One of the problems with discussion of emerging technologies is terminology, or more importantly the lack of clearly defined terminology. At the moment this space has a big issue with overlapping, confusing terms that consumers will likely never fully understand. It doesn’t help that the industry itself isn’t exactly using the terms consistently either.
The terms by definition
According to wikipedia the main three terms are defined as:
- Augmented reality (AR) – a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.
- Mixed reality (MR) – sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.
- Virtual reality (VR) – a computer technology that uses Virtual reality headsets, sometimes in combination with physical spaces or multi-projected environments, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment.
My interpretation of this is that there’s a spectrum here. So to explain it simply:
- AR puts stuff on top of the real world, like a heads up display
- MR puts stuff in the real world, like a digital character dancing on a real world stage
- VR is replacing the real world, as in everything you see and hear is replaced by a computer generated environment
Unfortunately the industry is choosing to miss use these terms all over the place, which is super confusing.
The terms according to the big players
The use of these terms amongst the big players is mixed, but there does seem to be some consistency coming together. Typically MR isn’t really sticking, instead AR and MR and just being glued together into AR. Apple have ARkit, Facebook have AR studio, Google tango devices refer to AR. It makes sense really as from a consumer perspective the finer detail of the difference between the two seems kind of a pointless distinction. VR is also widely agreed to be the replace everything arrangement we know and love. Of course there’s always exceptions and shocking exactly no one Microsoft has decided to put all its chips down on MR. that’s right AR, MR, and VR all as one term.
What I’m calling this stuff
I’m not a particularly big fan of Microsoft’s naming conventions over the years, but I have to give it to them, I think a single catch all term is better in this case. Personally I prefer XR as it sounds cooler (it has an x after all) and x is always a good placeholder for a range of things.
Another thing a “catch all” has going for it, as I said earlier, I’m not sure users need the detail of two or three different terms. Something like XR says “cool tech that puts stuff in front of your eyes”, and then it’s just a question of how much stuff. It just seems more straight forward, I know it sure would make it easier to write about.
Just to keep things simple here I’m going to refer to anything on the spectrum between AR/MR/VR as XR. It’s just easier to write and read than all three terms individually. If the industry itself settles on a different term I’ll switch but until then as far as this sites concerned XR = AR/MR/VR.