Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are the buzzwords of the moment. You’ve probably heard of both, you’ve probably seen both, maybe you’ve tried both out yourself. But what are the differences between the two technologies, and how can we start developing for them? That, my friend, is the real question.
What is Augmented Reality?
According to Wikipedia (the most reliable source on the internet), Augmented Reality (AR) is defined as “a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are supplemented by computer-generated sensory input.” I like to refer to AR as “it is there…but not really.”
Essentially, with AR your actual environment is augmented with computer generated graphics. Your coffee table now becomes a battle zone, or your wall now becomes a big computer-generated screen. It uses your real life environment as its platform and builds on top of it.
What is Virtual Reality?
On the other hand, Virtual Reality (VR) takes you to another world. With VR you are no longer in your world or environment whatsoever, you are completely teleported somewhere else. Be it another country, another world, or a whole other universe entirely. Unfortunately, unlike AR, VR is very hard to picture unless you try it yourself. The picture below should give you a better feeling of what VR is all about.
Now that we know what both technologies are and how they function, how do we get our hands on this technology? What kind of products are available to make all this magic possible? I break down the options below based on what is known today, and the many rumors of things to come for both technologies.
Augmented Reality Products
Smartphones have been doing AR for a few years now, where you can look through your phone’s screen and a computer generated graphic will be set up in your real world environment. It has been tried before with shopping apps and some games, but it hasn’t completely taken off yet. Many argue that having to hold up your phone takes away from the immersion and functionality. Which is where the next product comes in…
Google Glass was released in 2013 to developers for a nifty price of $1,500. Perhaps ahead of its time, it was one of Google’s first attempts in the AR world. You could answer email, get directions, record video, and more, all through your glasses. It acted mostly as a Heads-up Display that didn’t require users to look away from their typical viewpoints for the experience. After a little over a year in the market, it was discontinued for the time being.
Microsoft HoloLens is trying to pick up where Google Glass left off, and more importantly, not repeat the same mistakes Glass made. One of key factors that held Google Glasses back was the fact that they were designed to be used in our everyday life. Whereas, Microsoft HoloLens is being designed to be used in specific productive instances. Currently, dev kits will set you back $3,000 per unit, and you need to order at least two units, for a total of $6,000. The actual consumer version hasn’t been priced yet, nor do we know when it is going to be released, but the dev kits started shipping on March 30, 2016.
Last, but not least, is the mysterious Magic Leap. Not only have they not released a product, they haven’t publicly announced what the product is yet. However, they have generated enough buzz and what they are showing to investors is powerful enough that they have raised $1.4 billion already in funding. Did we mention they haven’t ANNOUNCED a product yet? The speculation is that the technology is so powerful that your eyes won’t be able to tell the difference between a real object and a Magic Leap generated object. That is the ultimate dream when it comes to AR.
Google Cardboard is considered to be the “lower tier” of the VR world. It is just a couple of lenses in a cardboard, literally, that transforms your smartphone (iOS or Android) into a virtual reality headset. It is a good way to get consumers excited about the technology with a small preview of what is possible, but it is in no way a true representation of what VR is all about.
Samsung Gear VR is still in the “lower tier” because of the price tag and the fact that it still depends on Samsung phones to deliver the experience. However, the Samsung Gear VR is a little more sophisticated than the Cardboard since it has better lenses and it is a full on headset that straps to your head so you do not have to worry about holding it up. It also is made out of better materials than just cardboard, so it gives you an overall greater experience while still being accessible to the masses. And by “masses” we mean owners of a Samsung S6 or above.
Playstation VR, previously referred to as Project Morpheus, falls under the “medium tier” category. PlayStation VR is being targeted for gaming purposes and it requires a PS4 in order to run. At $400, it is cheaper than the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, but it is also launching a few months later in October 2016.
Oculus Rift, which falls under the “premium tier” category, is essentially what started all this VR madness a few years ago. Started in 2012 by Palmer Luckey in his garage, like every other successful tech company it seems, it was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion dollars. Oculus has been offering Development Kits for the past three years and are now ready to offer their consumer version for $600. The first batch will start shipping at the end of March 2016. On top of the headset itself, you will need a very powerful PC (specifically a Windows desktop machine, not a Mac) that will set you back around a $1,000. The Oculus Rift was designed for gaming in mind, but there are already many apps that are utilizing it for different scenarios and it is projected that less than 50% of the time spent on the Oculus Rift will actually be spent on gaming.
The HTC Vive, also considered in the “premium tier” category, is the last of the bunch. The HTC Vive is designed for a room-scale experience, where you can move around your room and also use HTC Vive specific touch controllers to interact with the virtual world. Whereas Oculus Rift is designed for a sit down experience, with touch controllers and room-scale being the focus later this year. The HTC Vive is slightly more expensive than the Oculus Rift, but it comes bundled with two wireless controllers already, specially made for VR. You will also need a similar powerful PC as the Oculus Rift. Pre-orders for the HTC Vive started on February 29th with a potential shipping date of April.
Now that we know all the product offerings, what about the possibilities? What kind of experiences can we expect from these products, and what kind of experiences can we create with them?
As seen from the video above, the possibilities with AR are very intriguing in productive (and entertaining) scenarios. Here are a few possibilities from the video and more:
- Visualize your 3D model right on your desk, instead of a 2D screen.
- Use your environment as a playing field for Minecraft and other games.
- Have your wall become a big screen to watch Netflix on.
- Have a concert right in your living room.
- Have someone from across the country help you fix something in your home as if they were there.
- [Insert your amazing idea here]
VR possibilities are essentially endless as long as the technology supports it. Here are some examples of what could be possible with VR:
- Gaming, of course, like piloting a spaceship or driving a car.
- Social – Being in the same room as other people that aren’t physically there with you.
- Entertainment – Front row seats to a basketball game or a concert, as if you were actually there.
- Traveling / Tours – Travel the world or rent an apartment, right from the comfort of your home. Imagine being able to tour any apartment, anywhere, without having to actually go visit it.
- Education – The possibilities here are really intriguing. For example, a history class could have students visit the actual event and be a part of it. Or a biology class could have students go inside the human body and see everything in action.
- [Insert new genre here] – Many new genres and industries will no doubt be born out of this technology.
Let’s Talk Numbers
They say numbers don’t lie. Here are some predictions of where the industry is headed and why there is money to be made:
- 5 Million Google Cardboards were shipped in 2015
- Gear VR sold out in 48 hours
- Magic Leap has already raised $1.4 billion dollars
- The VR industry is projected, at a conservative estimate, to be an $80 billion market by 2025
What can we do at Prolific? What can YOU do?
The technology is exciting and new. The possibilities are endless. But what can we do about it? The answer is simple – act. Just act and start working on it right away. Why? Because there is still a lot to be discovered and learned in this industry. We still don’t know the “do’s and don’ts” like we do for mobile, and the only way we are going to learn them is by working on new ideas and seeing for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.
There is no question that AR and VR are going to become mainstream this year and onward. Things are going to change, they already are, and before we know it we are going to be living in a world that is more virtual… than real.