Virtual reality and augmented reality are certainly not opposing forces by any means, nor do they seem to be two sides of the same coin. That being the case, what are they to one another, and just what does their shared future look like? Right now, augmented reality is behind virtual reality in the market, and there are a few reasons for this. The first, and perhaps the biggest, is that the technology seems to just be getting to a point that a smartphone, an ubiquitous object that's built itself a mature market, can provide a somewhat satisfactory experience, thanks to Tango. They've been able to provide a decent VR experience for some time now. Just as smartphones broke the ice for VR by introducing consumers to it at a low price point and showing them its potential, they not only will do the same for AR in the near future, but to a point, they already have. While Pokémon GO is not the first or only mobile AR app, it was the first to achieve such insane popularity that it was able to legitimize a field that had up until then been almost exclusively the domain of tech enthusiasts and early adopters. Now that the public has had a taste of AR and a larger crowd is watching its potential, it's likely to grow faster, and perhaps end up bigger, than VR. That said, let's have a look at growth trends and the current state of things to get a feel for how the two technologies will fare in the coming years.
For starters, let's look at AR. While it had a bit of hype before Pokémon GO and Tango, most of that hype was among the tech crowd. Most people on the street would have looked at you like you were crazy if you had asked them what they thought of HoloLens or Magic Leap back in the beginning of 2016. Just when the Pokemon GO hype started dying down, Lenovo dropped the Phab 2 PRO on unsuspecting and curious Lowe's shoppers, and suddenly Tango hype was a factor in AR's growth. Experts are predicting exponential growth as the technology evolves and becomes easier to put into modern smartphones. Outside of the mobile market, though, the stage is set for more enthusiast-grade setups to start hitting the market. Microsoft, for example, is passing the mantle to PC manufacturers to make HoloLens headsets, and a few YouTube videos is likely all it will take for some of the cheaper models to start making headway among consumers. Standalone smartglasses are still a ways off, technology-wise, from being viable, but the market may not end up needing them; their niche can largely be filled by mobile devices for the time being.
Turning the page to VR, the video game market is what's driving growth right now. Use cases like cultural enrichment, education, and even VR workstations to help the easily distracted reach peak productivity are already floating around, but it's the SteamVR setups, the hacks to run PC VR games on Cardboard, the Daydream games, the Gear VR Oculus integration, and the PlaysSation VR that are garnering all of the attention for right now. This reflects the general consumer mindset concerning VR at the moment; it's largely a toy, and aside from mobile experiences barely worth the low price of admission, it's an expensive toy. As more use cases and different hardware are trotted out, that perception will change. Likewise, VR hardware will start to go down in price before too long. NVIDIA's VR-ready GPUs have already found their way into sub-$1,500 laptops, for example, and the HTC Vive's base station sensors are getting a refresh in the near future that could make them cheaper. Daydream and the Gear VR, meanwhile, are increasingly working toward bridging the gap between mobile and fixed VR, and showing smartphone owners with the right hardware and a few disposable bucks what VR is really capable of. All of these factors, combined with an increasing shift in VR journalism into mainstream news sites that usually only dip a toe into tech will likely drive far larger growth over time, but it could still take a while to become as big as it should be. As long as prices on the more high-end experiences can be driven down, that segment may just have a shot at going mainstream.
Looking at VR and AR, the links aren't hard to see. Both are dependent on the evolution of mobile. Both have distinct markets within their spheres, served by the mobile front on the ground level, and a more diverse cast of manufacturers the higher up the ladder you go. On top of all that, there is always the possibility of linking the two technologies. At least one Googler is very excited about the concept, and the fact that required equipment for VR and AR is mostly the same aside from the viewing units will be a big help in the two building a close relationship and boosting one another.