WE/AR Blog What Is the Difference Between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
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What Is the Difference Between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

By Oleg Boiko
16 min read
ar vr automotive

An ever-expanding technology landscape has given rise to the potential of revolutionary experiences through Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Both are exciting opportunities that enhance the user’s view of the world, but there are key differences between them. Let’s examine the AR vs VR debate and discover what sets these two groundbreaking technologies apart.

What Is Augmented Reality (AR)

AR Image Tracking
Source: vuforia.com

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that overlays digital content onto a user’s physical environment in real-time, generally using a device’s camera, accelerometer, and GPS, creating a seamless and enveloping experience. AR blends digital elements into an environment to improve the user’s comprehension of the physical world.

How Does AR Work?

At its core, AR uses computer vision algorithms to detect and track features in the real world and then overlaps virtual content (such as 3D models, videos, images, and other data) in a manner that blends with the natural environment. It is achieved using devices such as a smartphone, tablet, or pair of goggles with a camera. Then it uses 3D mapping techniques to match the physical surroundings to digital maps and recognize where the user is in relation to the virtual content.

In addition to computer vision algorithms, AR relies heavily on accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and depth sensors. These sensors detect the movement and orientation of the user’s device and recognize how that gadget moves in the virtual setting.

Augmented Reality: Pros and Cons


  • Enhanced Learning. AR can make learning fun and interactive. It provides students with a more engaging experience, making it easier to understand concepts. It can also view the inner components of a system or a living body, allowing learners to understand subjects in-depth.
  • Interactive Shopping Experiences. Augmented Reality provides customers with interactive experiences while shopping. For example, before purchasing, clients can view product demos and even simulate how the item may fit in their homes. It also provides detailed visuals on products before buying them.
  • Increased Productivity. AR helps strengthen productivity in many industries by streamlining processes and providing real-time guidance to employees. For example, this technology can identify problems faster, provide step-by-step instructions, and ensure accuracy while completing tasks.
  • Improved Customer Service. Augmented Reality helps provide more efficient customer service by empowering employees to offer personalized assistance and troubleshooting instructions to clients.
  • Enhanced Entertainment. It provides users with a more captivating gaming experience by allowing them to interact with game elements in a realistic manner. Besides games, AR works wonders when exploring museums, historical sites, and remote locations without actually being there.


  • Privacy Concerns. Augmented Reality collects a lot of user data that can be misused for targeted advertising or financial gain by third parties.
  • Cost of Hardware. AR requires dedicated and often expensive hardware to work correctly. Not all brand owners can afford to purchase the necessary equipment, which could limit its adoption.
  • Difficulty of Development. Building a practical AR experience may be difficult, as it requires specialized software and knowledge of combining virtual and physical worlds. There is still a lack of user-friendly and inexpensive AR development tools, so development may be challenging for many developers.

