Virtual reality and augmented reality often get grouped together under one big umbrella of new and disruptive technologies. For good reason—they both offer unique, alternate-reality capabilities that visually transport the user beyond the physical world, and they’re popping up in a variety of industries. But it’s important to understand that VR and AR are not interchangeable technologies. Here at InContext, we currently work solely within virtual reality applications when it comes to innovative solutions for retail. Why? Let me explain.
The world, enhanced
Let’s start with augmented reality. Miriam Webster defines AR as “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera).” Think SnapChat and Pokemon Go (or the short-lived Google Glass phenomenon). AR is quickly rising in popularity, in part because of its ease of use—it allows the user to remain present in the real world, but still be able explore digital enhancements through a phone or headset. There are practical application as well, such as Ikea’s AR app that allows shoppers to hold up their phones to digitally view furniture or home decor in their own homes before purchasing. AR is fun, and it’s only becoming more advanced as companies begin to experiment with the possibilities.
So while augmented reality is just that—a digitally enhanced version of the real world you see in front of you and around you—virtual reality is really quite different. And those differences have everything to do with why we use VR for our B2B retail solutions.
A whole new world
Miriam Webster defines VR as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” VR allows you to become immersed in a completely digital space, so that you forget the real environment around you. You can walk around, pick things up and view the space from different perspectives.
InContext was created because our founders were experts on the challenges faced by retailers and manufacturers to work smarter on shrinking budgets, and they also happened to know the ins and outs of VR technology. They realized that instead of the traditional, long-standing ways of creating mock centers to test if different arrangements or assortments would help boost sales, they could create simulations of those same store shelves in virtual reality. Our software provides hyper-realistic simulations—so anything you can do in a mock center you can do in virtual, but faster, and for less money. It was a brilliant idea back in 2009, and it turned into a successful, thriving business.
While it’s popular with serious gamers, virtual reality has a ways to catch on with the consumer set. It takes a lot of computer power that most of the general public doesn’t have access to. VR applications for smartphones are in the works, however, so it may not be long before VR and AR are on the same playing field with consumers. But in the B2B world, and especially in our world of retail and CPG, VR continues to improve improve and innovate traditional business processes.