We're asking the wrong question.
Over the past few months, with growing hype about augmented and virtual reality, we hear constant questions about which is better. I think this is the wrong question because both tech will be hot for the foreseeable future. While we continue to screen out the fads, I have a few thoughts on the AR vs. VR fight.
Virtual reality devices, like the Oculus Rift, will be the early—and most adopted—winner. The technology is further along and we'll probably see a few consumer early releases from a couple of hardware titles. Major investment in VR game development will provide amazing content and drive device sales.
Augmented reality devices, like Microsoft’s Hololens and Magic Leap's unnamed offering, will take more time; there is just much more to get right. There are hardware challenges, complex vision processing algorithms to write and whole new paradigms for UI development to be figured out before the dream of "mixed reality" presents itself. But when it does it will change everything as countless devices disappear to become new interfaces that appear before your eyes.
So what can a marketer or digital agency do now to get ahead? Experiment with VR now, and apply those same skills as soon head worn AR hardware becomes available. Also experiment with depth cameras like the Microsoft Kinect and Realsense cameras. Depth cameras are a critical part of how AR headsets will determine where they are in a room and what you are looking at.
Have your developers learn to build and animate in 3D space. Unity 5 is a great platform for this, as Microsoft, Magic Leap, and many others have indicated that Unity will be one of the primary development tools for the near future. Have your creatives start thinking in 3D. It sounds obvious, but as early developers discovered with Hololens, the interfaces they thought would be obvious weren’t good, and they also found great interfaces that were easier to develop than they expected. With 3d skills and experience under your (client or agency's) teams belt, they will be able to quickly adapt to new hardware and available features.
How we design and build the next great experiences is about to take a dramatic shift. So I think the correct question is: Are you ready for AR and VR?
Header photo credit: The Void