VR, AR, MR: Differences and Benefits of Technologies for Business

In 2018, the “alternate” reality has long left the realm of games and entertainment and proven to be quite useful in other sectors of business. Many start-ups and companies are trying to leverage the advantages of virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality in their products to generate totally new, unique experiences and engage more users.

Nowadays, VR, AR, and MR can find uses in many areas and sometimes create unusual and fascinating applications. If you think that there's no place for virtual or augmented reality in your project, you may change your mind, as the possibilities these new technologies offer are rather vast.

Let’s see what virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality are and how they can enhance your product or service. There are, of course, certain differences between VR, AR, and MR; however, it will not be fair to structure our research as a sort of “VR vs AR vs MR comparison”. They are different concepts, with all of them having their unique advantages.

Virtual Reality

Let’s start with virtual reality, as it creates the most striking experiences.

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Image credit: ViMM

What is VR?

Virtual reality technology allows creating a new virtual space and immersing the user within it. The environment recreated within VR can be either based on a real place or totally fictitious. Virtual reality always requires additional hardware, such as a VR headset. The headset separates the user from the real world and transports them into the virtual one.

Depending on the complexity of the VR application, it supports various degrees of interactivity:

  • You can only watch the virtual world by turning your head around, or
  • You can walk, jump, squat, and manipulate objects in the virtual reality space.

What you experience within the VR space depends on the VR app content and the hardware used with it. Both aspects are closely related – the content is built to be viewed via the specific hardware or the class of hardware.

Types of VR apps and where they can be used

  • Simple VR applications. In the apps of this type, the user is in the middle of a virtual 3D space; however, they can only watch the scenery around them without any interaction. Such applications are the easiest to create, as they are usually based on 360-degree videos or images. Besides, simple VR apps have a rather low price-point in terms of the hardware price – they can be viewed through such inexpensive devices as Google Cardboard available at $7-$15 or Samsung Gear VR, which you can get for $130. The apps of this type are mostly designed for smartphones that are inserted into the VR viewer – and off you go. The most common uses for such VR apps are quite numerous:
    • Education. With a simple VR viewing device and a mobile VR app, you can turn a geography, history, or science lesson into an unforgettable experience. In virtual reality, your students can travel the globe without leaving the classroom, explore space and the ocean bottom, look inside the human body, or at complex mechanisms. Moreover, today you can get rather affordable VR education solutions – for example, Google released its Expeditions series of more than 800 virtual tours. The content can be viewed through a simple Google Cardboard device, which makes it suitable to be used in classrooms.
    • Real estate. Virtual tours are a great extension of real estate services as well as a very cost-effective solution both for the companies and the customers. VR apps can recreate the interiors of homes and apartments that have not been built yet. Without VR, companies need to build so-called “model homes” to show to the prospective customers. VR allows creating many more interiors than can be built physically. Besides, with VR, customers do not need to actually travel to view homes or apartments – you can get the idea of the time and cost savings!

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Image credit: Domain

  • VR applications with 3D models. 3D modeling allows user’s interaction with objects in virtual reality. With models, users can take or otherwise manipulate objects in VR. 3D modeling increases the time and cost required to deliver the app; however, it is absolutely worth it, as the sense of immersion becomes even deeper. The degree of interaction with 3D models ranges from simple selection and handling that can be implemented in mobile apps for low-cost headsets, to complete interaction available in PC-based apps for high-end headsets such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. In the latter case, you can get a complete VR system with joystick controllers and motion sensors; however, be prepared to pay much more - $399 for Oculus Rift or $499 for HTC Vive. There are quite a lot of instances when you can enhance your application with 3D models:
    • E-commerce. A VR shop filled with 3D models of various items available for sale can create a fully realistic shopping experience. Buyers can take, examine and try the items, put them in the cart, and pay for them.
    • Training applications. More and more training programs offer VR practice – there are virtual trainings for surgeons, military, drivers, pilots, machine operators, and presenters. Moving practical lessons to VR helps to achieve multiple goals. Sometimes, they can reduce the cost of training, as recreating a training site in VR is less expensive than in the real life. In addition, training on VR presents no risk of damage or injury for students, thus they can get certain skills in VR before moving on to real practice.
    • Games. VR games are extremely loaded with high-quality computer graphics, complex 3D modeling, and interaction options. The VR games are usually created as desktop applications requiring an advanced headset with sensors and controllers. This way, the user is totally immersed in the game environment, gaining full control of the objects in the virtual space.
  • Multi-user VR applications. These are the most sophisticated and difficult to create applications using VR. In addition to the advanced content, such apps are designed to respond to several users. The common examples of multi-user VR apps are as follows:
    • Social applications. A social network, forum, or event set up in the VR environment – this is as close to face-to-face communication as it can possibly get. Such apps can combine all kinds of VR content – 360-degree videos, images, computer graphics, 3D models – the main thing is that it should be accessible and responsive to multiple users.
    • VR presentations. We are already used to video-conferencing and screen-sharing where the presenter hosts an online event for a group of users. VR presentation apps are a kind of “level up” allowing one to invite the guests to a virtual presentation room where they can see the product or idea in a more graphic way and even interact with it.
    • MMORPG apps. Multi-player games are the most time-, labor-, and cost-consuming VR apps, as they combine the most advanced features. A truly engaging multi-player game is a smart combination of high-level graphics and animation, 3D modeling, multi-user access, and full control by each of the users.

