Mixed Reality , Augmented Reality

Difference Between Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, & Mixed Reality

What is AR, MR, VR? See the difference between augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality technologies with unique examples, and learn to apply them to your business's needs.

Do you know the difference between Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality? Take the quiz towards the end to find out.

The way that humans live is being rapidly transformed by digital information. Our daily lives are being disrupted by technology, and our virtual environments are becoming as important as our real environments.

Take your own life for instance. Most people today spend as much time in virtual places like Facebook and Snapchat  as they do in physical places like your office or the park. As virtual technology advances, it has begun to permeate into our real, physical world.

For example, take Snapchat’s facial recognition where you simply point the camera at your face, and it anchors digital shapes and objects onto your face seamlessly combining the real and the virtual. 

There are different ways in which the virtual interacts with the real, sometimes completely and sometimes not at all. The three different kinds of extended reality are virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. These three terms which are frequently intermixed are, in-fact, very distinct.

arvrmr flowchart diagram difference between augmented, virtual, mixed reality - immersion, addition, interaction

 Created by Vernica Gupta

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is a completely digital, unreal environment that you can become a part of using a 360° Virtual Reality Headset such as the Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard. You will be able to interact with this digital environment, but nothing that you interact with will be real, or placed in the physical world.

Imagine the game 'The Sims', with virtual reality.  You will be able to sit on your sofa, slip on a headset, and become a Sim in SimCity! You will be able to control your actions in SimCity using remote controls, meet other Sims, and participate in virtual activities that you want your Sim to do. However,  this SimCity is completely separate from your real environment, and it will exist only virtually. Whether you’re using the game in your office, at home, or at a restaurant, your computer-simulated SimCity will not change. 

The distinguishing feature of Virtual Reality is that it is a completely computer-simulated reality. The main job of the technology is to trick your brain into believing it’s somewhere that it’s not, which is, a completely virtual, alternate reality. 

virtual reality demo job simulator game from kotakuSource: Job Simulator Game from kotaku.com.au 

Augmented Reality

Now imagine if you could view your Sim friends in your real world. Such as Snapchat does with Bitmoji. Imagine the virtual objects, such as your Sims character or your Bitmoji, overlaid on your physical environment! Well hello, welcome to the world of Augmented Reality.

When digital objects are projected onto the real world through technology, it is known as Augmented Reality. Here, the digital objects are augmenting or changing/enhancing our physical environment.

This is the technology that is used by popular social media apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Their photo filters projects virtual dog ears and flower tiaras on our face using our phone’s camera. Thus, they augment the physical environment which is our face, with virtual objects which are digital flower tiaras that sit atop our head, using the technology of our phone camera. Of course, this is merely an example of Augmented Reality being used within intimately. 

Augmented Reality and the Real World have limited interaction, usually, it is a layer of digital information, such as a BitMoji, that is added to a position that we choose in the physical landscape. Sometimes the virtual objects can move around, using designated points on the physical environment, but it is never fully able to be a part of our real world, it is only a half-alive addition to it.

But, what if the virtual object was as aware of the real world as we are?


snapchat app bitmoji augmented reality

Source: Snapchat App Bitmoji from thetechbulletin.com

Mixed Reality

When a virtual object becomes an active part of the real world, it invokes the use of mixed reality technology. Here, digital information is not simply layered on top of the physical environment, but it interacts with it.

Go back to your game of Sims, imagine that your Sim is allowed to leave the fully virtual SimCity, and become a part of the real world. Now, you can take your Sim to a coffee shop, and your virtual sim will have enough awareness of the physical world to find the kitchen, the cashier’s desk, or the bathroom.

Mixed Reality mixes virtual simulations with the real world. It enables virtual objects to interact with the real world and have an advanced understanding of our physical environment. With AR, a snapchat bitmoji is only placed on top of the physical space that you point your camera at, like the one pictured above on the deck, and is only a part of your phone screen and not a part of the physical environment you see behind it.

With MR, your bitmoji becomes a member of the physical environment it is projected on, and will be able to walk around the space that your camera can see, and interact with it. Instead of staying at the point that you choose on the deck, your bitmoji will be able to climb the railing, or run around the plants and hide behind them. Thus, in mixed reality, the virtual objects will have a better awareness of the physical space and objects, and be able to interact with them.

Click here to know about the applications of Augmented Reality

Let’s take one final example of an imaginary Shopping Assistant app that has VR, AR and MR modes.

In the VR mode, you will be able to “visit” a virtual simulation of any grocery shop from the comfort of your home, and mark items from the display that you would like to be delivered to your house. None of this requires the ‘real world’. You simply go into a computer simulation on a headset, select objects in the simulation, and the app will place an order at the shop for you.

virtual reality shopping - supermarket vr game 360 degree content

 Edited by Vernica Gupta;  360° content courtesy: Supermarket VR Game

 In the AR mode, you will take your app shopping with you. When you are at the grocery store, you will be able to point your camera at your shopping cart, and a virtual shopping list will appear above your cart. You will be able to cross-off items that you have already put in your cart, and look through the list to see what you have left, with the list not affecting anything else.

augmented reality shopping list app supermarket

 Edited by Vernica Gupta

Finally, in the MR mode, the app will become a proactive mixed reality shopping assistant. You will be able to go to a grocery store, point your camera at the aisles as you walk through them, and the app will navigate you to all the places where you will find the items on your shopping list. The app will have an awareness of the physical space of the store, and tell you where different things are.

 MR-shopping-experience-graphic-mixed reality supermarket app

After reading about the differences between AR, MR and VR, and seeing how one activity can be experienced in three different ways with these three technologies, let’s put your fresh knowledge to test.

Below are three images of three different modes of a cooking app. Label them according to whether they are AR, VR or MR.

augmented reality cooking ingredients recipe

This mode allows you to scan ingredients with your camera, and shows you possible recipes that can be made from the ingredients available in front of you.

mixed reality cooking app ingredients app

This mode provides recipes for dishes and allows you to record your cooking at any step of the recipe, identifies which step you are on, alongside displaying the next steps in the recipe and the estimated time left in cooking the dish.

virtual reality 360 degree cooking tutorial

 In this mode, you can watch 360° videos of cooking tutorials.


The first image depicted an AR application that could recognize static shapes in the physical environment, and overlay data on top of them. It could not make any predictions about what was happening in the real environment, but could identify patterns, such as avocado + chillies = guacamole. The app used technology similar to facial recognition to identify vegetables, and displayed information about the use of those vegetables on top of them.

The second image depicted an MR application that was able to pick up which step of the recipe we are at, based on what actions were happening in our physical space. It could identify that vegetables going into a pan was the second step of the recipe and that the next step would be to add oil followed by salt and pepper. It was even interacting with our cooking process by estimating how much time was left in the recipe. If one user spent 8 minutes on a step estimated to take 3 minutes, the app would adjust the virtual information displayed to reflect the 5 minute delay.

The third image, the easiest to guess, was VR. Here, an HMD would take you through a realistic recording of a recipe, so you could experience how to make a dish before getting your hands dirty.

If you have passed this test, you have successfully learned what is AR, VR and MR. Whether it is using an AR to increase customer engagement with your products, such as Maruti Suzuki's augmented reality photobooth by WOWSOME, or Haagen-Dazs’ use of VR to create immersive and gripping narratives around their company, or even using MR as a tool for assembly line efficiency as done by Renault Trucks. You now know enough to make your own pick.