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As virtual reality makes its comeback, is augmented reality poised to take over?


It’s hard to imagine right now but one day augmented reality (AR) could be more important to us than virtual reality (VR).

Though virtual reality’s applications are seemingly limitless, most technology companies are investing in what they perceive to be the next generation of gaming in VR, the current application paints a picture set in the gaming world. Except for Samsung who can claim to be using it outside those bounds.

Similarly in our line of work, virtual reality is considered a novelty, and as such, the projects we have completed for corporations and brands have been limited to activations that are barely pushing the capabilities of what VR can offer.

Augmented reality on the other hand is seen as a different type of technology altogether, one that is based more on function rather than form. It embraces the concept of a mixed reality, or mediated reality where technology enhances the world we live in.

This is why augmented reality is generally presented to us in more pragmatic forms such as wearable tech, because there is an understanding amongst technologists that AR needs to be a seamless fit within our current lifestyles to be successful.

How virtual and augmented reality differ

Whereas virtual reality is better geared towards immersion, lending itself more naturally to use in the private domain because of the nature in which you ‘plug in’; augmented reality is perceived as the technology you use in public – outside the house and around other people – and it comes in a variety of already existing forms such as accessories or mobile devices which we already use or wear.

An example of this is Google Glass. Google Glass enhances an already existing accessory, in the same manner that the Apple Watch offers the function of a watch with advanced features.

This is an important distinction to make as it highlights a fundamental advantage that AR has over VR – augmented reality doesn’t require you to put on a headset and be disconnected with reality, but rather aims to seamlessly combine the real world with the virtual world to create a coexistence of the two to the benefit of the user.

Unlike virtual reality, AR doesn’t seem to be as high-profile, and the brands investing in it are doing so in a less public manner whilst managing the expectations of release dates.

Even though Google Glass’ initial launch may have been a failure, Google has quietly continued its investment into Glass reaffirming to the public its belief in wearable tech and augmented reality.

Perhaps this in itself is a telling sign. For all the funding and investment being put into new VR and AR devices, it may well be that the greatest impact comes from whichever technology enables us to find meaning in these artificial worlds.

As humans, we crave connections with other human beings, and it is only when that connection is made that we truly appreciate the technology we use.

They debate over which is better may be ongoing but until either technology is ubiquitous – just like how the mobile phone is today an extension of ourselves – both virtual and augmented reality have a long way to go. In a way, the best technology will be the one that we don’t realise exists.

Tash Tan is currently serving as Head of Digital at S1T2, Tash specialises in digital strategy and user experience. He has executed a range of campaigns across multiple platforms, devices and channels including executions in motion, web and experiential. He’s currently spearheading the push of virtual reality and augemented reality in Australia with projects like Wallabies All Access.

Tash Tan