The long anticipated release of the Oculus Rift VR system along with mid-priced options like the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR were supposed to drive a virtual reality revolution in 2016. And while chances are good this will still be a banner year for sales of VR hardware and software, this probably won’t be the year of VR. Why? Because thanks to Snapchat and the explosive viral popularity of Pokemon Go, this is shaping up to be the year of augmented reality instead.
The difference between the two isn’t always clear, but in general virtual reality is immersive. When you have a VR experience you leave the real world behind. Augmented reality experiences blend virtual reality and real life so users can interact with virtual items as they make their way through the real world.
What’s true of both is that we haven’t scratched the surface of what is possible. Thousands of companies are researching ways to push the limits of existing technology while bringing new technologies to the table. Here’s a look at what they’re doing and where they may go from here.
Maybelline’s AR Print Ads
In their recent promotions of a new line of nail polishes, Maybelline ran print ads that encouraged readers to use an app to virtually try on the fresh range of colors. Other cosmetics companies have used similar experiences (e.g., Modiface) to give customers the opportunity to try on new shades of lipstick and eye shadow.
You can expect that more augmented reality ‘try before you buy’ experiences will hit the market soon. Companies like Try Live are already creating AR systems for fashion and lifestyle brands and pushing the boundaries of consumer-focused augmented reality.
American Apparels In-Store AR
Beyond adverts, consumer’s in-store experiences can be enhanced with augmented reality. American Apparel’s app, for example, gives customers the ability to read reviews and even buy online as they browse the real life racks. AR will eventually influence the way people interact with products in a retail setting – if there even is a retail setting. Some brands have experimented with doing away with physical stores altogether without sacrificing the experience. The Airwalk Invisible Pop Up Store was gimmicky in 2010 but now? It would just be another shopping app.
AR Apps like New York Nearest Places
Outside of the retail space there are plenty of augmented reality apps designed primarily for entertainment and education. New York Nearest Places uses hovering signage to show tourists in NYC what’s nearby, how to get there and how long it will take. SpyGlass turns an iPhone into a high-tech spyglass that shows GPS info among other data. And Cyclopedia automatically digs up and displays information about the world around you as you scan your surroundings. Whatever your interests, there will soon be multiple AR apps designed around your passions and favorite activities.
Pepsi’s Off-Device AR Experience
Unbelievable Bus Shelter | Pepsi Max. Unbelievable #LiveForNow
Who says augmented reality requires a device? Pepsi brought a little AR magic to the streets of London when it installed an augmented reality billboard at a bus stop. When the street beyond was viewed through the billboard, viewers saw flying saucers, asteroids, tigers and other surprising things – proving that augmented reality is about more than catching Pokemon or trying on lipsticks.
Possibly one of the most fascinating emerging AR applications are the games Microsoft is developing for its HoloLens VR platform. The first fully self-contained, holographic computer, HoloLens scans the room you’re in and generates game levels based on whatever is around you. This AR/VR experience is less likely to cause motion sickness because the player can fixate on real objects and even better, the playing field can be as large as the room the player is in.
While the HoloLens technology is currently one of a kind, it’s likely that more companies will begin developing immersive augmented reality experiences – hopefully at a price point that’s consumer-friendly.
Until then, AR enthusiasts can be sure they are having the most engaging experiences by upgrading to a smartphone with the fastest mobile processor. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge, powered by Snapdragon, is powering thousands of Pokemon Go users as we speak. The success of Pokemon Go, which went from a curiosity to a phenomenon in a matter of days (surpassing that of Twitter’s active users in 3 days), suggests that augmented reality may have a much brighter future than virtual reality. Why? Where VR is clunky and frequently expensive, AR is accessible to just about all of us.