Examples of AR Apps

  • Retail. AR apps in retail can provide customers with a more interactive shopping experience, allowing them to feel the product before committing to the purchase. For example, Home Depot partnered with an AR company to create their “See It In Your Space” app. The app lets people view 3D models of items they are considering purchasing and virtually place them in their homes.
  • Fashion. FittingBox is a virtual fitting tool that helps customers try on clothes, sunglasses, and shoes in 3D. The app creates a realistic AR experience that lets customers use their mobile devices to check whether a particular apparel fits their style.
  • Gaming. Jurassic World Alive is a dinosaur-capture game with the same mechanics as Pokemon Go. Players explore the world around them by searching for dinosaurs in the real world, collecting DNA samples, and creating their dinosaurs to battle and compete in tournaments.
  • Healthcare. The PeriopSim AR application developed by Surgical Theater integrates three-dimensional medical imagery with the surgeon’s physical movements. This, in turn, makes it easier for surgeons to plan surgeries and view critical anatomical details. The app also allows people to interact with medical imagery more accurately.
  • Education. Aurasma is an example of AR in education, which teachers use to create engaging learning experiences for students. With Aurasma, lecturers can design interactive lessons by scanning images and text with the app on any iPad device.
  • Construction. Autodesk’s PlanGrid Construct is a mobile-first construction software and AR platform that provides enhanced visibility and actionable insights on construction projects. It’s designed to help construction teams in the field save time, reduce costs, and improve collaboration.
  • Automotive. The MyHyundai app provides helpful information as a virtual overlay to the user’s view of their car. It helps drivers identify and understand various car parts and quickly access service history, maintenance records, and nearby repair shops. Users can also learn about how much fuel is left in the tank, the tire pressure, and other relevant information.
  • Entertainment. Snapchat is one of the most popular social media apps. It includes a wide variety of AR features that users can enjoy, such as face filters and 3D objects. Snapchat also has world lenses that allow users to drop digital objects and animations into their surroundings.
  • Marketing. Zappar is a mobile app that uses AR to let users interact with branding, product images, and print advertisements. People can scan a photo using their phone’s camera and learn more about the advertised product or service on the web. The company has created exclusive products for multiple renowned corporations, including but not limited to the Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola, Nestle, and 7-Eleven.
  • Real Estate. Matterport is an immersive media technology company that helps real estate agents, developers, and home sellers create virtual models of their properties. With Matterport’s mobile app, agents and buyers can walk through a property, visualize furniture, and even make changes on the fly – all while never leaving the comfort of their homes.
  • Manufacturing. The IRIS Augmented Reality App from Hexagon is a splendid example of an AR app. It allows manufacturing operations personnel to access assembly manuals, processes, and inspection plans through AR technology, utilizing features such as 3D model overlays, annotations, and instructional guidance.

The Cost of Developing Augmented Reality

Building an Augmented Reality application is a multi-step process. It involves various field experts to make the code, design, and content work together. That’s why the cost of developing an AR app depends on three fundamental factors:

  • Types like marker-based, superimposition-based, and outlining-based.
  • Content, such as 3D models, animations, and 360 videos.
  • Software including Unity, Kudan, Google ARCore, or Vuforia.

Overall, prices of basic AR apps start from $7,000 and can reach even $300,000, depending on their difficulty. Our previous article on Augmented Reality app development cost provides more minutiae on the financial side of this area.

What Is Virtual Reality (VR)

vr gaming process
Image from pegasusaerogroup.com

Virtual Reality (VR) is an immersive experience in which users interact with a 3D environment created through computer technology. It utilizes specialized equipment such as head-mounted displays, tracking systems, and controllers to provide users with an interactive virtual world to explore and experience various forms of content. VR recreates the physical world surrounding the user so that they can feel integral to the environment.

How Does VR Work?

In a nutshell, Virtual Reality combines displays, sensors, and specialized software. When users enter a VR experience, they wear a head-mounted display (HMD) device connected to a computer. The HMD tracks their movements and displays the virtual setting on the screen in front of their eyes. As the user moves their head, the angle of the simulated world changes accordingly.

The computer also receives input from other sensors, such as motion trackers and controllers. The motion trackers pick up on the user’s physical movements, such as hand and arm motions, and translate them into interactive commands for the virtual world. The controllers allow for more fascinating experiences by providing users with tactile or haptic feedback — a physical sensation when interacting with objects in the digital world.

The experience is further enhanced with 3D audio that adapts to the user’s movements, simulating sounds from around them. This makes it even more realistic and immersive — as if they are actually in the virtual environment they see on the screen.

Virtual Reality: Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Immersive Learning. Virtual Reality can create a simulated environment where people can experiment, take risks, and learn from the consequences of their actions in a safe and controlled setting. It can help improve learning outcomes and significantly increase information retention.
  • Enhanced Visualization. VR enables users to explore and interact with virtual objects, see them from different angles, and even manipulate them in ways that would be impossible with traditional methods. It leads to enhanced visualization and understanding, making it an excellent tool for training and education in corporate and academic settings.
  • Increased Engagement. By immersing people fully in the experience, VR can drastically increase engagement and motivate them to explore and learn more. It can be especially beneficial for organizations looking to increase employee productivity and motivation.
  • Increased Accessibility. VR makes it possible for individuals to do various actions in digital worlds. This increases accessibility to those with limited mobility or who may feel more comfortable in their environments.


