Will Augmented Reality Eclipse Virtual Reality?

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Over the past few years, a handful of tech firms have poured considerable time and money into virtual reality (VR). In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for a cool $2 billion; HTC and Valve have invested heavily in the Vive, another high-end VR headset; and so on.

Still other firms are exploring the potential of augmented reality (AR), which overlays holographic images on reality, viewable only through a screen or specialized headset. This summer, Pokémon Go, an augmented-reality game for mobile devices, proved that users will flock to an AR application—provided it offers the right kind of experience. And Microsoft just released an early version of the HoloLens, its AR rig, to developers for the princely sum of $3,000.

Despite the nascent states of the AR and VR markets, Apple CEO Tim Cook has made a strong prediction: AR will eventually eclipse VR.

“My own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far,” Cook said on Good Morning America, “because this gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present talking to each other, but also have other things visually for both of us to see.” (Hat tip to The Verge for posting the clip.)

Cook also suggested that VR will probably “have a lower commercial interest over time,” although he called out its usefulness in education and gaming.

While Apple has remained characteristically tight-lipped about its research into AR and VR, reports suggest that the company is hard at work on some kind of platform that may incorporate one or both technologies. And almost as soon as the iPhone 7 Plus made its debut earlier this month, pundits and analysts suggested the device’s advanced cameras would serve as pretty effective tools for capturing VR content.

What makes Cook’s commentary especially interesting is that, at least for the time being, VR has seized center stage. At the low end of the market, Google and partners such as The New York Times have placed thousands of ultra-cheap Google Cardboard units in the hands of consumers; at the higher, Oculus and other headset-makers are lauded by some as the future of gaming. It will be fascinating to see whether augmented reality ultimately becomes the mainstream tech, while VR grows into a lucrative—but small—niche.

If you’re interested in breaking into augmented reality, be aware that it requires a fairly advanced skill-set, including knowledge of computer vision and 3D modeling. But for those curious, a handful of SDKs are already available.

Image Credit: Stoyan Yotov/Shutterstock.com

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