XReality and the difference between AR, MR y VR
Elena Martín-Dorado Lozón
Interaction and Behavioral Design Expert
XReality (eXtended Reality or XR) is an umbrella term used to describe a group of technologies that allow for the combination of virtual and real-world environments and realities. XR encompasses the hardware, software, methods, and experience that make virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and augmented reality (AR) possible.
Although they share some similarities, each of these three terms refers to a slightly different user experience. In this article, we will explore:
- The 3 main XR technologies (AR, MR, and VR) and their differences
- The hardware required for each
- Types of experiences suitable for each of them
- Examples of applications
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that allows for the overlay of virtual elements onto the real world, enabling the user to interact with both the real world and the overlaid digital elements.
Its most common use is through the camera of a smartphone, using software that detects the environment and places virtual elements within it, so that the user sees the real world along with the digital elements (2D, 3D, sounds, and/or animations) through the screen of their mobile device or tablet.
As a curious fact, although the term includes the concept of "augmented," AR can also replace or diminish the user's perception of reality, for example, to simulate a visual impairment in a medical application or to immerse us in the universe of a game.
Pros and cons of the AR user experience
1. Unrestricted vision-enhanced reality: AR allows users to see the real world with additional information, which can improve their understanding and experience in the environment. Furthermore, AR offers high accessibility by not completely restricting the user's vision. This, along with the huge potential for unrestricted use, has significantly increased its popularity.
2. Intuitive interaction: AR is very intuitive and easy to use. Most AR applications have a simple interface and do not require much learning.
3. No spatial limitations: Unlike VR, AR does not require a specific physical space to be used. Users can use AR anywhere, as long as they have their device with them.
4. Low cost: From the user's perspective, accessing AR applications is often less expensive than VR or MR, as most AR applications run on common mobile devices and do not require specific hardware.
1. Technical limitations: The accuracy of virtual element overlay can be limited in some cases, which can affect the quality of the user experience, although both hardware and software capabilities are advancing rapidly.
2. Hardware limitations: The quality of the user experience can also be affected by the hardware used. Older or less powerful devices may have difficulties running AR applications with quality.
3. Limited immersion: AR does not offer as immersive a user experience as VR, since virtual elements are not fully integrated into the real world and can only be perceived through the screen of a mobile device or tablet.
Types of experiences suitable for AR
Advertising: AR advertising can be effective due to its ability to overlay virtual elements onto the real-time image captured by a camera. This allows advertisers to showcase products or services in a more interactive and creative way, reaching large audiences as it only requires a mobile phone.
Education: AR education can help improve students' understanding of specific topics by adding additional information to the real world. For example, animations or 3D models can be overlaid to illustrate complex concepts such as the creation of the universe.
Medicine: AR medicine can help doctors better visualize and understand the human body by overlaying 3D models of organs and tissues onto the image captured by a camera in real time.
Source: ikea.com - Ikea Place app
Successful applications of AR
Pokémon GO: This AR game was a huge success in 2016 due to its ability to overlay Pokémon characters in the real world, allowing players to capture them.
IKEA Place: This AR app allows users to see how IKEA furniture would look in their home before purchasing it. Users can overlay the furniture on a real-time image of their home and move it around to find the best location.
TikTok/Instagram: These social media platforms use AR to add animated filters and masks to users' selfies and videos.
Google Translate: Google Translate's AR feature allows users to point their camera at text in another language and see the translation overlaid in real-time.
Source: Pokémon GO
Necessary hardware for AR
Most AR applications run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, making access and enjoyment very easy for the general public. However, for an optimal user experience, it is recommended that devices have a good camera and high-quality display.
Nevertheless, there are also AR-specific devices in the form of glasses, such as Vuzix or Epson Moverio.
Mixed Reality (MR)
Mixed Reality (MR) combines virtual and real elements in a shared space. Unlike AR, where virtual elements are superimposed onto the real world, in MR, virtual elements can interact with real-world objects. MR users can interact with virtual elements through input devices such as motion controllers to create a more immersive user experience.
At this point, it should be noted that as technology improves, the boundaries between AR and MR are becoming increasingly blurred, as AR capabilities approach those of MR.
Pros and cons of the MR user experience
1. Greater immersion: MR offers a more immersive user experience than AR, although not as much as VR, since virtual elements and the real world can interact with each other.
2. No spatial limitations: Unlike VR, MR does not require a specific physical space to use. Users can use MR anywhere, as long as they have their device with them.
3. Hands-free: This type of hardware, unlike AR applications for mobile devices, can be controlled with our gaze and hands (although also with controllers), leaving our hands free to perform other tasks. This feature makes this type of technology very useful for training applications or guiding operators.
1. Technical limitations: Like AR, the precision of virtual element overlay can be limited in some cases, which can affect the quality of the user experience.
