Virtual and Augmented reality technologies are the subject of fascination among the world's tech leaders and investors. They have already achieved significant results in product development, especially in the gaming industry, although it's still hard to define the dominant players in the fields, and fully describe their business models. Even though both technologies are set to change the world, their capabilities are different. AR allows 3D graphics to be embedded into our vision of the real world, whereas VR gives an opportunity to dive into new worlds of a completely modified reality. So which one has got a more disruptive potential?
Talking from the gaming perspective, VR gained a lot of attention, because its development was faster and many products are already available for purchase. The main difference between AR and VR is that VR headsets take users away from reality whilst AR incorporates objects in the existing reality. The problem with VR technology is that it offers a modified reality for gaming or simulator experience, but for now, the experience is limited due to lack of quality and tracking motion, whilst game control is still based on traditional principles.
There has already been a commercial success with Google Cardboard, a VR headset device made from low-cost components, that allows your smartphone to create a virtual reality experience. A user can enjoy a 360-degree experience that simulates a physical presence in the world's most famous locations. However, sceptics believe that Google Cardboard cannot be called a full VR experience, at least for now, because, unlike its desktop alternatives, the headset supports only low frame rates and positional tracking, because of the smartphone's limited capabilities.
AR experience is different, but also not yet perfect. One of the most promising startups in AR is Magic Leap that is backed by $1.4 billion worth of investments from Google and private investors, making it the largest startup in 'C' round investments in history, according to WIRED. The company's CEO Rony Abovitz, is sceptical about the future of its rival technology, believing that VR technology can be dangerous. His vision is based on the fact that VR products such as Facebook's Oculus Rift and Samsung's Gear VR use 'stereoscopic 3D' viewing, that can be damaging. The stereoscopic 3D viewing approach is not new and is also used in the 3D cinema and TV experience, the technology tricks your eyes into thinking that objects are full in depth, which is achieved by showing each eye the same image but at a different angle. Abovitz says: 'We at Magic Leap believe these inputs into the eye-brain system are incorrect and can cause a spectrum of temporary and/or permanent deficits.'
Magic Leap's idea is designed around incorporating modified objects into existing reality by projecting light directly into the eyes, avoiding possible damage caused by stereoscopic 3D viewing: 'I personally experienced a number of these stereoscopic 3D issues, and would not wear these devices -especially knowing that digital light-field systems are on the way and safe,' says Magic Leap's CEO. Given that the AR product from Magic Leap hasn't been released yet, it's hard to say which technology is the safest at this point.
However, a form of the AR experience is available and is free to use, in the form of the game Pokemon GO, launched by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. The success of the game so far has been achieved by focussing on what you do in the game rather than how everything looks. The idea is to capture pocket monsters, which are hiding on the streets, train, battle and trade them. If AR gaming continues developing this way, soon we may see a big disruption in the mobile gaming sector. Unlike VR headsets, AR doesn't obstruct vision, doesn't cause ill effects for users, and essentially acts as a window to the real world but with incorporated virtual objects.
It's hard to judge which is better, as each technology was designed for different purposes. However, despite the speedy development of VR, aside from being a good living room or office gaming experience, it doesn't currently have a lot to offer in the long run. The main advantage of AR technology is that it's designed around mobility, giving better scope for innovation, even if the development has been slower than its main rival.