Alternative Reality for Events: Augmented vs. Virtual

Alternative Reality for Events: Augmented vs. Virtual

As far as trends in event technology go, Augmented and Virtual reality have been a headline topic of the last few years. Developers are working with event organisers to create new and innovative ways to enhance the attendee experience. As such, our event expectations are changing and the real world alone no longer seems enough.

Whilst built on similar forms of technology and both utilised to increase engagement, AR and VR are too often used as interchangeable terms. In reality (no pun intended) the two are quite unique in their execution and offer a distinct user experience.

So what are the differences between Augmented and Virtual reality and what benefit does each offer the world of events?

Augmented Reality

AR technology allows us to bridge the gap between the physical space and the digital world, overlaying the former with the latter to create a multi-layered reality.

Most often achieved through the use of a mobile device, computer generated images or sounds are added to our real world environment. It took the spotlight thanks to the phenomenal worldwide success of Pokémon Go, a game which encouraged players to interact with their natural surroundings by taking to the great outdoors in search of elusive digital creatures that would appear superimposed over a camera view of their actual surroundings.

With industry giants such as Apple, Microsoft and Google all implementing plans to develop and roll out AR hardware, our future looks set to become one of mixed reality. The technology is also beginning to permeate the marketing world. For example, furniture retail giant DFS recently launched their sofa and room planner app, which allows consumers to drop a computer-generated sofa into their living room from the comfort of their own home.

This combination of the real and the virtual has been hailed to hold great potential for education, health and medicine, as well as being a marketer’s ultimate dream and offering creative scope for the events industry.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is a highly immersive experience that transports users into unique, 3D computer generated environments. Most commonly achieved through the use of headsets such as Facebook’s Oculus or Google’s Daydream, VR separates the user from their actual environment by aligning their senses with a perceived reality.

When we step into a virtual environment, our real surroundings cease to exist and we can find ourselves in almost any given circumstance thanks to clever forms of coding and the clever developers who use them.

When we combine headsets with hand held controllers, gloves and motion simulators our experience becomes even more realistic. From riding the world’s biggest rollercoaster to battling aliens in outer space, virtual reality can take us anywhere within the bounds of the human imagination.

AR & VR for Events

According to C&IT’s 2016 State of the Industry Report, Virtual Reality was the number one trend attracting attention in the event planning world that year. That momentum has carried through to '17 and '18 and we’ve seen some great examples of VR utilised in a number of ways.

The most common use is to place the attendee into a world where the product or concept you’re promoting can be experienced first-hand. Ikea gave us a great example of this with their virtual reality kitchen; consumers were able to explore a life size 3D environment, interact with gadgets and redesign the space to their taste.

Alternatively, you could follow in the footsteps of Intel, who kicked of their 2017 CES Tradeshow appearance with a 200 strong press release, each attendee equipped with their own VR headset to don during a keynote speech.

Of course, the majority of events lack the budget to provide this group VR experience. And that’s where we find virtual’s biggest downfall; in most cases it is a solo activity that momentarily isolates the user from the wider event experience.

Unlike VR, AR offers the opportunity to enhance a real world setting. Products, ideas and concepts can be brought to life in the actual space your attendees occupy.

Additionally, AR also has the potential to influence behaviour. When the Pokémon Go craze took hold, trend savvy restaurateurs and retailers latched onto its potential, purchasing ‘lures’ to increase footfall. This technique helped to highlight the capacity AR has for shaping the consumer experience.

In the events industry, organisers are using AR, not only to bring certain elements to life for attendees, but to influence their movement. By developing apps that combine AR trigger experiences with the concept of gamification, you can encourage specific behavioural patterns, guiding attendees through a cleverly formatted journey that aids your event objectives.  

Whichever technology you choose to adopt, the key is to use it not for technologies sake alone, but to bring something of real value to your event. The reality you present, be it virtual or augmented, should serve a clear purpose, helping to reinforce your message, boost your brand or guide attendees through a purposely structured event journey.

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