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AR to beat VR in battle of the realities

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The increasingly pointed battle between VR and AR continues to heat up. Prices for virtual reality hardware are coming down, but no one is making money. Augmented reality is part and parcel of the latest generation of smartphones, so will soon be everywhere and attracts great interest among consumers and brands.

To recap, AR uses the smartphone’s camera and overlays digital information or graphics on the real world. VR immerses the user fully in a headset with stereo 3D graphics, powered by either your smartphone, PC or console.

Battle of the technologies

The battle between AR and VR is not a straightforward fight like the good old days. There’s no Intel vs AMD, no Apple vs Samsung. Instead, we’re talking about battles of ecosystems and ideologies, of wildly different use cases and good old-fashioned accessibility.

Since most AR takes place on smartphones, it is easily shareable, while the more immersive VR feels like a private experience, with few easy options for sharing content. VR also largely remains the preserve of hardcore gamers, while AR allows everyone to have a little fun through silly games and experiences.

A is for Apple and Augmented

Apple is currently championing AR with ARKit in iOS 11. New apps like the NBA AR shooting title show off a fraction of the potential while many brands are tinkering with the idea of AR. Full-on AR games are yet to find their footing, but examples like Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade show great potential.

Looking further ahead, Apple is clearly planning a product to compete in the AR glasses market. But, with Tim Cook stating recently that the technology is not ready for prime time, there might be lots going on behind the scenes.

Apple is an interesting case. It won’t worry about the premium pricing that has held pack VR and some AR hardware makers. Apple fans will pay whatever Apple charges, and if the use case proves compelling then it could make a success out of AR hardware that has eluded Google and some others.

Niche players like EverySight show that AR can also succeed in sports and business, but these markets are far removed from the consumer landscape.

Virtual buyers playing hard to get

The AR vs. VR battle has stepped up as Facebook’s Oculus Rift unit cut the price of its VR headset by $100. It also launched the $199 Oculus Go as a standalone product. No need to hook up your smartphone, the Go just works.

Arriving in 2018, it is the latest big-white-hope for the VR world, and probably its best chance of Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of getting them into the hands of a billion users.

That’s a lofty ambition as other big names struggle to sell VR. Recently, while PlayStation announced 70 new games for its PS4 accessory headset, it has only sold a million units. That’s a poor attach rate give the 63 million PlayStation 4 consoles out there and shows just how niche VR is, even among its key target market.

Price cuts and new products might help boost the visibility of VR but with all the smartphone VR adapters out there, it feels increasingly like a novelty.

Marketing is the key

When it comes to promoting these technologies, augmented reality wins hands down. With the technology baked into iOS and the latest version of Android, AR features will be popping up on apps for beauty products to sports brands, sites and social media. Oh, and Star Wars…

To get someone into VR, they first need to get them immersed in the headset. Cost aside, that’s a big sell for any type of product.

Then there’s getting used to controlling a VR environment, a steep learning curve for many. While, with AR people, users just move, tap or flick their phone to interact, which is second nature to most of us.

Augmented reality is also appearing everywhere, with invitations to use it on the side of cereal packets, in store windows and a growing number of apps. VR simply can’t do that, which is why AR will likely be the dominant technology for the next few years.

If there is to be a savior for virtual reality it has to be low-cost and impressive. It has to have a massive impact on our lives and a very good reason to keep using it.

Without that level of support and easy access to the technology, it looks like AR will be more useful, except in some niche use cases, more popular and easier for the world to grasp.