AR vs. MR: Augmented Reality vs. Mixed Reality
Augmented reality vs. mixed reality: what’s the difference between AR vs. MR? You’ve probably heard that these technology trends are influencing eCommerce, but you may not be clear on their distinctions. In this article, we’ll explain what AR and MR are, illustrate how they’re used in eCommerce, highlight their differences, and explore what they mean for the future of online retail.
Main Takeaways from This Article:
- Augmented reality uses digital overlays to enhance images of the physical world on flat smartphone and computer screens without using special headsets or devices.
- Mixed reality integrates physical and digital experiences by using headsets and other devices that provide 3D immersion.
- MR is more immersive than AR and integrates more fully with the physical world, but it is less accessible to digital shoppers because it requires special devices.
- AR is becoming a standard method of providing online shoppers with digital product previews, while MR will grow in importance as MR headsets become more mainstream.
- Digital retailers can leverage AR and MR by adopting eCommerce platforms that support these technologies.
What Is Augmented Reality (AR)?
Augmented reality enhances images of physical objects by adding digital overlays and other digital effects, such as sound. For example, social media apps such as Facebook provide digital filters which users can apply to selfie images to make their faces look like animals. AR typically projects digital overlays onto devices with flat screens, such as smartphones and computers. Augmented reality images can be viewed using web AR tools, eCommerce platforms, digital showrooms, social media apps, or gaming apps.
Requirements for AR Technology
AR usage depends on certain technological requirements to blend the physical and digital worlds. While AR and MR share many similarities in their requirements, there are also some key differences between the two technologies. Here are some of the top prerequisites for AR that are not necessarily needed for MR:
AR relies on transparency to overlay digital content onto a real-world environment. This means that the user needs to be able to see and interact with the real world through a transparent or semi-transparent display, such as a smartphone screen.
Many AR applications require a camera to capture the user’s environment and position digital content in the real world. This can be a smartphone camera, a webcam, or a dedicated camera on a headset.
AR often relies on image recognition or computer vision algorithms to recognize and track real-world objects or locations. This allows virtual content to be anchored to the real world and respond to the user’s movements. For example, image recognition may allow an avatar’s digital face to change expressions in sync with a smartphone user’s physical expressions.
AR in Retail Example
In eCommerce retail, augmented reality has become an important marketing and sales tool for providing online shoppers with realistic product previews. For example, VNTANA allows clothing retailers to feature an interactive shoe try-on experience on their websites and social media profiles. Customers can use selfies of their feet to see what they’d look like wearing a shoe seen from different angles. This type of digital clothing try-on is one of the most common augmented reality use cases.
AR eCommerce apps also let customers see products such as clothing, accessories, and furniture against physical backgrounds. For example, VNTANA lets shoppers see how a handbag would look sitting on a table in their home.
What Is Mixed Reality (MR)?
Mixed reality integrates experiences of physical environments with experiences of digital environments by using special 3D headsets. MR headsets use two lenses to let viewers see three-dimensional digital images that appear embedded in images of physical reality and integrated with physical experiences. For example, the viewer may be able to see a digital object from different angles by physically moving their head. Some MR experiences go beyond visual effects to include auditory and tactile experiences. For instance, some apps use gloves that respond to physical movements with changes to the viewer’s virtual environment.
Requirements for MR Technology
Like AR, MR depends on certain technological requirements. Some of these overlap with those required by AR, while others are characteristic of MR. Here are some of the top prerequisites for MR that are not necessarily needed for AR:
MR requires spatial mapping to create a realistic digital representation of the user’s environment. This is achieved through sensors such as depth cameras, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensors, or structured light sensors. Data collected from these sources get mapped onto a three-dimensional coordinate system to create a 3D map of the user’s surroundings.
Virtual Object Integration
MR requires integrating virtual objects into the real world and anchoring them to specific locations or objects. This employs sophisticated computer vision algorithms and object recognition technology.
MR devices use advanced optics to blend physical and digital content. Optical support for MR can employ specialized lenses, holographic displays, or waveguides that project virtual content into the user’s field of view.
MR Digital Try-On Example
In eCommerce, mixed reality can provide customers with realistic, three-dimensional previews of how products would look in physical environments. For example, with VNTANA’s mixed reality technology, customers can digitally test the placement of house plants in their homes and yards to get a feel for their size and look, even without having the trees physically present. This type of application enhances the shopping experience by providing a more realistic product preview, reducing the likelihood of returns and customer dissatisfaction.
