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It has been the big digital promise for decades, but Virtual Reality is finally gaining a foothold in the near future. The technology is certainly not limited to gaming, but is finding its way into various markets.

As a developer of digital concepts, you are almost forced to explore the possibilities of VR, and the highly related Augmented Reality. But does this technology really transcend the level of a gimmick?

In brief

Millions are being pumped into the VR business, but there are not many major breakthroughs yet. Creating VR apps is time-consuming and expensive, and the barrier to consumers buying a VR device is high. Augmented Reality is more accessible and has more breakthroughs: the game Pokémon Go, as well as serious applications in the medical and automotive industries. For AR and VR to truly transcend the level of a gimmick, useful and approachable apps are needed. A fine task for entrepreneurs and developers.

3. VR has great potential, but a high barrier

VR has been a buzzword for decades, but the big difference is that now the technology is really coming into living rooms. Devices such as Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, Hololens and the budget variant Google Cardboard all allow you to be transported to a new world.

Because that’s what Virtual Reality basically means: entering another reality. That immediately makes the technology so complex. After all, if you are serious about making an impression with VR, you need to consider realistic images, movement and sound.

There are successful examples of VR apps reaching large audiences. For example, media such as the New York Times and The Verge came up with apps for Google Cardboard. Simply slide your smartphone into these unfolding glasses and download a corresponding app.

The New York Times thus allowed its users to take a VR tour of Pluto, as well as walk through a refugee camp and experience the aftermath of the Paris attacks. For them, VR is not a game, but a serious application.

VR may be approachable thanks to Google’s budget glasses (you can get them for as little as eight euros), but it is still a big step to purchase a new device for a Virtual Reality experience. The New York Times itself calculated that, as the Cardboards were distributed free to subscribers.

Add to that the fact that it is time-consuming and expensive to develop such an app, and widespread VR applications are less accessible than the media would have us believe. Still, through initiatives such as Google Cardboard, the technology is becoming increasingly accessible; both to consumers and developers.

2. AR is just as useful and accessible

Augmented Reality seems like a low-key intermediate step for small developers – and clients with limited budgets – to do “something” with VR. This technique does not aspire to create a completely new world, but rather puts a virtual layer over the real world.

AR is already being used in the first smartphones, but a recent breakthrough is the game Pokémon Go for iPhone and Android phones. This app had a fairly simple concept: it used your phone’s camera and GPS to project Pokémon monsters into the real world, which you then had to catch. The seemingly simple AR project managed to engage millions of users.

More serious applications have long existed in the medical or automotive industries, which use a camera and AR to recognize and label parts.

Since most people own a smartphone, in fact the only requirement AR has, it is relatively easy to incorporate such a technique into your project. AR also has the advantage that, unlike VR, it has been used in apps for years. So as a developer, there is a lot of material to be inspired by.

1. The potential is there, but consumers have yet to be convinced

Tech giants such as Google and Microsoft are pumping millions into AR and VR technologies, and it is also penetrating the business world more and more. Mechanics tinker with cars with AR tools. Aspiring surgeons practice operations on virtual organs. Psychologists help patients with agoraphobia by putting them in virtual street environments.

But fair is fair, among the masses, AR and VR still hasn’t surpassed the level of a gimmick. This is evidenced by the lack of a real breakthrough. Even the hype surrounding Pokémon Go died down pretty quickly.

A great task for entrepreneurs and developers to start developing AR & VR apps. The technology is there, now we need useful and approachable apps.

Try it yourself? These are some good VR and AR apps

YouTube (VR)

For some time now, the world’s best-known video site has also been offering support for 360-degree videos, with support for Google Cardboard. As more and more cameras support 360-image filming, the YouTube collection of VR videos is growing.


Within (VR)

Within is a VR platform with videos in different genres: from documentaries by investigative journalists, to clips from TV series (see below). You can think of it as a kind of Netflix for VR, as the content is largely developed by Within itself.

Google Streetview (VR)

Streetview has been photographing its content in 360 degrees for years, so it was a breeze for Google to add support for Cardboard. So walking around anywhere in the world is now possible in VR.

IKEA Catalog (AR)

The digital equivalent of the paper catalog not only allows you to view furniture, but you can use Augmented Reality to pin it down in your living room to see how it looks.

Layar (AR)

An absolute veteran in the field of Augmented Reality. Layar’s plans in 2009 were ambitious: the company partnered with real estate site Funda, for example, to use its AR camera to show what houses were for sale in your neighborhood. It turned out to be a little too ambitious, as a few years later the company focused primarily on bringing photos to life in print.

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