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Why AR and VR aren’t living up to their promise for the web just yet

While AR and VR are often used in mobile apps, they can also play an important role in web design when used with the right intent.

A 3D illustration of a 360 degrees view of a coffee machine in AR and VR

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At the start of every year, we see article after article telling us what the big web design trends are going to be for the next 365 days. And, for years now, augmented and virtual reality have held a pretty firm place on those lists.

But how often do you actually use AR or VR in your web design projects? And when was the last time you remember interacting with a website that used one of these immersive technologies?

While AR and VR have mostly made a splash in the mobile app space until now, with apps like Pokémon GO and Google Lens, I do think there are many reasons why web designers should more seriously consider using these technologies in the years to come.

So, today, I want to look at some of the challenges that might be holding designers back from adopting these trends as well as some examples to show you how effective they can be.

AR vs. VR: An introduction

Before we look at why AR and VR are taking so long to catch on, let’s briefly review what these technologies can do and what the key differences are between them.

Augmented reality, or AR, is a technology that enables us to place a device between ourselves and the real world before us. Only, when we look through the device, we have the ability to alter what we see.

You’re probably most familiar with AR thanks to apps like Instagram where filters can be applied to alter your appearance. Or you may recall the Pokémon GO craze from the summer of 2016.

Virtual reality, or VR, is a technology that enables us to interact with simulated experiences or objects.

Unlike AR that works with our everyday devices, like smartphones and computers, VR traditionally required users to purchase dedicated VR headsets. However, both web and app developers are finding more and more ways to integrate these simulations — big and small — into their digital experiences, so headsets aren’t necessarily required anymore.

Challenges to using AR and VR

GlobalWebIndex recently conducted a study on AR and VR. There are a number of interesting findings that I think will help us understand why AR and VR haven’t really caught on on the web.

Let’s start with awareness versus engagement.

90% of respondents were aware of virtual reality while only 65% were aware of augmented reality.

That said, only 23% of those surveyed had engaged with VR or AR in the last month.

So, despite consumers knowing what these technologies are (VR more so than AR), they’re not using them all that much.

The lack of awareness of AR can be attributed to the low levels of engagement, but what about VR? According to the survey, it’s the perceived cost of VR devices that’s keeping consumers from engaging with these immersive experiences.

Here’s the thing though:

VR isn’t strictly dependent on viewers having a headset. VR websites are proof of that (which we’ll see below). So, again, it seems to come down to a lack of understanding what the technology is and what it’s capable of doing — both by owners and creators.

There’s also the perception issue.