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Image credit: The Verge

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality, while not creating immersive experiences, has a number of valuable features and benefits capable of showcasing your product.

What is AR?

Augmented reality is a technology, which adds virtual items to the real world viewed on the device screen. AR applications require no additional hardware, thus they are much easier to use than VR and, therefore, are somewhat more popular.

There are several types of augmented reality, depending on how the virtual object is processed:

  • Marker-based augmented reality. In this case, the virtual object is placed on the screen when the device detects and reads a certain marker – often, a QR code. When a smartphone scans the QR code, the corresponding object overlays the image on the screen.
  • Position-based augmented reality. The virtual images appear according to the location. When the GPS function of the smartphone detects a certain location the corresponding image is added to the screen.
  • Projection-based augmented reality. In such applications, an image that is projected on a surface responds to the human interaction. For example, the app can respond to pressing keys on a projected keypad.
  • Superimposition-based augmented reality. This type of augmented reality app uses the object recognition technology. The app recognizes the virtual object and places it in real space, sometimes fully or partially substituting real objects.

AR uses

Augmented reality is becoming increasingly popular as an additional feature attracting users. As no special hardware is needed, AR-based apps are accessible to anyone with a modern smartphone. Often, AR is found in the following sectors:

  • E-Commerce. Many online stores are implementing virtual try-ons and virtual placement with the help of augmented reality. Beauty brands create apps allowing the user to apply virtual makeup and home décor and furniture stores offer to place their items in your interior before purchase. And the customers love it, as it saves lots of time and money. Recently, Amazon released its AR View application allowing users to see how the items from the Amazon catalog will look in their home.

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Image credit: Recode

  • Maps. Augmented reality combined with the geolocation feature of the device can be used for multiple purposes – adding tourist information to landmarks, marking shops, hotels, and restaurants; showing driving directions. According to the announcements, Google intends to implement AR-based driving directions on its Maps. If everything goes as planned, you will be able to see the directions right on your smartphone screen when you scan the surroundings with your camera.

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Image credit: Business Insider

  • Games and entertainment. The Pokémon GO craze is winding down; however, the game authors are still finding ways to whip up the users’ interest by adding new features.

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Image credit: TechCrunch

At the same time, AR features are actively explored by social applications, such as Snapchat and Instagram. While often the AR functions are used for fun, for example, to add horns or ears to one’s photos, there are other uses as well. Snapchat uses AR to create geofilters overlaying the brand, location, or event information on the screen.

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Image credit: GeoMarketing

Mixed Reality

Finally, a couple of words about the mixed reality concept combining certain features of both AR and VR.

What is MR?

In mixed reality, virtual objects are placed in the real environment, like in AR. However, they can be interacted with like in VR. This approach is very new and aimed to combine the features of the VR and AR technology. Mixed reality, while keeping the user in their usual space, adds objects that the user can touch or manipulate. Such interactivity options require a special headset which brings this technology close to VR.

Microsoft is actively experimenting with the MR technology with its Hololens solution. Hololens creates holographic objects placing them in the real world. The price of the Hololens kit creates a relatively steep entry barrier ($5,000 for the Commercial Suite), thus, mixed reality is rather in the range of enterprise solutions.

MR use cases

According to Microsoft, many industries can benefit from using their solution:

  • Design. Designing in MR brings the process to a new level, where 3D prototypes can be built faster. Moving the design process to MR creates better collaboration opportunities allowing the team to view and discuss the models remotely and making changes almost immediately.
  • Education. Enhancing the learning process with interactable 3D models helps to achieve much higher degrees of skills and knowledge. When the pictures from textbooks come alive around you, and, moreover, when you can touch and explore them, the learning effect is much deeper.

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Image credit: Microsoft

  • Healthcare. Using 3D holograms, doctors can plan surgeries discussing minor details. On the other hand, mixed reality can be used to design the most state-of-the-art operating rooms for the maximum effectiveness of surgeries and the patients’ comfort.
  • Retail commerce. This use case closely resembles the AR-based commerce applications, however, in MR you can not only place objects in your home but manipulate them as you wish. For example, imagine a home remodel in MR where you can try and select all paint colors, décor and furniture items, and floor textures before you actually begin the process.

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Image credit: Microsoft

Summing up

Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies experience very rapid development today as their benefits are being recognized by an ever-increasing number of businesses. With each year, we see new and unusual use cases of the VR, AR or MR technology that attract users and keep them engaged.

At the same time, the hardware industry also sees the trend and is working on mass-market headset models that can open the virtual worlds to millions of users. On the other hand, smartphone manufacturers are constantly improving their device cameras, geolocation functions, accelerometers and other features, making the gadget better suited for AR applications.

This is another way of saying that the idea of building a VR, AR or MR app for your startup is not as crazy as it may seem at first. By offering new experiences to your users, you are sure to become known and recognizable from among your competitors. Contact us to discuss your project idea, and together we will work out the solution, showcasing you in the best way.

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