2. Hardware limitations: The quality of the user experience can also be affected by the limitations of the hardware used for MR. To achieve an optimal user experience, a high-end device with a good camera, a good processor, and a high-resolution display is required (with a very high cost).
3. Limitations in outdoor spaces: These devices typically use glasses where they retro-project with light guides or birdbath optics, which are currently unable to project enough nits without overheating, causing visualization problems in outdoor or very bright environments.
4. Field of view: This type of hardware has a limited field of view through which holographic elements are superimposed, causing users to sometimes perceive these elements as cut off or out of their range of vision.
5. Gesture interaction: As we mentioned in the previous section, these devices can be controlled through recognition of our hands and the gestures we make with them. This can be complicated for some users and requires a bit more learning time.
Types of experiences suitable for MR
Quality control or guidance: MR can be used as assistance or guidance in the construction or manufacturing of complex products, such as airplanes, so that operators can see overlaid indications or steps they need to follow in the task they are performing, or see if the elements they are installing are correctly positioned according to the plans.
Training or education: MR can help improve understanding of specific topics by adding additional information to the real world. For example, animations or 3D models can be overlaid to illustrate complex concepts (such as the workings of an engine) or to show instructions or indications.
Design and engineering: MR can be a valuable tool for designers or engineers, as it allows them to visualize and manipulate 3D models in the real world in real time. This way, product designers (such as car designers or other simpler products) can use MR to see how their design would look in the real world and make adjustments accordingly.
Successful applications of MR
In the case of MR, applications are usually more geared towards industrial use and custom-made for a specific purpose, so examples of this technology are not as well-known to the general public.
Necessary hardware for MR
To experience MR effectively, a specific high-end device (which comes with a high price tag) is required. Currently, the most common devices for MR are the Microsoft HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap 2. These devices come with built-in cameras, sensors, and high-resolution displays to provide a more complete interaction with virtual elements.
Hololens 2. Source: Microsoft.com
Magic Leap 2 Source: Magicleap.com
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in a digitally generated virtual environment. Users can explore and interact with this environment through controllers to create a highly immersive user experience.
Content is consumed and experienced from a user-centered perspective.
The user can interact in real time with the virtual environment, either through detailed interactions or simply by looking around.
In this case, the most immersive of all, the concept of "presence" becomes very important; the sensation of being in a virtual place. To achieve this, among other things, sensations related to sight, the sense of hearing (with volumetric sounds) that make us feel situated in that virtual environment, and the sense of touch, with haptic vibrations from the controllers that provide feedback to the user of their interaction with the elements of that virtual reality, are incorporated.
Half-Life Alyx. Source: Half Life.com
Pros and cons of the VR user experience:
1. Maximum immersion: VR offers the most immersive user experience of the three types of XReality, as users are completely immersed in a virtual world and feel as if they are really there.
2. Total control: Users can have complete control over the virtual world and experience, which can be useful in design, training, and simulation applications.
3. Safety: VR can be useful in applications where it is dangerous or costly to perform the activity in the real world, such as pilot training or simulating emergency situations.
1. Spatial limitations: VR experiences in general, although not always, require a specific physical space, either a room or at least a minimum clear area.
2. Social isolation: VR users may feel socially isolated as they are not interacting with the real world or people around them, except for collective or social experiences.
3. Possible side effects: Some users may experience dizziness or nausea after using VR devices for an extended period, although it is becoming less common.
Types of experiences suitable for VR:
Entertainment: VR video games are a popular application of VR due to the complete immersion they offer.
Training or education: VR can be used in training applications, such as pilot training, operator training, or medical training, as it allows users to experience real-life situations in a safe and controlled environment, reducing costs and risks.
Tourism: VR can be used in tourism applications to allow users to explore distant or inaccessible places, such as the moon or the depths of the ocean.
Employee experience: Onboarding processes, soft skills training, corporate events, virtual collaboration rooms, and corporate metaverses are some of the trending use cases in the current business environment.
If you find this interesting and want to know more about it, check the “5 Top trends for VR in Employee Experience” article.
Successful applications of VR
Beat Saber: Beat Saber is an addictive VR rhythm game where users use motion controllers to slice blocks with laser sabers while moving to the beat of the music.
VR Chat: is a multiplayer game focused on character creation to socialize with people from all over the world in a digital environment.
NAKA: NTT Data's virtual enterprise platform, which combines pre-built immersive scenes with a powerful design panel that allows for easily creating unlimited immersive experiences.
Onboarding NTT Data. Employee Experience. Source: NAKA.
Necessary hardware for VR
VR devices require specialized hardware such as virtual reality headsets and motion controllers to provide an optimal user experience. Some examples of popular VR devices include Meta Quest 2, Pico 4, and PlayStation VR2.
Meta Quest 2. Source: Meta.com
Pico 4. Source: Picoxr.com
PlayStation VR2. Source: playstation.com
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