The differences between augmented and virtual reality

Nisha Burton Virtual & Augmented Reality

Only a few years ago, when I spoke about VR or AR, most people would look at me like I was speaking another language. I would go on to explain more about Virtual/Augmented reality, and immersive technologies in general, and yet would still be met with blank stares. 

Flash forward just two years – now these words and this technology are becoming more and more commonplace. This can be attributed to the significant technological advancements in these fields in the past few years. Furthermore, there has been a growth of investment in these technologies. 

Did you know that:

  • In 2019, investors invested more than $6 billion in companies related to the development of AR applications;
  • Users are now familiar with the technologies – 79% of people in the United States have played AR games, 59% have used AR applications for purchase purposes, and 57% have used virtual travels;
  • 56% of respondents in the United States, used AR applications more than once a month. 90% of AR application users launch augmented reality through smartphones;
  • VR will be used 30% more by companies and their clients in 2020 compared to 2019.

While the understanding of what Virtual and Augmented Reality is rapidly growing, many people are still confused about what the differences are between the two. 

This article is designed to give you a clear understanding of the two technologies and how they can benefit your company’s marketing efforts now.  

Some definitions of the two for you:

Virtual Reality     

“Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment that can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.”

-Virtual Reality Society 

In short virtual reality is a space where the user is fully immersed in another digital reality and their field of vision is completely blocked out from the surrounding physical world. This is done by wearing a physical “Head Mounted Display” (HMD), or simply a VR Headset. Examples are the Oculus Quest, the HTC Vive, the Google Daydream, and many more.

Augmented Reality     

“AR can work in several different ways and is used for many different reasons, but in most cases, AR involves a scenario where virtual objects are overlaid and tracked atop real, physical objects to create the illusion that they’re in the same space.

AR devices have a display, input device, sensor, and processor. This can be accomplished through smartphones, monitors, head-mounted displays, eyeglasses, contact lenses, gaming consoles, and more. Sound and touch feedback can be included in an AR system as well.”

– Online tech magazine, Lifewire 

To summarize, Augmented Reality is when the user has some interface (smartphone, AR glasses, etc.) that is being used to overlay digital objects onto the physical world. Examples of this technology can be seen on an iPhone with ARKit, Android Devices with ARCore, or more advanced wearable headsets like the Microsoft Hololens, the Magic Leap One, or the new nReal glasses.

A review of the difference between VR and AR 

VR replaces your reality and creates the sensation of being surrounded in a new environment or world while AR overlays digital elements and information to enhance your existing environment. 

The benefits of using VR technologies 

Because of its fully immersive nature, VR can result in a prolonged and hyper-focused interaction with your experience.      

  • Users feel a deeper connection with what is interacted with in the VR project, viewing it as an experience rather than just information.
  • Because of the level of immersion and agency that VR creates, the user feels strong emotional reactions and engagement with the content. (Much like a good movie or book) 
  • The user has the feeling of having actually ‘been there’ in the environment created rather than just having ‘seen it’. This is often called Embodied Presence, as users will be left with a memory of physically experiencing something. (Different from a movie where one feels more like they saw a new place rather than traveled to a new location) 

As you can see, virtual reality has the unparalleled ability to reach the user on a deeply engaged level. Because it taps into such instinctual levels of perception, there is the ability to create a bad experience that is not only boring but can actually make your users physically ill. A VR app must be mindfully designed to create a positive emotional and physical experience for your customers/users.  

When to pick VR for your experience

  1. You have an experience/location that is not yet in the physical world and want users to be able to experience it beforehand. For example, if you have a housing development that is not yet built but wants the potential user to be able to view their future homes.
  2. There is a need for remote viewing of a location, things, or experience. This is especially relevant during challenging times like a quarantine. 
  3. There is a real-world skill that you are trying to train your users in, but it is dangerous or expensive to train them in a physical space.
  4. You want the user to be deeply immersed in the story that you are telling with no outside distractions.
  5. You want to create strong emotions associated with your brand that sticks with the user long after they have participated in your experience. 

The benefits of using AR technologies 

 The rise of AR is predicted to eventually replace Smart-phones.    

The pace in which Augmented Reality technology and applications are created has dramatically sped up over the past few years, thanks to the prevalence of smartphones. 

Augmented reality will increase in prevalence once it goes from just a novel gimmick to an efficient tool in everyday use – helping the user with their daily tasks.

  • At this point, many people have the technology needed to experience an augmented reality application in the palm of their hands.
  • Users are still able to see the physical world and interact with it rather than shut out from it (as in VR).
  • It elevates our physical reality by embedding virtual objects into it and thus making digital information more exciting and engaging. 
  • AR can be leveraged as a great education tool because of its ability to place relevant information overlaid on physical objects.

 When to pick AR for your experience:

  1. You want an experience that is available to many people in different geographical locations. Because VR requires the use of a VR headset, it may not be as accessible to all users. AR is an excellent tool if you are looking to get your experience out to as many people as possible through their smartphones. 
  2. The product you are trying to showcase has some interaction with the physical world. For example, if you are an interior design firm, you may use AR to show off the placement of a different design or furniture item. 
  3. You want users to explore your physical space. Think AR scavenger hunt. AR can provide a strong interaction with the users’ environment surrounding them. One of the reasons for Pokemon Go (a very popular AR phone app) is that it got users excited about going around their physical environment, searching for pokemon. 
  4. You are in the education or training sphere and want to educate learners in a more engaging way in which the information learned truly ‘sticks with them’.  


This is just the tip of the iceberg of how these technologies can and will be used in the near future. Getting your team in on these technologies in the early days is sure to set your company apart as industry leaders. 

Now that you’ve read this article, you can feel confident in explaining to your colleagues what the differences between VR and AR are and how you might use them for your team.

At Reflective Brands, we are passionate about educating others on all subjects related to Immersive Technologies. VR and AR may very well be a good fit for your company. We understand the challenges of navigating emerging technology while also applying it to the relevant industries and fields. To support you in this process, we offer custom consultations on how to properly implement immersive technology for your business and industry. From in-depth industry research, ideation and creative planning, to strategy and full development/implementation, we support our clients at every step.