If you have been keeping up with our previous chapters, you’ll know that we discussed in-depth about virtual reality and augmented reality. But, did you know there is an emerging market called mixed reality (MR)? According to Statista, currently in 2018, the global market size of mixed reality is at 82.5 million U.S. dollars and by 2025 it is expected to grow to 3.7 billion. The International Data Corporation (IDC) is also predicting that the number of global shipments of mixed reality headsets will reach over 100 million by 2021.
Are you curious about the meaning behind mixed reality and how it has become so popular in the tech world? The following final chapter in our Handbook on App Development for the Non-Tech Savvy will go over defining MR technology, the hardware involved, how certain industries are using mixed reality to their advantage and the different types of MR apps that exist.
What is Mixed Reality?
Mixed Reality, or MR, is known as a combination of virtual and augmented reality elements where physical and digital objects exist and interact in real time, ranging from natural to virtual environments. If you are still slightly confused about the difference between virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, below we have a helpful graphic separating the 3 types of technology.
There are 4 levels within the mixed reality continuum. This MR continuum follows a spectrum ranging from the real environment, to augmented reality, to augmented virtuality, and finally to a virtual environment. This spectrum begins from where nothing is computer generated and goes all the way to where everything is computer generated, showing where and how both real and virtual objects merge and coexist together.
Real environment: This is the first level on the spectrum known as the natural and real world we live in every day including all living and nonliving things that exist on this earth. Virtual environments are often modeled after real environments.
Augmented Reality: As we mentioned in our previous chapter, augmented reality involves the integration of digital components into the physical world. Users of AR are still fairly close to the real environment while experiencing virtual enhancements. It is an overlay of computer-generated content on our existing natural environment. This could be anything like graphics and sounds to enhance the perception of reality.
Augmented Virtuality: This level is known as the opposite of augmented reality, where instead of virtual objects being layered onto the real world, augmented virtuality involves real-world objects being inserted into virtual environments.
Virtual Reality: With this final level on the spectrum, as a reminder of a definition we provided from Chapter 4, virtual reality is a computer-simulated reality or an immersive multimedia experience using pre-filmed content and 3-dimensional images in a virtual environment. Virtual reality, or VR, is the creation of an imaginary reality. It simulates a different environment using a headset, making users feel like they are truly living in that reality with sounds and visual effects. Virtual reality can simulate anything from an everyday experience like walking down the streets of New York and riding a roller coaster or it can be something completely unrealistic like floating in space or walking on a different planet. The goal is to convince a user’s brain that they are somewhere else, forgetting their actual reality.
Types of Apps Using Mixed Reality
According to Microsoft, there are 3 types of mixed reality applications.
Enhanced Environment Apps: This involves adding digital elements to the real world while the user remains present in their natural environment. These apps allow users to easily transition between completing digital to real-world tasks. For example, this could be a mixed reality notepad app where users can write and place notes in their surroundings. Another example would be a mixed reality cooking app which places the recipe within a user’s field of view to better assist them in the kitchen.
Blended Environment Apps: These apps are able to create a digital layer that can be placed over a user’s existing space which also respects the shape and boundaries of the environment. These apps can replace and transform different elements in a user’s surroundings. An example of this type of app could be changing the paint colour on a wall or altering the style of a duvet on a bed or even transforming a kitchen island into a table instead.
Immersive Environment Apps: These types of apps involve completely transforming the user’s environment, putting them in a different space or time period. These experiences can feel very real and thrilling. These apps completely replace the user’s real world into something else like walking through the streets of Barcelona. An example of this type of app could be taking a guided tour through a museum, a famous building or a city located on the other side of the world.
Mixed Reality Equipment and Hardware
As you now know from reading our previous chapters, virtual reality uses hardware such as head-mounted displays (HMD) and augmented reality uses heads-up displays (HUD) for consumers to experience different levels of virtuality. So what kind of hardware is included with mixed reality? A combination of both of course! Below we mention some of the most popular headset brands implementing mixed reality features.
Microsoft HoloLens: “Microsoft HoloLens is the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.”
