The Complete Guide to Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality

The Complete Guide to Augmented Reality

Key Points

  • Augmented Reality is a form of reality that has been enhanced in some way by using some type of device.
  • Those electronic devices include: phones, mobile devices, computers, headsets, glasses, or other advanced equipment.
  • The exact definition of Augmented Reality tends to vary.

Augmented reality allows users to experience their current reality with an overlay on their digital device. The overlay provides educational or entertainment components, such as information about a landmark or an animated character hiding behind a city bus.

What is Augmented Reality: Complete Explanation

Augmented Reality is a form of reality that has been enhanced, in some way, with a variety of haptic or electronic devices. It is essentially “reality enhanced,” meaning that a person continues to operate in the real world, but thanks to electronic devices, their experience is enhanced in some way.

The electronic devices — which may include using a phone, mobile device, computer, headset, glasses, or other advanced equipment — allow for a person to remain fully present in the real world while enjoying a simulated, augmented one.

This form of technology has gained increasing popularity as a result of the lowering of technological barriers and the widespread availability of the equipment necessary to engage in an augmented reality world.

The use of Augmented Reality in both entertainment, commerce, human resources, and more has proven a winning strategy for the companies that have invested in it. Current estimates hold that Augmented Reality is a multi-billion dollar industry, and one estimate holds that the entire industry could exceed an $88 billion valuation by 2026.

Augmented Reality: An Exact definition

The exact definition of Augmented Reality tends to vary, but scientifically speaking, the definition of Augmented Reality involves the use of technology to provide a supplemental experience that is overlaid over the real world. Users can then interact with the experience on their phone, using it to play games or get additional information about something that their phone is pointed at. 

How Does Augmented Reality Work?

Augmented Reality works in a relatively simple way. Users take their electronic device with them and use the camera of the device to interact with the electronic world that has been defined in the program in question.

Events in the program — meaning entertainment aspects or additional data points — are triggered by one of two metrics:

  • Location, meaning that the program or app will use an electronic devices built-in GPS in order to determine where someone is. 
  • Image recognition, meaning that bringing the camera over an image will trigger a program. Many facial recognition features use this. 

The end result is the same: A digital piece of information (like another image, price, or text) will appear on the phone screen. Depending on the program in question, users can then interact with that version of Augmented Reality in order to learn more information or play a game. 

Augmented Reality shopping app
A person using a smartphone that uses an Augmented Reality application to check relevant information about the spaces around the customer. 


How Do You Create Augmented Reality?

Like most things technological, Augmented Reality involves the use and understanding of extensive computer programming. This can involve any number of programming languages or pre-created platforms. 

Any Augmented Reality program requires proper planning. For example, some programs are location-based, meaning that they will set off additional events based on the location of the user. Others are marker-based, meaning that they will trigger when a user comes to the selected marker or product. These apps tend to be based on image recognition or other nearby devices. 

There are a variety of software development kits (SDKs) that can be used to create an Augmented Reality program. Many of these are free and open-source, but more expensive programs will typically require a more expensive investment. Free programs include Vuforia, Google ARCore, Maxst, Apple ARKit, and more. 

Where Did Augmented Reality Originate From?

Augmented Reality was first invented by Ivan Sutherland in 1968. Sutherland, who was working at Harvard at the time, invented a headset that would alter images and feedback based on the movement of the user. The technology was expanded from there, with similar technologies being used to created Virtual and Augmented worlds. 

What Are the Applications of Augmented Reality?


The most popular and easily accessible forms of Augmented Reality that are available today often are in the entertainment world. Thanks to the widespread availability of smartphones, forms of augmented reality have become very popular for gaming purposes.

These include games that have users search out specific items and then engage in some sort of action to get them. They may also allow users to engage in mock combat when their mobile devices are brought in close proximity with each other. 


The use of Augmented Reality in education has become extremely popular of late. Indeed, some studies show that, when used in education, augmented reality has been shown to increase long-term memory retention and help kids learn better. Right now, these tools are better when used to supplement traditional learning. Examples of Augmented Reality in education include programs that intermix physical objects with digital devices, allowing for kids to write or mix colors in order to solve problems or answer questions. 


Augmented Reality has proven to be a very popular strategy for human resources officers that are looking to onboard employees or increase their skill level. Indeed, using this as part of a training strategy has proven to be effective, impactful, and relatively inexpensive.

Training via Augmented Reality can be used in many ways. Augmented Reality can allow employees to practice tasks, learn locations, and highlight items to get more information about them. Furthermore, it can provide constant references and additional guidance for employees to learn at their own pace and in a style that best works for them. 

Group of School Children Use Digital Tablet Computers with Augmented Reality App, Looking at Educational 3D Animation - Dinosaur Walking on Island with Active Volcano. VFX, Special Effects Render
School children learn about dinosaurs by viewing educational 3D augmented reality on their digital tablets.


Tours and Guidance

One of the earliest use of Augmented Technology technology has been its use in tours. For years, this technology has been available in places for download. Indeed, these apps, which are usually freely available, can be used as part of many self-guided tours. They can give instructions, directions, and provide additional information at a landmark or specific location. 

