What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is a type of technology that superimposes computer-generated media like videos, images, sounds, and texts in the real world to enhance our realities with interactive experiences.

Many of us have spent precious hours staring into space in bedrooms, classrooms, or offices, with our imaginations running wild for a healthy dose of escapism. Until augmented reality (AR) became a mainstream reality, our daydreams of pocket monsters, superheroes, and more were only fueled by our brains. But modern technology has made it easier and perhaps more socially acceptable to augment our visions.

What is augmented reality in simple terms?

Augmented reality (AR) is a type of technology that superimposes computer-generated media like videos, images, sounds, and texts in the real world to enhance our realities with interactive experiences. The technology requires components such as an input device, sensors, a CPU, and a display to function. Specialized headsets, AR glasses, contact lenses, and handheld devices can all produce AR; however, mobile devices are a more cost-effective medium for the technology.

While functional AR for users has been around since the 90s, the technology started to really catch the public’s eye in 2016 with the release of Pokémon Go. The free-to-play mobile game by Niantic was an instant hit and has been downloaded over a billion times globally. Pokémon Go is a mobile app for Android and iOS that employs your phone’s GPS to help you track Pokémon. It also uses its software and your phone’s hardware to show you these animated creatures through AR.

What did Pokémon Go do for AR?

Pokémon Go was successful for multiple reasons, including its low barrier to entry. Unlike VR games, Pokémon Go does not require special or intrusive hardware. With global smartphone penetration at around 80%, it's easy for most people to get a taste of AR technology through the Nintendo game. The mobile title also opened doors for more advanced AR development across different industries.  

The AR industry is experiencing a boom. The AR market was valued at 14.7 billion in 2020, and analysts project that it will hit 88.4 billion in 2026. Fueling the growth is demand from sectors such as health, education, automotive, retail, and e-commerce.

Augmented reality examples

  • IKEA’s augmented reality app helps you picture the Swedish furniture manufacturer’s products in your home.
  • L’Oréal’s app lets you try makeup with various filters.
  • Gucci’s AR app lets you wear sneakers virtually.
  • Social media platforms offer fun and engaging filters that employ AR.
  • Weather stations enhance programming with AR.
  • Walmart’s augmented reality app helps employees manage inventory.
  • Medical students are learning about human anatomy through AR apps.
  • The U.S. Army is using AR to train soldiers.
  • The SkyView app educate students interested in astronomy by identifying points of interest in space.

What is the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?

Augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) may seem similar but differ in their applications. While AR adds to you your vision of the real world, VR can replace it entirely. The hardware differs too. You can use smartphones, tablets, eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other less intrusive devices for AR. Meanwhile, VR typically requires a headset that blocks your surroundings to transport you to another, more virtual, reality.

What is mixed reality?

Mixed reality (MR) combines elements of AR and VR to create a blend of digital and physical worlds. An example of a device that creates a mixed reality is Microsoft's HoloLens. People using HoloLens can see a hologram overload over their environments and interact with it through their voice and hand gestures. Besides entertainment, MR can help with productivity, education, and instruction. In 2021, Microsoft won a $21.88 billion contract to provide MR headsets to the U.S. Army for training. 

Do I need AR apps?

You'll need an AR app to use AR on your mobile phone for software that demands a mobile device. Some AR programs that work with specialized peripherals like headsets or AR glasses can have companion apps for mobile devices too. Of course, you must follow usual cybersecurity precautions to protect your security and privacy.

  • Only download apps from official platforms.
  • Ensure the app is authentic, as malicious or spoofed apps can also hit official platforms.
  • Watch out for apps that asks for unnecessary permission.
  • Download phone security software for iOS or Android to protect against mobile threats.

Some AR apps are so immersive that users get into physical accidents while engaging with them. For example, a study found that driving while playing Pokémon Go costs billions of dollars in property damage and injuries. You need to exercise precaution to stay safe when playing Pokémon Go.

Can I delete AR apps?

To delete an AR app from Android, press and hold the app on your display. Once the icon vibrates, move it to the part of the screen where it says uninstall. Release the hold to delete it. Alternatively, visit the Google Play App store, tap your profile icon, and uninstall the AR app from the Manage apps & devices page.

Deleting an AR app on an iPhone or iPad requires similar steps. Touch and hold the app on your screen and tap Remove App to see the Delete option. You can download the app later if you change your mind. 

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