What is the difference between Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are often used interchangeably because they both refer to the blending of the physical and digital world, but there is a slight difference between the two. Augmented reality refers specifically to the visual augmentation of the world around you. Mixed reality similarly augments the physical world, but it takes it a step further, incorporating the ability to interact with digital renderings using eye and hand tracking technology.

For simplicity’s sake, most people refer to the entire category of AR/MR applications as augmented reality because augmented reality applications were first to the market.

Augmented reality is often associated with screen based applications, which add digital features to physical space/objects through a screen; think of Sephora’s virtual makeup try-on app, Snapchat filters which augment your face, or Etsy’s AR app that allows you to see art on your wall through your camera before you purchase.

Mixed reality on the other hand is accomplished using much more advanced technology, with ultimately has greater value to the user and to businesses. Mixed reality is usually accomplished using a headset or glasses-like display in which light is layered into the line of sight of the user to create 3D, interactive holograms. For example, Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is a headset that uses glass and light to render 3D digital objects into your physical space, which can be moved around, resized, and interacted with.

Microsoft's HoloLens 2


The great advantage of this technology over smartphones, and even computers, is the ability to stay grounded and handsfree in your environment without dividing your attention between what you’re doing and the information you need. The power of information remains right in front of your eyes. 

It also defies the geographical constraints of computers, allowing you to pull up multiple “desktop” displays at once wherever you are--in the park, at the beach, in fieldwork. This is all assuming your internet connection is good enough, which we should see taken care of by 5G technology.

As this technology advances and becomes more accessible, we will see screens become more and more obsolete. The heads-up, hands-free applications are already revolutionizing enterprise operations. The value mixed reality offers to businesses in both situational utility and data collection is constantly pushing us towards mass adaption of this technology. We are sure see these devices continue to transform the workplace and everyday life.

How is this technology currently being used?

Research shows that businesses are clearly ready for mixed reality; you might be surprised to learn how many are already using mixed reality solutions.

Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Survey, 2018


The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Survey from March 2018 tells us that 87% of their respondents were currently exploring, piloting, or deploying mixed reality.

In a project sponsored by PTC in 2017, IDC surveyed a mix of IT decision makers, business executives, and line-of-business managers. They found a whopping 77% of respondents said their company was already testing MR. About 36% said they were in the early stages of testing, 15% were in the pilot stage, 17% were moving from pilots to early deployments, and about 9% were in late-stage deployments. Only about one fifth of respondents had no current mixed reality projects in the works.

Current use cases in mixed reality, according to 2020 Grid Raster surveys, revolve around enterprise applications. 60% are using it to virtually supplement labor on production floors, 53% are using it for virtual customer visits, 53% for virtual design and product engineering, 26% are using it to train employees.

Enterprises that have stayed ahead of the curve with this technology have already seen tremendous return on investment. Check out these examples!

Honeywell

Honeywell partnered with Microsoft's HoloLens to develop a mixed reality environment used in training its staff. These VR and AR technologies have enabled the company to reduce training duration by 60% while increasing the information retention rate by 100%.

Lockheed Martin 

Lockheed Martin uses AR technology to train its aerospace manufacturing engineers on new protocols. This has helped the company reduce the time it takes to conduct some manufacturing processes for the Orion spacecraft from 6 weeks to 2 weeks.

Verizon

Verizon launched training programs for their on-field technicians using Oculus. The program delivers AR training material to its FiOS personnel.

Unilever

As an aging workforce retires, Unilever deployed a remote assist mixed reality solution enabling inexperienced workers to access experts with on-demand visual communication and view sharing capabilities. Unilever rapidly demonstrated significant improvements and knowledge distribution, 50% reduction in downtime and a 1,717% direct ROI relative to the cost of AR solution.

Royal Dutch Shell

Partnered with EON Reality to develop a VR and AR training program for its staff. This platform is meant to simulate customized training environments for the various work environments throughout its global locations. 

Michael Kaldenbach, lead for Shell Digital Realities says,

Just as laptops and mobile phones are standard for desk workers, voice command and augmented reality for wearable computers will become commonplace for field staff in our industry, driving safety and productivity.

If your company operates within an industry that has key competitive metrics that rely on services, knowledge transfer and training, sales and marketing, or manufacturing, and you're not looking closely at ways to implement mixed reality, you're already falling behind.

What about consumer-facing mixed reality applications?

Currently, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and several other large tech companies are racing to launch the first mainstream AR devices. The challenge is fitting the complex mixed reality technology of the bulkier HoloLens 2 and other current wearables into sleek wearables that appeal to consumers for everyday wear.

Apple Glass, for example, is predicted to use a wireless connection with the iPhone to run the glasses, allowing for a more stylish and compact design. The design also sidesteps the privacy concerns of using cameras to map physical space by using lidar sensors instead. They’re estimated to retail at $500, and predicted to launch within the next 2 years.

96% of top AR stakeholders believe glasses based augmented reality will overtake screen based AR applications within the next 3 years--44% of those predict we will see this shift within the next 1-2 years.

This will provide accessibility to mainstream users that will push innovative consumer-facing enterprises to capitalize on the lucrative opportunities MR provides to market, entertain, improve customer experience, collect data from consumers, etc.

Mixed reality will change everyday life so dramatically that many compare it to the rise of smartphones. It’s currently an incredible opportunity for businesses to conduct research, increase efficiency, and streamline knowledge transfer in the workplace, and in the next few years, the consumer applications will prove to be even more lucrative. Paying attention to this trend is sure to pay off!