Why AR is more important than VR

Why AR is more important than VR

Virtual reality.

Most people have heard the term, and have a pretty good idea what it means.

After all, the series V.R. Troopers (which used the term in its theme song) started in 1994 (a couple of decades ago), and was followed by Lori Singer in VR.5.

“Augmented reality” is a much more recent term, and while it is growing in public awareness, a lot fewer members of the public probably appreciate its likely impact…or even really understand what it is.

I refer to Virtual, Augmented, Mixed and Merged Reality…I just call it “VAM space” for short. This is how I explained it in my first post on the topic:

  • Virtual Reality: this replaces your current world for at least one of your senses (it could just be what you see, but it could also include sound, and increasingly “haptic feedback” ((touch))). You can not see the real world at the same time
  • Augmented Reality: characters or other objects are superimposed over the real world. You still see the real world around you, but you also see something else (simulated) over it. The most popular version of this has been Pokemon Go, although there have been other apps for some years
  • Mixed Reality: people may just refer to this as Augmented Reality (AR), and the difference is somewhat subtle. In Mixed Reality, the simulated object is “aware” of the real world and reacts to it. That’s not just the “player” or “experiencer”: it may have an awareness of where the ground is, for example. That’s already happening: AR characters don’t tend to appear to be floating in the air (unless that’s appropriate for the character), and Instragam filters follow your actions
  • Merged Reality: this is new, and is a term used by Intel for its Alloy headset (YouTube videos). This is essentially the opposite of Mixed Reality. The headset maps the actual location (say, the furniture in a room), and then masks it with a story-appropriate appearance: a table might “change into” a control panel on a spaceship, or into a rock in a haunted forest

I think, though, people may just use the term Virtual Reality for all of them, although it’s possible the others will catch on.

Let’s just do it this way for this discussion: in VR you can’t see the world around you and in AR you can.

VR is clearly more transformative and more immersive, so it would be natural to think it matters more.


I think we can analogize it this way: VR is like going to a movie theatre, and AR is like watching TV at home.

Which one affects people’s lives more? 🙂

Is it what people see on the news on TV, or is it a documentary you only see in theatres?

That’s not to say that movies/VR experiences don’t have real impact…they do, obviously. They can affect people much more deeply…but more rarely and fewer people.

At this point, I (and I assume just about everybody else in VAM) spend a lot more time in VR than I do in AR. It’s mostly to watch Netflix/Hulu while I exercise (come on, Amazon…I’m hoping for Prime Video VR to be announced before the end of the year). I do play a couple of games…Overflight has recently been really updated, and it’s much faster and more realistic, with a better user interface. I also do some other things: I find it really fascinating to explore Chernobyl, and I watch some operating room videos (I work with doctors).

My AR on my headset is very limited, and not really practical.

That, however, is because of the current state of the tech and the content, not really by my choice.

If  I could be in AR all the time, I would be. 😉

Well, except for when I was in VR…or asleep, although I’d want to wake up in it. Of course, that requires a big change in hardware…I couldn’t sleep in my Samsung Gear auggies. They need to be like glasses, but ideally, even less noticeable to the wearer (I often notice my reading glasses when I wear them).

Let me give you some examples, which I think will genuinely come to AR in the next three to five years:

  • No bifocals/trifocals/peering over the top of the glasses (I do the last one with my “readers”). Your AR hardware (I call VAM hardware “auggies”) will be aware of your eyes and will know where you are trying to focus and adjust your “prescription” accordingly
  • Adjusting for lighting…from the dark of night with night vision to being able to look at the sun during an eclipse without risk. Yes, we have glasses (which are a form of auggies) which adjust to lighting conditions now, but this would be much, much more robust
  • Adjusting for color vision deficiency (which I have…not full “color blindness” in my case, but I’m including that), macular degeneration, edge perception issues, and so on. My auggies do that now, but I don’t use them much for it
  • Translation: you can do it through phones now (with, say, a sign) and phones will dominate AR for the next few years…but it will have to become hands-free eventually. Eventually, this would include reading books in another language. Obviously, there is some risk there…but is it bigger than the risk of reading a book now which has been translated by someone? Auggies would concentrate translation in fewer hands, most likely, but would also increase feedback on that translation
  • Increased, not decreased environmental awareness. People commonly misunderstand this, equating auggies to people looking down at their phones as they cross the street. Phones will eventually develop something like this as well, but your auggies could let you know that an ambulance was coming before you could hear it…and from where it was coming, and whether or not you should pull over. They could subtly haptically (a buzz or warmth on your temple, perhaps) tell you when to pause to avoid an object or which direction to go
  • Alerting me to what fits my dietary needs. I’m a vegetarian, and this could let me know in the grocery store which foods are vegetarian (I picture green outlines around them)

Notice that none of these are like Pokemon Go or a zombie run or seeing what Ikea furniture will look like in your house. All of those are good uses, but they are pretty specific and take your primary focus. With the ones I’ve listed, you wouldn’t even be consciously aware that it is working (with the possible exception of the vegetarian thing, but even then, I think you wouldn’t think about something having a green line, you would just reach for it).

VR will be important, in the way that the Superbowl, or the Oscars, or going to see the Hidden Figures movie is important.

AR will be part of our lives.

That’s what I think: what do you think? Is the idea of processing changing what you see scary? Will this, at least initially, intensify the “digital divide”, giving people with the means to be early adopters an almost super-powered advantage? Is my timeline too ambitious? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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3 Responses to “Why AR is more important than VR”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I wasn’t sure whether to mention this here or in ILMK, but I was wondering if you’d heard anything about Mattel’s decision not to go forward with an Echo-like device for kids:

    This particular quote from the article had me thinking about the Star Trek: Next Gen episode, “The measure of a Man,” in which Data’s “personhood” was being debated”

    “The ground rules of human beinghood are laid down very early,” she said. And what she calls “intimate machines” have “changed the ground rules of how people think about personhood.”

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      This is probably the better place to post it, since it’s not specific to Amazon and is more about AI generally.

      Yes, that was interesting! It’s important to note that Mattel didn’t abandon it because it didn’t work, but because people were concerned about it. The biggest hurdle for AI isn’t technology, it’s psychology and sociology. That’s where they have to be so careful, so thoughtful…how do we get people to accept artificial intelligence?

      On the one hand, I see people who want them to be too perfect…much more perfect than human beings. On the other hand, I see people who worry they will be too good, and start doing things we should be doing for ourselves. On the prehensile tail 😉 (because this may be more “monkey thinking”), there is just plain old fear.

      It’s likely to come by things being very gradual, or outside of human vision, or games/entertainment. I think Mattel probably thought Aristotle would be perceived as a toy, but that’s not the way it went for too many people and/or people who were too vocal/influential.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        When I was a kid, I loved the idea of TV robots like the Jetson’s Rosie and “Danger Will Robinson” who may or may not have been named Robbie. I couldn’t care less about not getting that flying car promised in the Weekly Reader, but I’ve always hoped I would someday have my own robot. Now it’s more of an approach/avoidance conflict. I really don’t want a car that will apply brakes or try to steer for me if it thinks I’m drifting, and I’m still not sure I want Alexa in my house spying on me. Still, now that I’m getting older and finding it harder to do things that used to be so easy, I’d surely like to have some of those “Hired Girl” household robots from Heinlein’s “Door into Summer.” Companion robots are already in serious development. Will companion robots really be our future friends, or our keepers?

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