Augmented, mixed and virtual reality

The popularity of the mobile app Pokemon Go in the two months since its release shows how new technologies, such as augmented reality, are changing the game for digital content.

Pokemon Go may be the most successful augmented reality game now, but other forms of reality-enhancing technologies are hot on its heels. Such technologies, like virtual reality and mixed reality, will have implications beyond games and on how we live, work and play.

Here is how to tell them apart, and how they will soon be part of your everyday reality:

AUGMENTED REALITY (AR)

AR overlays digital objects on top of your view of the real world, such as through a phone camera.

In Pokemon Go, for instance, Pokemon are superimposed on your camera image of the real world.

VIRTUAL REALITY (VR)

VR may be a rather old term, but its everyday implementation is fast becoming possible. VR immerses the user entirely in a digital, make-believe setting, often by using goggles that cover a user's entire field of vision.

These can range from the cheap, low-tech Google Cardboard to newer devices such as HTC Vive and PlayStation VR that provide a more immersive experience.

MIXED REALITY (MR)

MR is a combination of AR and VR. In MR, digital objects get anchored to points in the real world and interact with each other in real time. This means that digital objects react with the real world objects that appear on your phone's screen, For example, Google's MR software, Tango, allows users to visualise live from all angles how new furniture will look like in their home.

This virtual furniture "interacts" with the real world as it slides to fit in between pieces of furniture from the real world that are being captured on the camera.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Large tech companies are investing heavily in such AR, VR and MR solutions. These include Facebook's Oculus Rift, Google's Tango, Microsoft's HoloLens and Apple's Metaio.

This will make such reality-bending technologies more pervasive as devices become cheaper and more accessible, along with the growth in content.

These technologies can be used outside of gaming and entertainment as well, such as in experiential learning, healthcare, education and retail.

For instance, AR can be used for indoor navigation. A user may request directions for where a particular shop is in a shopping centre, and a AR-enabled app can overlay arrows guiding him to the destination.

StarHub is aiming to make such emerging technologies mainstream and useful for the general public.

In 2013, for example, at the ST Telemedia MediaHub's groundbreaking ceremony, StarHub used AR to help attendees visualise the 3D model of the building.

Last month, StarHub became the first in Singapore to stream a live concert in 360 degrees via VR headsets.

StarHub is working with Lenovo on Google's MR software, Tango. Developers will soon be able to create new applications for all to see the world in a new light, right on the phone.

Singapore consumers can also look forward to exploring these new technologies at upcoming events organised by StarHub.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Augmented, mixed and virtual reality'. Print Edition | Subscribe