The Dawning of the Mixed Reality Age


I just did a Google search for two terms: “augmented reality” and “mixed reality.”

The search for augmented reality resulted in 27 million hits, while the mixed reality search came up with just 785,000 hits.

I suspect that ratio will change over the next several years for two reasons: marketing and hybrid technologies.

Let’s talk about marketing first.

The term augmented reality (AR) covers a lot of ground. In its most pedestrian form, it refers to apps that pop up words as you look at the world via a screen. In its spicier forms, it refers to placing virtual objects in context amid your real environment. Think of a dragon emerging out of your coffee cup.

But some companies will want to distinguish the former from the latter by calling their products mixed reality (MR) if their devices have the ability to place virtual objects, not just letters and symbols, in users’s view-screens.

Microsoft, for example, has been billing its Hololens as a mixed-reality device. Their product, which is only being sold to developers at this stage, is a head-mounted display device. It is basically a self-contained computer that enables users to interact with virtual objects (holograms) that appear to exist in the real world.

I suspect Microsoft does not want consumers to think it’s just another version of Google Glass, so it is opting for the “mixed reality” moniker. Moreover, mixed reality is both more descriptive and less wonky-sounding than augmented reality.


Jeri Ellsworth, Co-Founder of castAR: Image from Wikipedia

But there will eventually be other reasons to use the mixed reality term: namely, some devices will be capable of both AR and virtual reality functionality. The products anticipated from startup company CastAR come to mind. Not only will its device reportedly have AR capabilities of the virtual-objects type, it will also produce a VR-clip-on so that it also have full virtual reality functionality. In short, it would be a true mix of VR and AR.

I don’t know how well this will work. Maybe trying to combine AR and VR in one device will wind up being too great a technological challenge. But maybe not, and I’ve no doubt many consumers would prefer just one set of goggles to two or more. Combined function is, after all, one of the primary attractions of the smartphone.

So, prepare for a mixed-reality world. And let’s revisit that Google search in the year 2020.




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