You're likely using AR, even if you don't know it

Lauren Barack 22 August 2017

While most people are familiar with virtual reality, at least the idea of it, augmented reality or AR, which melds real space with virtual imagery, takes a little more understanding. No surprise than that almost 70 percent of Americans don't know or understand AR. So says a new survey from Skrite.com, a company which creates personalized skywriting through an iOS AR app. The firm interviewed 2,000 people in the U.S. in July, asking them how much they know about augmented reality, or if they've ever given the technology a whirl.

Just 31 percent said they knew about AR. But conversely, nearly half admitted they had tried an AR app, such as the one-that-won't-go-away, Pokémon Go. Without understanding the technology, people seem to be using AR anyway — with the digital tool working its way seamlessly into their lives.

Ever try a Snapchat filter? Seen the yellow first down line during NFL football games? Augmented reality. (The yellow line is digitally projected onto a screen, not painted second by second on the field.) Facebook recently launched an AR tool, Camera Effects, which creates frames around images or retouches images with glasses, mustaches and other animated props.

Companies are investing heavily in augmented reality tech. Apple's CEO Tim Cook has been bullish on AR early, believing people will be using some form of the tech multiple times a day. Apple is also buying AR companies, and investing in AR products including glasses that can be used in tandem with the iPhone. And investment in AR and VR is expected to be $13.9 billion in 2017, a 130 percent increase from the year prior, according to the International Data Corporation.

AR app Pokémon Go is popular, even through people may not understand the technology.

While its cousin, virtual reality, is still an exciting technology — AR may be the bigger consumer play. It's also more approachable. Virtual reality is the full immersion into a digital world. Often the experience requires the donning of a headset, with headphones. Sometimes haptic gloves (those that can transmit sensory feelings to hands) and even haptic chairs are worn. A person experiencing virtual reality is, in many ways, cut off completely from the world around them. And that's the idea.

Augmented reality is as its name suggests, an augmentation or shift in a person's reality. A user is not immersed in imagery, but instead sees digital imagery on top of a real image usually captured by their smartphone camera. Special glasses aren't required, nor expensive computers or headsets. The ability for people to just try AR, easily, often through free AR apps and games, and with a device they already own, a smartphone, makes the technology more widely accessible.

Technology that adopted quickly and easily is a success story. Smartphones have quickly morphed into a required tool in the 21st Century. Few know how their device works, could replace a screen, or even know how to remove a virus. But understanding how tech works does not preclude rapid adoption. Companies including Facebook and Apple agree.