DEFINITION of 'Augmented Reality'

Augmented reality is an enhanced version of the real physical world through the use of visual elements, sound or other sensory stimuli. It is a growing trend among companies involved in mobile computing and business applications in particular. Amid the rise of data collection and analysis, one of augmented reality’s primary goals is to highlight specific features of the physical world, increase understanding of those features and derive smart and accessible insight that can be applied to real-world applications. Such big data can help inform companies' decision-making and gain insight into consumer spending habits, among others. 

BREAKING DOWN 'Augmented Reality'

Augmented reality continues to develop and become more pervasive among a wide range of applications. Since its conception, marketers and technology firms have had to battle the perception that augmented reality is little more than a marketing tool. However, there is evidence that consumers are beginning to derive tangible benefits from this functionality and expect it as part of their purchasing process. For example, some early adopters in the retail sector have developed technologies designed to enhance the shopping experience. By incorporating augmented reality into catalog apps, stores let consumers visualize how different products would look like in different environments. For furniture, shoppers point the camera at the appropriate room and the product appears in the foreground.

Elsewhere, augmented reality’s benefits could extend to the health care sector, where it could play a much bigger role. One way would be through apps that enable users to see highly detailed, 3-D images of different body systems when they hover their mobile device over a target image. For example, augmented reality could be a powerful learning tool for medical professionals throughout their training.

Some pundits have long-speculated that wearable devices could be a breakthrough for augmented reality. Whereas smartphones and tablets show a tiny portion of the user’s landscape, smart eyewear, for example, may provide a more complete nexus between real and virtual realms if it develops enough to become mainstream.

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality

Augmented reality uses the existing real-world environment and puts virtual information on top of it to enhance the experience. Conversely, virtual reality involves users inhabiting an entirely different environment altogether, notably a virtual one. Users may be immersed in an animated scene or an actual location that has been photographed and embedded in a virtual reality app. Through a virtual reality viewer, users can look up, down or any which way, as if they were physically there.

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