Mixed Reality vs. Augmented Reality: Three Key Differences between AR vs. MR
Mixed and augmented reality are sometimes discussed together under the broader heading of extended reality, which can blur the distinctions between AR vs. mixed reality applications. They both use digital technology to enhance online shopping with a more realistic product experience, but they do so in different ways. Here are three key differences between AR and MR:
Levels of immersion
AR and MR provide different degrees of immersion. Because AR projects digital images onto flat screens, it makes objects look like they’re on top of physical backgrounds, but it doesn’t allow viewers to physically peer at objects from different angles or positions. By using a headset with two lenses, MR can simulate the visual experience of looking at an object from different angles or walking around it. This makes MR more fully immersive than AR, blending the real and virtual worlds.
Interaction with the real world
AR and MR let users interact with the real world in different ways. With AR, viewers can see digital objects against physical backgrounds, but only as if the objects were being projected onto a flat surface. MR enables viewers to see objects from different angles by turning their heads or walking around, letting them experience digital objects as if they were three-dimensional objects in physical environments.
Scope of use
Augmented and mixed reality have different scopes of use based on the different types of devices they require. Because augmented reality only requires a flat screen, its scope of use encompasses smartphones and computers, making AR apps accessible to most consumers. In contrast, mixed reality apps are limited to special headsets and users who have access to them. This gives AR a broader scope and more accessibility than MR, at least currently.
Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality vs. Mixed Reality: VR AR MR Differences
Augmented reality and mixed reality should both be distinguished from virtual reality, another extended reality technology. Like MR and unlike AR, VR uses special headsets to create a 3D experience. However, unlike MR, VR immerses the viewer in an entirely digital environment rather than an integration of physical and digital environments.
The Future of AR and MR
Augmented reality and mixed reality will significantly impact the future of eCommerce. Analysts project that the value of the extended reality market, estimated at $13.8 billion in 2022, will increase to $50.9 billion by 2026, a compound annual growth rate of 32.3%. Here’s a snapshot of the future of AR and MR:
Potential uses for AR and MR
AR and MR use cases are growing as more industries adopt these technologies. Leading industries using extended reality include video gaming, healthcare, engineering, real estate, live event management, and retail. Increasingly popular AR and MR retail applications include virtual stores, “never-ending aisles” of inventory unlimited by physical constraints, personalized promotions, and virtual try-ons.
Barriers to adoption
User experience is the biggest barrier to AR and MR adoption. With MR, the need for headsets presents an obstacle. With both AR and MR, factors such as large file size can impede the online delivery of user experience when steps to improve UX are not taken. Other leading barriers are cost, lack of available content, and market reluctance.
AR and MR deployment raises certain ethical considerations. For AR, privacy issues associated with facial recognition require brands using this technology to take appropriate security measures. With MR headsets, physical and psychological side effects can be a safety concern, particularly for gamers who use headsets frequently. In an eCommerce context, MR and AR can be misused to create misleading perceptions of products. This raises truth in advertising issues that retailers and their marketing and sales teams should heed.
Experience the Future with VNTANA’s AR and MR Solutions
Augmented reality and mixed reality both enhance the experience of the physical world, but AR does so by using digital overlays on flat screens, while MR integrates physical and digital environments into an immersive 3D environment. This makes MR more realistic than AR but less accessible for users without special devices. AR is already reshaping eCommerce by providing more lifelike product previews than conventional online shopping. MR will grow in importance as MR headsets become more widespread.
Digital retailers can leverage AR and MR by adopting eCommerce platforms that support these technologies. VNTANA’s 3D eCommerce platform makes it easy for eCommerce brands to create, upload, and share digital models of their products that can be displayed in both AR and MR environments. Our plug-in lets you upload your existing 3D images in bulk, and if you don’t already have 3D models of your products, we can help you create MR or AR content. Automatically generated 3D line sheets let you share your AR and MR product images with your internal marketing and sales teams and with merchants selling your products. Your 3D files get optimized automatically for sharing on your website, eCommerce platform, digital showroom, and social media profiles. Schedule a free demo today to start engaging your customers with AR and MR 3D product previews.