  • Expensive Technology. Creating fully immersive VR surroundings requires specialized equipment that is quite expensive nowadays. This often makes it challenging for some organizations or individuals to adopt VR technology.
  • Physical Discomfort. Virtual Reality headsets and other peripherals can cause some users physical discomforts, such as eye fatigue or headaches. Furthermore, long VR sessions may cause motion sickness or nausea due to the disconnect between the user’s physical body and the simulated environment.
  • Limited Content. Although VR technology is developing rapidly, there is still a limited amount of content for users to explore. It can reduce user engagement as they become more familiar with the environments offered on the market.

Examples of VR Apps

  • Retail. Lowe’s Holoroom allows customers to design and visualize 3D layouts of any room in their home. Customers can use their photos and measurements to personalize their space and then virtually explore designs using their smartphone, tablet, or VR headset.
  • Fashion. The Dior Virtual Reality app transports users to Dior’s famously luxurious shows, allowing them to explore iconic fashion pieces in a virtual world. This application allows users to customize their unique look, be part of a fashion show, and view couture collections as if they were there.
  • Gaming. Beat Saber is an immersive rhythm experience that combines fast-paced slashing with a dance-like physical movement. Players use dual lightsabers to slice through cubes that correspond with the beat of the music during levels set to a range of musical genres from EDM, pop, and rock.
  • Healthcare. The Oculus Rift Surgical Simulator allows medical students and surgeons to practice complicated surgical procedures using a VR headset. Learners can see their hands, instruments, and the patient while they practice real-life techniques in a safe and controlled setting.
  • Education. Google Earth VR app allows users to virtually fly around the world and explore different locations through a digital world of 360-degree imagery. People can study monuments, cities, mountains, rivers, and more. It also enables students to experience videos, images, and stories from all corners of the Earth.
  • Construction. HoloBuilder is one of the leading VR apps used in the construction industry. It enables construction teams to review projects on-site in real-time, giving them a complete digital overview of the project before beginning construction and providing a better understanding of scale and spatial relationships.
  • Automotive. The Mercedes-Benz Virtual Auto Showroom is a real example of how VR  apps benefit the industry. People can view a 3D representation of each car and interact with them using the goggles.
  • Entertainment. VR Roller Coaster is a simple yet popular VR app that offers a thrilling ride in a vivid 3D world. Players can pick from different roller coaster tracks, feel the adrenaline rush of riding a roller coaster and even watch 360-degree videos of the coaster’s point of view.
  • Marketing. Marriott Hotels’ “Teleporter” is a stunning VR app that allows users to remotely explore different locations worldwide. People can visit multiple hotels, participate in activities at those locations, and experience different cultures and sights.
  • Real Estate. Matterport is an excellent example of a company profiting from using AR and VR simultaneously. Their VR app allows you to virtually check a property listed for sale or rent, giving you digital tours of the space to get a better idea of the layout and features.
  • Manufacturing. The Siemens Virtual Reality app is designed to help engineers and designers collaborate more efficiently in manufacturing. By leveraging VR, people can experience a 3D version of their design with full interactivity. This app also allows for increased transparency between teams, allowing engineers and designers to cooperate with greater visibility.

The Cost of Developing Virtual Reality

The cost of developing a VR project can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the project and the type of team required to complete it. Building an AR app is demanding too, so what’s more economical in a Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality dichotomy?

When comparing VR vs AR in terms of expenses, building a VR app is generally considered more pricey since it requires covering more elements.

When considering how much it will cost to create a VR project, you’ll need to account for the necessary development tools and technology, such as a head-mounted display, motion tracking system, dedicated computer, and software development kits (SDKs). You’ll also need to calculate the cost of hiring developers, writers, artists, and other professionals. Finally, factoring in additional costs, such as animation and sound design, is also essential. Only upon reckoning all these details will you be able to determine the project’s cost.