Features: Multi-dimensional full-colour holograms that interact with the surfaces of physical environments, contains advanced sensors to analyze the environment you are in, can record pictures and videos of the holograms with the built-in cameras, can create and shape your own holograms, it understands your gestures, gaze and voice and it is untethered with no wiring necessary for the device to function.
Samsung Odyssey: “Victorious gaming adventures await with the new Samsung HMD Odyssey. Get dropped into virtual worlds and battlegrounds created by Windows Mixed Reality.* Talk to friends and move with freedom, surrounded by vivid graphics and 360-degree spatial sound. With easy setup and a comfortable fit, it’s all about the game.”
Features: bright and clear graphics, dual screens showing a 110-degree field of view, 360-degree spatial sound, chat with friends and opponents through the microphone and it has a comfortable headset that adjusts to facial contours.
Dell Visor: “Escape into a world of imagination with Windows Mixed Reality.¹ Set up your virtual home with great content—travel, sports, culture, live concerts, and games—in 10 minutes or less.² All you need is a headset and a compatible Windows PC. ”
Features: inside-out tracking, spatial audio, quick and easy setup, immersive visuals, no external sensors required and has a flip-up visor to transition between the virtual world and reality.
Lenovo Explorer: “Journey across time and space, instantly. Travel back to see dinosaurs roaming the land. Explore your favorite city, without leaving home. With Lenovo Explorer, the sky’s no longer the limit. Powered by Windows Mixed Reality, this stylish, light headset lets you merge the real with the virtual—resulting in truly extraordinary entertainment and exhilarating experiences.”
Features: lightweight and well balanced, tracks your every movement, no need for external sensors, simple to set up, access to AAA games like Minecraft and Skyworld and access to the Cortana virtual assistant.
Other popular mixed reality hardware also includes the Asus and Acer headsets.
Benefits of Mixed Reality in Businesses
There are several benefits to mixed reality as it brings a new level of interactivity by being able to immerse yourself in both the physical and digital worlds. It provides a continuous view of both these worlds and allows for more fluid movements and productivity in doing tasks. On the other hand, virtual reality only allows for limited mobility and completely blocks a user’s view of the real environment. Businesses and industries are now using MR technology to their advantage. Below we mention a few of the most successful cases.
Customers can mix and match items in stores using MR and engage with different products and brands in an interactive way, offering a new level of customer service and experience. Retail planners and merchandisers can visualize in 3D product designs and share them with others. In one particular example, Lowe’s uses the HoloLens and a combination of AI technology to allow customers to visualize and create their dream kitchen design.
The use of mixed reality allows for 3D operating rooms with holographic simulations and virtual organ models to help with complicated surgeries. HoloLens headsets are replacing traditional methods of learning medicine such as using cadavers and studying from textbooks. Med students can use the HoloAnatomy app to virtually dissect a human body to see its internal structures and organs. The HoloPatient app also allows nurses and doctors to interact with holographic and simulated patients using the HoloLens where they can make patient assessments and diagnosis. The holographic patients can show signs of heart attacks, burns and anaphylaxis, allowing medical students to think critically.
Another application using the HoloLens is called Learning Heart, where students can learn about all aspects and elements of the heart. The 3D holographic visuals of the heart can be viewed from all angles. These 3 examples of mixed reality applications are just a glimpse at what the HoloLens and other MR hardware have to offer the medical field. The industry is only expanding and growing from here.
Mixed reality can aid in rapid prototyping, help with overlaying virtual instructions and diagrams for workers to follow and allow for workers to consult with remote experts if they ever run into any problems, are in need of a second opinion or are unfamiliar with a certain task. MR technology can also provide 3D model visualization, product design product maintenance and inspection.
With the use of mixed reality technology, real estate agents can show clients an immersive 360-degree walkthrough of a property that is still under development or construction. MR can also help people decide on furniture design and the proper paint colour for their walls, or even the choice of tile for their flooring. It can help with all design aspects for a home.
This chapter on mixed reality concludes our Comprehensive Handbook on App Development for the Non-Tech Savvy. We hope you enjoyed learning about all the different components of app development and are now comfortable with some of the technical jargon. Stay tuned for future posts where we dive deeper into UI/UX, MVPs and explore what’s happening in the e-commerce and real-estate industries.
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