A Primer on Immersive Reality
If you run a search for “what is VR, AR, and MR” on Google, the top links you come across will try and establish how these technologies are different rather than how they are similar. This isn’t surprising as there is still much confusion on the matter.
If you’re familiar with the differences, feel free to jump ahead. For those who aren’t, here’s a quick overview:
Immersing users into a virtual experience through 360-degree video footage and/or computer-generated simulation in an attempt to mimic real-life interaction.
Example: Anything that requires a VR headset, like Oculus or Vive.
Images and/or video that are layered onto real-life scenarios in order to provide users an immersive transition between online and offline elements.
Example: Using your phone to overlay a dinosaur animation over a live basketball game.
Having virtual elements become interactive extensions of real-life scenarios.
Example: Uhm, Ironman?
Immersive Reality (IR)?
While we can agree that these pieces of tech are different, there is no denying that they are all after the same goal: immersion.
Immersive Reality is the grouping of visual technologies like Virtual, Mixed, Hybrid and Augmented Realities against the promise of delivering digital experiences that provide immersive viewing opportunities for users.
To lose oneself in an immersive experience takes belief and intent. Belief is a responsibility of the user and a willingness to participate. Intent lays in the hands of designers and developers. The more natural the environment and interface, the more believable the scenario becomes; an intuitive and seamless setting can’t help but feel familiar. An unnatural environment is rigid, cumbersome and downright frustrating. The responsibility of creating an intuitive environment lies in the intent of designers and developers.
A Common Goal
It’s important to classify IR because once we find a common way to group elements like VR/AR/MR together, the better chance we have of uncovering how to harness its true potential.
Although growing in popularity, the IR space is still in its infancy. It’s fragmented and undefined. Think of it as the wild west. Like the internet 20–30 years ago — people are still trying to figure out how best to use it. We see the promise, but how can we act on it?
Well, rather than trying to find the best way to utilize VR, let’s say…if we know immersion is the key goal that all of the visual technologies are after, then we work towards that.
We as developers and designers should focus on making great IR experiences.
The User is Key
Well, if belief and intent dictate that the experience should be recognizable and easy to adapt, and immersion is the goal, then it comes down to designing with the user in mind. This means we must obey fundamental rules of UX design: placement, timing, presence, feedback, and hierarchy. VR additionally requires new interaction models to accommodate visual, haptic, and controller feedback. Presence describes how the user feels and how they engage content within the application. The more natural everything feels, the more likely they are to be immersed.
While the rulebook is being written, there are a few standard UX points to consider:
- Proximity: group like-items
- Ease of use: don’t overwhelm the user (complex actions may require stages of interaction)
- Simplicity: be discreet & avoid clutter
- Acknowledgment: provide feedback to user actions
- Placement: keep the UI within the user’s natural range
- Interaction: Consider the interaction model (hands, controllers, eye-tracking)
Poor design leads to accidental selections, leaving the users confused, frustrated or stressed. To create an immersive habitat, the interface must be non-obtrusive and visceral. By combining IR conventions with practical design methods, teams create natural environments. Environments in which users will not only flock, but linger.
IR and You
The earliest adopters of IR technologies are media companies, unsurprisingly. So, if you’re in the business of TV and media app development, and you’ve been looking into adopting IR experiences, here are a few things to consider:
- First and foremost, make a decision on whether your app needs to exist in IR. Will it provide value to the user? What will you offer that will benefit the users viewing experience? For example, there is no value in simply mimicking a living room surrounding in VR when the user already has access to that without the restrictions of a headset.
- Once you’ve done that, conduct an audit of the 3D tools and rendering capabilities that you have access to in your organization today to confirm how IR ready you are. How does your design workflow stack up when it come to the more advanced demands of 3D compared to the 2D expectations of today? You might find you need to revise your tooling strategy and find technology that can integrate tools such as Cinema 4D, Blender, or Maya into your development workflow.
- You might also be considering building directly with an IR SDK. It will give you maximum control over your app but expect considerable overhead in the process. The investment required here at this early stage is excessive. Alternatively, working with a 3D rendering engine can provide a better glide path to an experience that is both fully immersive and can be leveraged across multiple platforms.
- You will also want to consider a single approach to IR performance. Someone using a higher-end device like the Oculus will have a smoother experience in comparison to a lower-end one like the Google Cardboard. Quality will differ per platform so it’s best to find an engine that can tune performance by optimizing for individual platform GPUs and rendering accordingly.
There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to crafting IR experiences. Online guidelines exist but they are changing as fast as they appear. Right now it’s about leveraging existing patterns and extending them to the IR space. Tomorrow, it can be set requirements similar to Android’s Material Design Kit or Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. All we do know is that it is an industry beaming with potential and platforms such as VR, AR, and MR are just part of one big driving force towards true immersion for users.
In short; good experiences aren’t limited to one reality.