising, interactive educational software, real estate, and travel industry. In all these cases, both AR and VR has the potential to redefine the way we experience real-life objects, make purchasing decisions, study and much more.

In turn, these new solutions will increase demand across the industry for professionals able to develop the technology further. This trend will make way for a new generation of AR and VR visionaries in the field.

With AR and VR fast-developing, 2019 is looking to be an exciting year for these technologies.

Thinking of developing your own AR/VR solutions?

If you’re thinking of creating your own augmented or virtual reality software, there are a number of steps you’ll need to go through before launching this project.

The essential stage here is planning, to come up with a development strategy that aligns with your business goals first. They will dictate your choice between AR and VR: if you consider using handheld devices as the platform and preserve users’ interaction with the physical world, AR will be preferable. If your goal is to create a completely new digital world or build a lifelike simulation without putting the user to real-life risk (such as in firefighting simulations), your obvious option is VR.

Sometimes, though, this choice can be far from straightforward, as multiple aspects should be taken into account. In any cases, enlisting professional consultants and engineers is recommended. As AR and VR are only emerging, this journey is bound to be full of experimentation, and expert guidance can come in handy.

Information about the author

Tatyana Shavel is a VR/AR Technology Analyst at Iflexion. She works in the intersection of business and technology exploring the practical use of augmented and virtual reality for smarter business and a better world. In addition to keeping a constant pulse on industry trends, she enjoys digging into data and conducting research.

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