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Immersive Experiences

AR vs VR for art

Virtual reality is full immersion: appropriate when a story needs a viewer's full attention, or you want to teleport viewers to another world, whether photographic or rendered. It makes the experience heavier weight, as teleportation can be jarring. You don't want to dip in and out of entirely different virtual environments frequently, and when you're in one you likely want to be there for a longer period.

Augmented reality, in contrast, is lighter weight. By overlaying digital content, it keeps the viewer grounded in their environment, so switching between experiences is easier and faster. There's less visual material needed, but the integration of the world must be thought through carefully: is UI head-tracked, or placed in the room? If objects in the room move, does the UI? How does it work outside?

Most apps for working we're used to using on devices like a laptop or iPad should not dictate whether they're used in AR or VR. In an environment like Apple Vision Pro, users should be able to assemble window-scapes and control their own levels of immersion. Video apps are well suited to be adaptable as well; sometimes you want a YouTube video playing in the corner, sometimes you want to be in a full movie theater environment. Art pieces trying to transport the viewer somewhere they're unfamiliar with are usually better-suited to VR with its more immersive environment. But all art need not be VR; AR is a powerful technique for helping viewers pay attention to different aspects of their environments, simulating being in a different headspace rather than roomspace.

The decision to use AR or VR for a project is at least as fundamental as the choice between a charcoal pencil and full oil painting; they produce dramatically different effects, even if the hardware through which you experience them is often similar. Projects must think carefully about the right fit.