Reality is: we like AR more than VR

By Alanna Duffield

21st July 2017

In the same month that Oculus drastically lowered its VR headset prices, Disney has unveiled a new AR headset and Google Glass has returned from the grave. I wonder if we’re beginning to see a correlation in the rise of AR popularity and our scepticism of VR?

Virtual reality (VR) hasn’t had it easy trying to break into mainstream culture. In just over a year since the global phenomenon of Pokémon Go, it’s still widely thought that VR hasn’t found what’s needed to stick around in the same way that augmented reality (AR) has.

Where Pokémon Go saw people from all ages and demographics take to the streets on an innovative AR quest that blended fantasy and reality, VR is still waiting on a eureka moment to grab us in the same way. And it’s beginning to show.

Of course, AR has always had an advantage over VR in that it does not require entirely new hardware before we can use it. Even with the likes of PlayStation VR hitting the high street, we’re still expected to buy entirely new devices in order to take part. You could download Pokémon Go to your mobile at the click of a button.

Our client, visual effects company Foundry, conducted research which found that the current cost of VR headsets vastly outweighs the price consumers are prepared to pay. UK adults are only ready to spend an average of £134 for a VR device, significantly under the current price range of headsets on the market. Undoubtedly, VR hardware prices must become lower before we can expect any kind of comparability between VR gaming and that of mobile or console.

But does the comparison between VR and AR go deeper than price and accessibility? VR boasts total immersion; an entrance into a completely new environment. VR content, when experienced on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, is innovative and new-dimensional – but also incredibly isolating.

When you are within one reality, you are without the other. I myself have had the feeling that, no matter how gripping the content, you are somewhat vulnerable in the external world. It’s a level of immersion that, as of yet, we’re not quite used to.

That said, as consumers we typically like to be immersed. We like our cinemas pitch black, our volume loud, and god forbid someone break the illusion by asking a question in the middle of a film. But when it comes to VR, there’s still some trepidation. We dip a toe into VR content, while we dive headfirst into AR.

The good news for VR is that it’s not either or. In fact, you can bet that our positive interaction with AR content is fuelled by our interest in the blending of realities, and the method of transportation through technology. Basically, things that you can experience better through VR than AR.

For VR it’s a waiting game. It can be sped up through the streamlining of hardware and software content, but – truth is – we’re just a bit unnerved by it right now. And until we’re ready for it, you’ll find us catching Pokémon.