AVR Homefying

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are key constituents of the immersive technologies landscape, and they’re often used interchangeably, even if they mean different things.
Outlook 2022

AVR Homefying

by M.Demurtas C.Freddi P.Dambrosio

In the last years, immersive technologies have come a long way from the world of gaming to which they had been pegged.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are key constituents of the immersive technologies landscape, and they’re often used interchangeably, even if they mean different things.

Virtual Reality can be defined as a computer simulation in which the senses of sight, touch and hearing have been digitally simulated. Augmented Reality, on the other hand, is a place in which the digital and the real physical world meets in real time with the help of some 3D visualisation.  As its name suggests, Augmented Reality is a place in which the real world is augmented with some simulated elements.

The differences abound:

  • Virtual reality substitutes the physical world with a programmed environment in which the user can interact using the sense of touch, sight, and hearing.
    Here we can have two different paradigms:
    • A VR that replicates a real environment, so that the user can interact with that virtual space whilst being physically located elsewhere. It is, for example, the case of virtual museum tours, where tour-goers are somewhat “teleported” into a new environment.
    • A VR in which an entirely fictitious world has been created. The user is projected in a world that does not exist in real life, so they can enjoy an experience that is only accessible in VR. The most widespread example of that is the gaming industry: you can enjoy your adventures in fantasy worlds, apocalyptic scenarios, and sci-fi environments where the physical laws of our real world do not apply.
  • Augmented reality overlays the real world with virtual elements in a way that can be fully immersive for the user. 
  • Virtual reality tends to require at least 1 massive processor in order to be accessible, whereas augmented reality can be experienced via your every day smartphone.

In the last years, a wide range of companies have invested in immersive technologies. According to the latest research by Goldman Sachs, AR and VR are expected to constitute a $95 billion market by 2025. To date, the gaming, events, entertainment, automotive and retail sectors have all found ways to differentiate themselves from the competition through immersive technologies, but AR and VR are now quickly making their way to disrupt other industries too, including healthcare, education, constructions, and real estate. 

ASOS, the online fashion retailer, famously introduced the ‘Virtual Catwalk’. By tapping the “AR” button whilst viewing a product, customers can view the clothing on a ‘live model’ in front of them so they can actually see how the product looks on someone in real life. Customers can gain more insight into the product before they buy it which in turn reduces returns (and which are now all too common with online retail).

As with any innovation, immersive technologies do come with their difficulties.  In this case, the main challenge is privacy:  There is a general concern that companies who offer an immersive experience may implicitly also have access to personal customer data that is sensitive in nature.  What happens to that data during and after the immersive experience?  The feeling of “really there” during an immersive experience can frighten users from AR/VR technology. To address this, companies should give control and visibility to the user over how and when such data is collected alongside efforts to implement law standards and regulations.

Another barrier concerns accessibility. Several users lack the very-high-speed internet connections, or the latest cutting-edge devices.  Can these users still benefit from the same immersive experience?  AR and VR technologies remain inaccessible for many potential users around the globe. Those offering AR or VR technologies to their users should make minimal requirements very clear to the user. In parallel to this, many who offer immersive technologies are also working on inclusive and accessible conditions that would make their applications more accessible and convenient for users, thus boosting adoption and increasing the user base. 

IKEA, the Swedish interior design and furniture retailer has created a true augmented reality success story with “IKEA Place”.  The initiative offers the possibility for customers to visualise retail items directly in their homes. Over 2,000 products may be selected and positioned anywhere in the user’s home. The technology greatly enhances the online purchasing experience (perhaps even surpassing an in-store experience) as it greatly empowers the consumer in their decision-making process by enabling concrete visualisation of different styles, sizes, colours,…  all from the comforts of your home!

Modiface is another success story worth noting., Through the use of artificial intelligence coupled with AR, the technology allows users to view how selected makeup would look on the user’s face.  In other words, customers can “try on” makeup in a virtual way before purchasing.  The Canadian technology is available as a mobile app, but also in-shop on 3D AR-powered mirrors (Sephora, Milan).  

The devices

All this sounds cool? Let’s see what you need to try it for yourself: for an immersive experience, you’d need a specific device (recently though, mostly for AR, some very interesting use cases have emerged, where the device is simply your smartphone, as in some great examples in this article. We’ll come back to that later).

Modern VR headsets fit under one of two categories: tethered or standalone. Tethered headsets are physically connected to PCs (or gaming consoles). The cable makes them a bit cumbersome to wear and the computational needs are mostly taken care of by the PC (or gaming console). The least expensive tethered options are currently around 500 EUR.

Standalone headsets offer more physical freedom by completely removing the cables. However, they normally lack the processing power of a dedicated gaming PC. The entry price is similar to the tethered ones.

In the past, there have been some interesting attempts to use the processing power, motion sensors and display of mobile phones to avoid the need to purchase a dedicated device. The idea was simple: Just fit the phone into a specific face mount with dedicated lenses. A well-known example for this concept was the Google cardboard VR device. As devices are becoming more accessible and powerful, this alternative is starting to see a drop in interest.

AR devices still remain relatively expensive and mostly geared for developers and early adopters, rather than for your everyday consumer. The difficulty is encountered with most AR lenses is mostly technical: the see-through lenses are not yet able to deliver a seamless experience. Irrespectively, large corporations such as Google, Facebook and Apple continue to aggressively invest in R&D that will make this technology commonplace for everyone. 

Furthermore, the role of artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly taking an important place in the success of the immersive technology ecosystem (and vice-versa). 

Just think about automated in-store suggestions to customers (driven by chatbots that use AR technology), or of AR-driven virtual fitting rooms that analyse user body features. Immersive technology, coupled with AI will open a universe of possibilities for the customer experience.  


Virtual reality has been around for much longer than one can expect.  First described in sci-fi books of the 1930s, VR was later introduced as a cinematic experience in late 1950s, through use of oscillating fans and smell diffusers.  The aviation industry then saw flight simulators make their entry in the 1960s.  It was only in 1987 that the term “virtual reality” was actually coined.

Despite the incredible progress that we’ve witnessed in the last 30 years, we can’t objectively say that immersive technology has gone consumer mainstream yet. For now, the technology is gaining incredible traction amongst professionals such as engineers and architects.  Beyond this, the gaming community has successfully adopted VR for many years now. More recently, and due in large part to the change of consumer habits during the pandemic, some examples of virtual travel and virtual learning have been proposed.

Use cases that don’t require a specific device to enjoy an AR experience remain very promising.  With their greater accessibility, these use cases have the potential to deliver great value to consumers. We already mentioned the Asos virtual Catwalk, the IKEA Place, Modiface.  Other consumer applications abound:  how about trying on your new glasses before ordering them?  Or MBUX, the Mercedes AR overlay, an innovative navigation system. 

Some reputable industry research indicates that immersive technology may have reached a plateau in terms of adoption for now.  One thing is certain though, AR and VR are here to stay and advances in computational power, cheap sensors, good displays, and AI will continue to contribute towards greater possibilities for consumer adoption of immersive technology. Consumers will welcome the concept as long as it provides a useful, valuable, and not too complicated experience. Surely it’s the right time now for companies to start exploring the potential.