Virtual or Augmented: The Future of Reality

Carl Weinschenk

The relative strengths of augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) present an interesting debate: Both are cool (though VR is almost certainly cooler), but it is unclear which has more potential to become a significant product for consumers and businesses.

Network World’s Patrick Nelson reports on research from Digi-Capital and commentary from Manatt Digital Media that predict the future of the overall category. Digi-Capital says that VR and AR will generate $150 billion in revenue by 2020. Manatt CEO Peter Csathy suggests that AR, in which the user has a view of the real world, will grab the lion’s share of revenue in the long term.

The argument, according to Nelson, is that VR is ahead today because it has caught the public’s fancy. However, Csathy suggests that AR, by keeping users firmly rooted in the real world, ultimately has a brighter future. He thinks that only $30 billion of the $150 billion total will be generated by VR.

A big splash of cold water on the AR sector is evident at TechCrunch. Howard Ogden looks at the history of AR, starting in 2008. He points to the fact that AR browsers from different vendors can’t communicate with each other. He sees this as a big drawback and suggests that AR is less popular than it was, judging by reviews on app stores. The problem, he suggests, is not the technology. It’s the business structure that has emerged in the industry:


Unless the focus shifts from attracting the Next Big Brand to adding value to the everyday lives of their end users, the AR Browsers — who are in the best position to be taking the augmented reality industry forward — are actually holding it back. If they fail to improve, the brands and businesses they depend upon will become cautious of entrusting their content with a third-party and their legion of unimpressed end users.

Another second small piece of evidence that VR may not dominate is news this week that Facebook aims to create a compelling, and no doubt profitable, VR world. IBTimes summed up the research, which is based on Facebook’s 2014 Oculus VR acquisition. Suffice it to say that the involvement of Facebook indicates that there is a lot of money to be made. The project sounds compelling:

Facebook is also working to close the void between virtual and reality by using touch controllers to show your physical movements to other VR users. Being able to look down at your hands then across to friends you can hear and recognise is key to making VR work. This is something IBTimes UK recently experience with vTime, a VR system that lets multiple people "see" each other in a virtual world of their choosing.

Both virtual reality and augmented reality have discrete, albeit somewhat overlapping, target markets and user bases. The one thing that is clear is that the future will be interesting. It also seems, at this point, we don’t have great reason to assume that AR will dominate.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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