Although virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are related technologies, they are very different in terms of usage, hardware, and implementation. Considering the fact that AR and VR are increasingly used in all sorts of industries and by different businesses – from global telecom brands to gaming startup, it is important to know the difference between them.

Earning a lot of media attention, the two technologies are frequently confused with one another. This article is aimed at explaining the core differences between augmented and virtual realities.

So what is VR and what is AR?

Compare scuba diving with visiting an aquarium. The difference between VR and AR is about the same. Virtual reality lets you dive in a virtual world completely, while augmented reality only adds some virtual elements to the surrounding world.

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Virtual reality can transpose you into a fully immersive computer-generated world.

To experience VR, you need special hardware: a headset or a head-mounted display (HMD) and haptic controllers (optionally). Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard are among the most accessible and popular VR devices (we will get to them later).

Through VR head-mounted display wearables, your worldview is completely replaced with an artificial simulation. Putting a VR wearable over one’s eyes leaves the user blind to the real world but intensifies the perception of virtual reality.

The main difference between the two technologies is that augmented reality does not exclude the real world, it just supplements the virtual environment to provide a composite view. AR overlays virtual elements on the real-world view, while letting you see the world around. The technology can add videos, images, sounds, texts, and other virtual data on top of current reality displayed on a mobile device screen via camera.

To experience most of the augmented reality apps you don’t need special hardware (like a Google Glass headset). Instead, an application downloaded to your smartphone or tablet will let you interact with virtual content in the real world.

Where are virtual and augmented realities used?

While planning to implement a VR or AR technology into your brand’s app, you might like to know which of them makes a greater impact on your users. Can these two ‘realities’ be compared at all? Can one be better than the other?

And the answer is ‘No, it can’t. However, there are certain situations where one technology can be more appropriate than the other.

High-quality virtual reality content, for instance, is perfect for gaming and entertainment. But, most VR experiences would not feel similarly attractive with AR. At the same time, AR gives you an ability to see and interact with virtual objects that appear in your real environment – this is an evident advantage of AR, especially when used in real estate, architecture, interior, furniture industry, healthcare, and education. By overlaying digital data onto the physical world, AR is reshaping the existing ways of doing things, from buying a house to interacting with a doctor.

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Augmented and virtual reality technologies have the potential to become the next big computing platform, says the Goldman Sachs Research. The study indicates nine areas in which VR & AR are used most, forecasting $80 Billion Market for AR/VR by 2025.

This AR app is a good example of how the technology can be useful in corporate trainings and education (e.g. for mechanics and engineers). The application allows users to see the components of a mechanism down to the smallest details and gives handy hints on the names of components, their numbers, etc.

VR devices and VR app development technologies

There is a variety of virtual reality systems available, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and Sony PlayStation VR. To make a more informed decision and choose the right VR platform for your project, you should have a look at their main features and benefits.

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The main advantages of Google Cardboard are its low price, $10-$15 per item, and the ability to be easily branded.

Samsung Gear VR is around 10 times more pricey ($100), but it gives a bit more immersion due to a wider 101-degree viewing angle.

Facebook offers an Oculus Rift VR headset with controllers for $399, which requires a wired connection to a PC. Easy to set up and use but limited in movement.

Even though Sony offers its PlayStation VR at the same price ($399) as a quite affordable introduction to quality VR, there are some important tech limitations (e.g. limited camera tracking area).

The most immersive, but also expensive (around $800), headset is HTC Vive. Staffed with wireless controllers and a built-in front-facing camera, it allows you to freely walk around a virtual area and get an alert if you come up too close to some objects in the real world.

VR-Virtual Reality-Headset

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To build a virtual reality application, VR app developers mainly use Unreal and Unity platforms. With Unity, 3D developers (Ukraine and UK to be considered) can build software for any chosen platform including desktop, mobile, VR/AR, and consoles. As a matter of fact, both Unreal and Unity technologies make it possible to create VR experiences for any HMD.

AR hardware and AR app development technologies

There are a number of technologies which allow AR app development companies to build great AR applications. Among them are Unity 3D, Unreal Engine, Apple AR Kit, and Google ARCore. However, the last two SDKs (Software Development Kits) have their limitations: AR Kit works only with iOS 11 and ARCore runs only on Google Pixel and Samsung S7+ smartphones with Android N onboard.

Here are a few more technologies popular in AR app development:

  • Vuforia is one of the most widely used AR platforms worldwide. It allows users to augment objects, images, texts, boxes, etc.
  • Wikitude SDKs feature image and cloud recognition, instant and extended tracking.
  • ARLab features video support and custom action capability. It allows adding geolocation views in a very simplified manner.
  • DAQRI offers an extremely flexible SDK that allows non-experienced developers to learn the ropes while designing AR mobile apps.

Why is AR/VR worth considering

A recent report by Digi-Capital shows that mobile AR/VR market will hit $108 billion by 2021, with AR taking the lion’s share-$83 billion. The WalkerSands study reveals that 63% of customers expect augmented and virtual technologies to change the way people shop.

Step by step, the VR and AR technologies will expand all over the globe, throughout many fields: advertisement, medicine, education, entertainment, architecture, traveling, and many others.