The pandemic has introduced us to a hybrid lifestyle that combines real-world and virtual activities. We have all grown accustomed to the digitization of our routines, from working over Zoom to ordering groceries delivered to our door. There's no turning back now. Whether you love it, hate it, or are still trying to figure it out, consumers and businesses will continue to place a premium on digital products and experiences. All of this is made possible by technology, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, the combination of which is known as extended reality. These technologies are almost essential for anyone looking to improve their digital experience.
In this article you’ll learn more about extended reality, what benefits it has to offer and some of its challenges. Finally, you'll see a few examples of how XR is being used by various types of businesses.
What is Extended Reality?
Extended reality is an umbrella term for any technology that alters reality to some extent by adding digital elements to the physical or real-world environment. It includes, but is not limited to, augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality. Any new technology that combines the physical and virtual worlds is classified as XR. The "X" in XR stands for any variable, any letter of the alphabet that may be used in such technologies in the future. As a result, the term extended reality does not refer to any specific technology. It refers to any existing or future technologies that alter reality by blending the digital or physical worlds and by creating a fully virtual environment.
Extended Reality Vs Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) is an XR subset. AR captures live video of a device's surroundings and its visual elements, such as a Pokemon Go character in your living room, or an educational markup in a workplace or historical location. To reiterate, while all AR is XR, not all XR is AR. For example, you can use your phone in a Virtual Reality headset to play a video game that is both VR and XR, but it's not augmented to reality because there's no augmented slice of the pie. Nothing from the digital world is superimposed as a display of your surroundings.
Extended Reality Vs Virtual Reality
Extended reality (XR) also includes virtual reality (VR). VR is an immersive computing and video gaming experience in which the device's display fills the user's entire field of vision. In some cases, this is as simple as inserting your smartphone into a headset that positions the phone screen an inch away from the viewer's eyes. But not all XR is VR, and for example, augmented reality may use your phone camera to superimpose game characters onto your smartphone's display as if the character were in the same room as you. That's augmented reality, and it's also XR, but it's not virtual reality.
Extended Reality Vs Mixed Reality
Mixed reality (MR) is technically a hybrid of VR and AR, but these terms AR and MR are often used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction between MR and XR. Simply put, all MR is XR, but not all XR is MR. For example, a smartphone tape measure app is both MR and XR, while a VR video game is XR but not MR.
Benefits of XR
Improved customer service: Brands can use XR to reach new clients and provide innovative ways for them to interact with products and services. Clients, for example, can try on clothing or watch demonstrations, which can result in better experiences than real-world offerings. Adopting XR tools can also greatly benefit customer support.
Learning enhancement: In schools and universities, XR creates a safe learning environment where students and teachers can experiment with new learning methods. Furthermore, XR can improve learning rates. Research shows that learners in traditional settings forget roughly 70 percent of the content they've been exposed to within 24 hours, and nearly 90 percent within a month. Studies on extended reality, on the other hand, show that when technology is used in the classroom, student comprehension and retention improve. XR can also help students with cognitive challenges or who respond better to different learning platforms.
Better training and development: Extended Reality (XR) technology is gaining popularity as a platform for educational institutions and businesses that want to help their employees develop new skills in a safe environment. Several benefits can be highlighted here, including increased knowledge retention, lower operational costs in the long run, and improved engagement.
Increased entertainment value: Virtual reality gatherings are also becoming popular in the entertainment industry, with many artists opting to hold their shows online. We also saw a roster of performers dabbling in the Metaverse in 2021. We anticipate an all-out boom in the industry as concerts, conferences, meetups, and other events all transition to all-virtual environments.
Enabling remote work: Distance work became the norm after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trend appears to continue even after the pandemic ended. Compared to 2D platforms like Zoom or Skype, VR, AR, and MR allow workers to better interact with their peers and collaborate more effectively. A virtual environment opens up new possibilities, improving employee and business performances.
Challenges in Adopting XR
There is skepticism around extended reality technology, as it has yet to win over large audiences due to a lack of understanding about its benefits and various applications.
- Data privacy and security concerns need to be addressed more clearly to alleviate consumer worries.
- Cost is also a factor, as XR is a newer technology and may require higher upfront development and equipment costs compared to traditional technologies.
- Creating compelling content for XR users can be time-consuming and requires the support of dedicated developers, while users must pay for interfaces such as VR headsets and motion sensors.
- Hardware issues remain a challenge, as devices and interfaces struggle to accurately display visuals. However, as adjacent technologies such as 5G and Edge Computing advance, improvements can be expected, allowing XR to become more sophisticated.
- While user experience experts predict that users can eventually engage in VR experiences for extended periods of time, current users still report health issues such as motion sickness, eye strain, and headaches even with short periods of use.
Applications of XR
Extended reality has a wide range of interesting and transformative use cases that are changing our lives. Google Translate for example is using XR to overlay translations of restaurant menus onto the original language. Gatwick Airport has an app that guides travelers to their gates using their smartphone. Extended reality also enables organizations to give their customers additional information about their services or products, such as AR-enabled wine labels that offer more information about the wine, or Nike's shoe scanner that provides additional information about their shoes.
Another use case is showcasing products, as seen on the Apple website, where customers can project the latest iPhone or iMac into their room and view it from all angles. Customers can also try before they buy, such as using augmented reality to try on glasses or using virtual reality to visit a resort before booking a vacation.
Extended reality can also be used to customize products, such as Porsche's car showroom, where customers can customize the color and interior of their car using augmented reality. Mercedes Benz uses XR technology to provide customers with an immersive visual experience via mobile devices through AR manuals. This technology replaces traditional paper manuals, making the learning process for customers more interactive and accessible.
Realtors can use virtual reality to give virtual tours of homes and even virtually stage the house with different furniture styles. Extended reality can also be used for instructions, such as labeling IKEA furniture pieces or showing how to top up the coolant in a car.
In education, extended reality can bring lessons to life, such as using augmented reality to place animals or dinosaurs in front of students. Google Arts & Culture allows for virtual tours to places like the Acropolis or the British museums. Virtual reality can also be used for healthcare, such as using VR to help with guided meditation or to diagnose certain medical conditions.
Entertainment and sport are also areas where extended reality can be used, such as superimposing digital images over live sports events or watching sports in virtual reality. Overall, extended reality has a wide range of use cases that are transforming many aspects of our lives.
Extended reality is a technology that adds digital elements to the physical environment. XR technologies include augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), and offer several benefits, such as improved customer service, learning enhancement, better training and development, increased entertainment value, and enabling remote work. However, there are challenges in adopting XR, including skepticism around the technology, data privacy and security concerns, cost, creating compelling content, and hardware issues. Despite these challenges, XR is poised to revolutionize the way we work, learn, and entertain ourselves, and its adoption is likely to continue in the future.
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