Dear Metaverse CEOs: VR and AR is not an either/or!
If you want to build the Metaverse, you don't have to choose between VR or AR. The future includes both.
The year is 2022 and virtual reality is still described by some CEOs as the antithesis of augmented reality.
The argument is old: augmented reality lets people participate in the real world, while virtual reality locks them out. Augmented Reality brings people together, Virtual Reality isolates them. Evil Virtual Reality.
Books should be dismissed for the same reasons. After all, they assume that people immerse themselves alone in something that has nothing to do with their immediate environment.
Against the "VR dystopia"
I refer to statements made by two influential CEOs whose companies are active in the field of augmented reality.
The polemic began last year with Niantic CEO John Hanke. The CEO accused Meta of aiming for a dystopian VR metaverse. Dystopian because it represents an escape from reality. As a counter-proposal, he put forward an AR metaverse that is rooted in reality.
In doing so, Hanke omitted two facts: That an AR metaverse can be just as dystopian, and that Meta's metaverse vision encompasses both, VR and AR. Zuckerberg will be even more interested in augmented reality than virtual reality, and with good reason: More money can be made with AR eventually. AR glasses could become as ubiquitous as smartphones, while VR headsets will remain something for your own home.
AR and VR is not a dichotomy
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel similarly distances himself from Meta. The term metaverse, which Spiegel rightly calls "ambiguous and "hypothetical", is never uttered in Snap's offices, he says.
"One of the big overarching concepts people have is that a lot of those tools are designed to replace reality. Whereas when we talk about AR, we’re trying to augment the real world around you," Spiegel recently told The Guardian.
That Niantic and Snap are emphasizing the strengths of augmented reality is understandable. Both companies develop AR products: Niantic has landed a billion-dollar hit with the AR game Pokémon Go, and Snap has turned face filters into a cultural phenomenon. But pitting AR against VR is not helpful to the industry and is hypocritical.
The future lies beyond VR and AR
Technologically speaking, VR and AR are siblings. They have more in common than differences.
For XR researcher Paul Milgram, VR and AR occupy different positions on the same continuum of mixed reality. However, so-called virtual reality is not as virtual as is commonly assumed, and is rooted in physical reality in its own way (cue VR fitness). Technology is what you make of it.
In the future, I hope, we will no longer speak of VR and AR headsets because the devices can do both. VR and AR will then only be forms of representation of one and the same overarching medium, both with their own strengths and applications, neither worse than the other and free of stigmatization.