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Augmented Reality Versus Virtual Reality: The Battle Is Real

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Although virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have existed in some form for decades, only recently have they garnered mainstream attention.

VR is blowing up right now, and its content and hardware advances have been exciting to watch.

In a short amount of time, content creators have made some mind-blowing advances in storytelling with this new technology. Brands, movie studios, gaming companies and news organizations are all tinkering with this tool and channel.

VR will gain ascendancy throughout 2016, but my money’s on AR becoming the dominant technology in our daily lives.

VR is for content

The New York Times recently distributed more than one million Google cardboards to its digital-edition subscribers. YouTube and Facebook are enabling VR online through digital video players. Everything is aligning to have VR hit critical mass next year.

VR is the only medium that guarantees the user’s complete focus on the content. There is no looking away, no checking email or text messages and no updating social-media statuses. VR is the most immersive way to tell a story because what happens inside that headset makes you feel something in your head, heart and gut.

But VR’s biggest strength is also its greatest weakness. The immersive nature of VR hinders users from interacting with their surroundings. It takes them out of the moment. They can’t walk around and see what is right next to them, look people in the eye or read someone’s body language. VR is a powerful way to experience content, but is not practical for interacting in the real world.

VR and AR tinker with our reality — but AR enhances it, while VR diverts us from it.

And therein lies the major problem with VR. Content is king, no doubt, and providing immersive experiences is the holy grail in advertising. But VR will never become an innocuous part of our daily lives.

The real goal of advertising is not to interrupt our tasks or experiences but to add value to them on behalf of a brand. VR has already started to revolutionize the way we watch content, but will never be the technology we turn to in our everyday lives.

AR is for the real world

AR adds contextual layers of information to our experiences in real time. We have seen this future foretold in Hollywood films, such as Avatar, Minority Report, Iron Man and Wall-E, among others. Soon these depictions will become real.

However, AR has issues with execution, which tends to feel gimmicky. Remember pointing your smartphone to a print ad to get some poorly made content? Google Glass showed some innovative AR applications, but they were ultimately a failure because the hardware and technology were too broad and lacked focus on the consumer problem they were trying to solve. These examples have shown the promise of AR, but have failed to deliver on contextual utility.

Still, the future is bright for AR with several tech companies working on their AR offerings. Microsoft is working on HoloLens AR headset glasses. Developer kits are scheduled to hit the market in early 2016. Google invested in a company called Magic Leap, whose technology beams lasers into the viewer’s iris to activate AR. That future will become a reality in another year’s time.

Both VR and AR tinker with our reality — but AR enhances it, while VR diverts us from it, which is why the latter will come to the fore in 2017, with its promise of contextual data for marketers and utility for consumers.

It’s the future we were promised, and it’s closer to our grasp.

Featured Image: Ociacia/Shutterstock