All Differences Between AR and VR

There is not one difference between AR and VR but several. The most prominent dissimilarities between these technologies lay in the following dimensions:

Virtual Reality Augmented Reality
Purpose To simulate a computer-generated environment or experience. To superimpose digital images and content onto the real world.
Virtual vs. Real Experience Fully immersive computer-generated environment or experience. Digital content merged within the natural world.
Control of the Senses Control over what the user sees, hears, and touches. Primarily visual experience, with audio and tactile feedback limited to some devices.
Degree of Immersion Fully immersive, 360-degree experience. Partially immersive experience layering digital content onto the actual surroundings.
Enhancement Target Focused on creating entirely realistic experiences in a simulated environment. Aimed to add digital layers to real-world environments for enhanced experiences.
Device Visors, goggles, and head-mounted displays are used to create the immersive reality experience; typically, high-resolution displays and powerful processors are also required. Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices are commonly used as the display for augmented reality; these devices are limited in their display capabilities and require less powerful processors.
Bandwidth Generally requires higher bandwidths because of the detail and complexity of the generated environment. Generally requires lower bandwidths due to the nature of the enhancement content.


VR and AR: Similarities

Other than differences, Virtual Reality shares a plethora of similarities with Augmented Reality. VR and AR are similar in the following ways:

  • They allow users to experience a digital environment based on rendered 3D graphics, either completely virtual or combined with elements from the real world.
  • They are helpful in training situations, allowing users to explore simulated environments or scenarios and practice processes in a safe and controlled setting.
  • They are used to enhance simulations, letting the user be fully immersed in the experience and react in real time by interacting with virtual objects.
  • They have the potential for broad applications in design, industry, medicine, education, and entertainment, providing users with tangible experiences.
  • They rely heavily on advances in computer science, computer vision, and artificial intelligence to build better and more tangible projects.
  • They are expected to continue developing over the next few years, with increased realism, complexity, detail, and interactivity added to the experiences and more realistic virtual objects and avatars.

AR vs. VR Market Share

In an Augmented vs Virtual Reality debate regarding market share, the former currently holds a larger market than the latter. This year, the Augmented Reality market is estimated to be around $15 billion and expected to grow to over $31 billion by 2027. In turn, the Virtual Reality market size in 2022 is estimated to be around $10 billion and expected to go up to over $20 billion by 2027.

Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed Reality (MR) is a term used to describe the combination of both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. MR combines AR and VR to create a more realistic, interactive experience for the user by blending digital content with the physical world. Unlike VR, which immerses the individual in a wholly digital environment, MR allows them to interact with both virtual elements within the real surroundings. By combining digital content with the material world, MR has the potential to open up a range of new possibilities and experiences.

What is Extended Reality (XR)?

Extended Reality (XR) is a term used to describe a vast range of technologies that merge the real and artificial worlds, including AR/VR, Mixed Reality (MR), and Extended Reality (XR). XR technologies create entrancing experiences that can be shared with others.

XR has the potential to bridge gaps between physical and digital experiences in ways that are both functional and exciting. XR can create virtual environments for various purposes, including virtual meetings, classrooms, and performances. Additionally, it can enhance physical objects by designing interactive visualizations. For example, XR can enrich a medical training program by creating a 3D model of a procedure or anatomical structure.

VR, AR, or MR: What to Choose for Business?

So, as you can see, an Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality discourse brings up numerous concepts that might lead to a lackluster experience if overlooked. Choosing between VR, AR, or MR for a business depends heavily on the engagement your company is looking to create.

AR and MR are practical visualization tools enabling users to experience data intuitively. However, if you are looking to create a truly all-embracing experience with interactivity and movement, then VR is the better choice. The last can give users a sense of presence that lets them explore artificial environments, participate in interactive scenarios, or enjoy entertainment and educational experiences.

Should you be at a crossroads hesitating about whether to use Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality to your business’s advantage, look no further! WE/AR Studio comprises experts with hands-on experience in VR and AR technology. Drop us a line at hello@wear-studio.com today and let the professionals address all your concerns, tailor your needs to your brand, and increase your bottom line in the long run.