Augmented Reality apps have also been used to provide guidance at busy places, such as airports. These apps can be used in airports to scan gates for additional information, direct users from one location to another, and help hungry individuals at airports find the restaurant of their choosing.

One example of an Augmented Reality tour is Geneanet’s Now and Then: Paris, an app that compares current landmarks with how they — and the surrounding area — looked in the past. The historical images are drawn from the company’s extensive database of geolocated old postcards.  

Senditur was designed for tourists walking the Camino de Santiago, but it’s equally useful for road trips through Spain. This app overlays information about landmarks, including mountains, overlooks, hiking trails, and municipalities, and nearby attractions such as lakes, castles, cathedrals, and monuments.  

Augmented Reality makes museum going more educational and fun as well. In fact, you can use the Smartify app at least 43 libraries, galleries, and museums, including the Louvre, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Examples of Augmented Reality In the Real World

Augmented Reality Pokemon Go game
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that lets you walk in the real world to catch Pokemon.


Pokemon Go

One of the most popular apps of the Summer of 2016, this entertainment app allowed users to become Pokemon trainers. They could walk around, encountering Pokemon and trying to capture them. They could also train at gyms and visit various power-ups that were based in real-world locations. This augmented reality game allowed users to catch Pokemon that were located in locations and made it seem as if Pokemon were truly invading the real world.

The wild success of Pokemon Go — a game that is still active today — helped to show the potential of Augmented Reality for apps and for kids. Similar games continue to come to market, with a Harry Potter Augmented Reality game being game released in June 2019.


As noted above, there have been many educational applications of Augmented Reality. One such example is the Osmo, a children’s toy which has proven to be very popular for kids. The game and the related app allowed children to practice a variety of skills, including reading, writing, drawing, and even computer programming. It required the purchase of equipment and an app to be downloaded, but other than that, no advanced equipment was required. 


Nike has many stores that have Augmented Reality components. This means that users can scan content in stores — like shoes — and learn more information about the shoes, including reviews, sale information, pictures, and more. This is a relatively lightweight version of Augmented Reality, but it gives customers the chance to learn more about their potential purchase, and this is more likely to help them want to make a sale. 

What Is the Difference Between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality?

Augmented Reality is not all-encompassing or supposed to fool a user into thinking that they are in a different world. Augmented Reality users will never lose track of their bearings or become absorbed in an alternate — or virtual — reality. Indeed, Augmented Reality is simply a form of reality that has been supplemented, in some way, by an electronic device.

Virtual Reality, by contrast, is a virtually programmed world that is designed to be as all-encompassing as possible. It will engage as many human senses as possible to make the user believe that they are actually in the virtual world that has been designed by the programmer.

There are also major differences in terms of equipment. Augmented Reality can be done by something as simple as an older phone. Virtual Reality, however, requires much more intensive equipment. Headsets and glasses are absolute minimum requirements for Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality can get much more intensive and require the use of advanced equipment, including haptic devices or expensive controllers. 

Next Up…

The Complete Guide to Augmented Reality FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is augmented reality?

Augmented Reality is a type of interaction that people can have while still residing in the real world. The interactivity occurs via an electronic device – like a phone or a tablet – that allows individuals to interact with their phone and the projected graphics or information as if that information were part of the real world.

How does augmented reality work?

Augmented Reality requires some sort of electronic device – it can be as low-tech as a phone but can also involve the use of computers. That is the only truly “required” equipment for Augmented Reality, as unlike Virtual Reality, glasses and headsets are not required. The user will then move their electronic device and additional information – like data, graphics, or more – will appear on their computer screen. This will provide a layer of interactivity with the electronics that is based on the physical surroundings of the user.

What is the difference between VR and AR?

There are many differences:

Virtual Reality is set in a virtual world, but Augmented Reality remains firmly in the real world.
Virtual Reality involves equipment such as glasses, headsets, and controllers, while Augmented Reality requires only the use of someone’s phone.
Virtual Reality has parameters that are set by the system in question, while Augmented Reality uses the real world as the setting for the experience.

What is an example of augmented reality?

Pokemon Go is possibly the most well-known version of Augmented Reality. When playing Pokemon Go, players will visit real-world locations, then interact with their game on the phone. The design of the game makes it seem as if Pokemon are residing in the real world, and by visiting certain real-world locations, individuals can get power-ups or additional items in order to do better in the game.

What is augmented reality used for?

Augmented Reality has many uses, including training, entertainment, exercise, sales, marketing, tours, and more. Indeed, this industry is truly taking off, and it seems as if it has virtually limitless potential.

When was augmented reality invented?

The first-ever Augmented Reality technology appeared in 1968 when Ivan Sutherland first created a head-mounted system that was designed to be used with Augmented Reality. The system was largely kept behind closed doors until better technology was available, and the first-ever commercial use of Augmented Reality appeared in 2008.

What is an augmented reality app?

An Augmented Reality app is an app – short for application – that utilizes Augmented Reality in order to navigate its experience. These apps are widely available for download on smartphone stores, like Google Play or the Apple Store. Indeed, there are now so many examples of these apps that most major virtual stores have separate sections and websites for them.

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