Augmented Reality

What is the Difference between Augmented Reality (AR) vs Virtual Reality (VR) vs Mixed Reality (MR)

The regular old reality is not enough in the 21st century, when the new technologies attempt to change it or even replace it. The problem is that all these innovations might look very similar to people not in the know. Not to worry – this article will explain what exactly are augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality and what are the main differences between them.


Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality is a technology that enhances the physical world by adding digital elements to it. It is also the most accessible of the three that we discuss here, being available on mobile phones, computers, specialized headsets, and pretty much any other device with a camera and an Internet connection. Mobile AR market alone accounts for $16.6 billion

AR technology use cases

Augmented reality has become a daily companion for millions of people around the world. It makes life more fun and convenient for regular people, and brings businesses a lot of tangible benefits: lower product returns, higher sales, better user engagement, etc.

One of its common uses is virtual try-on. The current level of technology allows for a high level of digital details, making the try-before-you-buy experience as lifelike as using the physical product.

augmented reality vs virtual realityIKEA try-before-you-buy

AR try-on is common in many things, from furniture to cosmetics, where it is used by both global corporations like Sephora and Gucci and niche companies like Looke. It is often enhanced with complementary features, for example a recommendation system that analyzes the user’s facial features and suggests the most suitable products.

augmented reality vs virtual realityTint – a guided virtual try-on tool

AR photo and video effects are another common application. Thanks to TikTok, Chingari, and other short video networks, things like 3D masks and other visual enhancements are something that people expect to see. 

These effects are used in video conferencing apps as well. For example, the same filters can be used on video calls for fun. And virtual backgrounds – also a product of augmented reality – are a de facto part of a business etiquette for remote workers. 

Game developers also utilize the fun factor of 3D masks. In cases like Clash of Streamers, they make up an important part of the gameplay.

augmented reality vs virtual realityClash of Streamers

There are more “serious” applications as well. US military is rolling out AR glasses (specifically, Microsoft Hololens) for its soldiers with mixed results, and there are many factories where augmented reality is used to assist with production.

AR advantages

This is what augmented reality has going for it:

    • Accessible. The fact that it works on almost anything, helps reach the largest target audience.
    • Mature. The technology is advanced enough for profitable business applications.
    • Easy to implement. Thanks to augmented reality SDKs and ready-made virtual try-on tools, a company can make AR apps or enhance their websites in a few days. Moreover, SDKS decrease the development costs, can quickly be demonstrated to the decision makers, and are developer-friendly.
    • Easy access to content. Making an augmented reality object is straightforward and can be done by importing a 3D model into one of the specialized tools. Besides, there are asset stores where you can license premade AR content.

Virtual reality (VR)

VR is what you can find in works of fiction like “Neuromancer” or the “Matrix”, only not as cool. At least for now. It is a complete immersion in a virtual world, usually achieved by using a specialized virtual reality headset (e.g. Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, or HTC Vive). Due to lower accessibility, it is far less popular than AR, with the market size of about $6.1 billion

VR technology use cases

The one application of VR that people are the most likely to experience is gaming. Popular platforms like Steam have plenty of products designed to be used with mass market headsets that are affordable for the average gamer. Both indie devs and major studios dabble in this market with different degrees of success.

augmented reality vs virtual realitySkyrim VR

Another area where virtual reality is doing well is education. There is plenty of research showing its effectiveness on children and adults alike. Immersive experiences and simulations can help practice even complicated things like surgery, and paired with gamification – another strong eLearning trend, – VR is bound to develop further in this niche.

However, there are also metaverses. The term “metaverse” is murky at best, “cyberspace” and “virtual environment” being close approximations. It is a computer-generated world, similar to a multiplayer video game and a video conference. Some of the most prominent examples are Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Decentraland – even JP Morgan Chase opened a lounge in the latter. The users can interact with each other and virtual objects to different extents. 

augmented reality vs virtual realityHorizon Worlds

Metaverses aren’t doing too well – to put it mildly. Decentraland has about 38 daily active users. Horizon Worlds – 200.000 monthly active users. They are plagued by poor graphics, motion sickness from VR headsets and the lack of things to do there. Games like Roblox and Fortnite are also calling themselves “metaverses,” but that is more of a jumping on a bandwagon than actual commitment to creating a fully-immersive virtual environment.

VR advantages

These are the benefits of virtual reality:

  • Immersiveness. The fact that people feel present in the virtual world is a powerful tool. It helps make games more fun and turns it into an effective learning aid. 

Mixed reality (MR)/Extended reality (XR)

Mixed reality is an umbrella term, encompassing AR, VR, and other technologies that blend physical and digital worlds (e.g. the use of haptic interfaces). So everything mentioned about AR and VR also counts for specific cases mixed/extended reality.

The difference between augmented reality and virtual reality

Let’s sum up what makes augmented reality different from virtual reality from a business perspective.

If you are having a hard time deciding, what to implement, here’s a few pointers.

Go with AR, if:

  • You need to create a try-before-you-buy experience
  • You want to improve a video call or a video clip
  • You want a budget-friendly solution for the features and content
  • You want access to the largest target audience
  • You want your app to work on multiple devices

Go with VR, if:

  • You need to create a simulation or another fully immersive application
  • You want an app for a head-mounted display
  • You have a large budget for making a virtual space
  • You have a development team capable of making many things from scratch


Virtual reality and augmented reality are both advanced technologies. At the moment, AR is in a much stronger position thanks to its maturity, accessibility, relative cheapness, and ease of access to content. However, VR is strong in niches like education because of its immersiveness. 

Augmented reality is much easier to implement and deliver to users, which played a big part in its proliferation. An AR app can quickly be delivered using specialized SDKs. If you need one, shoot us a message and let’s talk.

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