Unlocking the Potential of Extended Reality (XR)
Extended Reality, or XR, is an umbrella term that encapsulates the concepts of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR)—we’ll get into the details soon. While these terms seemed futuristic and straight out of a sci-fi movie just a decade or two ago, they have steadily grown in popularity not only as tech concepts, but as fully-fledged products and services in several industries.
Of course, as tends to be the case with new technology, we are still only scratching the surface of the full potential of XR for various businesses across industries. For the right brands with talented development teams, the extent of XR is truly limited only by our imagination. Let’s explore what Extended Reality is, where we have seen it before, and what applications will be interesting to keep an eye on.
As mentioned, XR stands for Extended Reality, a term that describes how the real world is combined with or embedded into a virtual one in various capacities. XR includes Augmented Reality, which, through the use of devices like smart glasses and smartphone cameras, adds a digital aspect to your real environment. Usually, this takes the form of digital overlays of the images you are viewing. You point your camera at your actual living room, and your phone display shows you the same living room, but with digital furniture added.
VR, or Virtual Reality, is more immersive than AR. Rather than overlapping digital elements into your real environment, the user is embedded into an entirely virtual environment themselves. The use of VR goggles is perhaps the most familiar example of this, wherein users wear goggles that allow them to look around as we do usually, but through the goggles, they explore an entirely different, virtual world. Many VR devices include controls that allow users to interact with the digital objects, doubling down on the concept of a virtual world and a virtual reality.
As anticipated, Mixed Reality lies somewhere in between. While it is not a precise term, it can be used to describe an Augmented Reality experience that goes beyond overlaying digital content and includes the integration of digital objects that users can fully interact with. Whereas AR is just a digital overlay, MR adds functional virtual elements to the AR environment.
Some Recognizable Faces
If we are to explore the potential of extended reality, it will be good to recognize where these technologies have already been around and, in some cases, where they have been both popular and successful. The entertainment industry should immediately come to mind. As soon as VR headsets started coming onto the market, concerts and similar shows were at the forefront as proof of concept. This sentiment seems to continue as Apple rolls out their Vision Pro.
Similarly, video game developers clamored to incorporate VR into their gaming experiences. There are many examples, but a strong current tendency can be found in the horror video game niche. Games like Phasmophobia are developed with VR as a primary playing experience, since the full immersion elevates the horror experience for users and players. AR and VR alike have been no strangers in the video game world.
Beyond entertainment, another industry where tech innovation tends to land before anywhere else is healthcare and medicine. XR techniques helped healthcare professionals provide care throughout quarantine by allowing for insightful interactions with patients in a fully remote session. MRI and CT scans are more examples of medical tech that, currently, already makes extensive use of XR technology. From entertainment to life-saving, XR has already been around.
Pushing the Tech Envelope
To fully comprehend the potential of XR as its technology advances, one must grasp the various domains in which it can be effectively utilized. The sudden digitalization shock of quarantine gave us a glimpse of this potential, which will inevitably continue to develop and expand. For example, Adidas rolled out an AR shoe “try-on” app that allowed customers to “try on” shoes from the comfort of their own homes. This app rolled out late 2019 and little did Adidas know then that this would become a crucial element of quarantine marketing in the coming months and years.
Social distancing aside, the ability to simplify the shopping experience across industries continues to be promising potential for AR applications. From furniture and real estate firms being able to give customers a real-time and realistic tour of a new property, or what a remodeling might look like, all without having to travel or even have an existing version of the concept, to realtors being able to give a family a tour of the neighborhood from another city or state. The commerce applications of XR seem to be all about convenience and simplifying the path to check out.
It is widely acknowledged that there is no secret formula. Successful applications of new and improving technology to business will often take the form of convenience or cost efficiency. The future of XR across industries and the potential it has to revolutionize business will depend on these two pillars, and a few creative ways to make them stand out.
To fully comprehend the potential of XR as its technology advances, one must grasp the various domains in which it can be effectively utilized.
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