First, the basics: AR enhances your surroundings, while VR detaches you from it. While they may seem similar, the end experience is completely different.
Today’s VR is a reality (pun intended) due to the mass adoption of smart phones. Bluntly put, VR devices screens are phone screens put in front of your eyes. Advances in phone screen technology directly improved VR headsets. It’s that simple.
But AR … now things get complicated. Due to the requirements of displaying images along with your surroundings, a phone screen can’t be used. You need to use some kind of projector, and this is where things get tricky. This projector displays the intended image on an small but transparent surface (for example a glass lens), hence the AR effect. It also needs to be light weight so it can be worn, but powerful enough so it can be used in daylight. That’s a high bar for a technology not yet in mass production. Ohh.. did I mentioned field of view? No? Well that’s also a big requirement for a satisfactory AR experience.
For the specific case of filed of view (FOV), ideally an AR glass style device will project its image completely over each of the glass lenses. With the current state of the technology, it’s only being projected over a tiny square in them, hence the FOV parameter. So the end experience of wearing AR glasses are tiny squares images on which they display the AR experience. Indeed not the best experience over all. Because a projector has a natural size to project, the bigger the area you need to project (FOV), the bigger the power consumption, which in turn requires a bigger battery, which goes against the light weight requirement. Hmmm … And we haven’t even talked about putting sensors like: gyroscope, GPS, IR scanners, graphics acceleration, etc. Now you see why HoloLens is so bulky?
As with much of the things in life, cost it’s a main factor. Maybe it’s possible to manufacture an light weight AR glass with a 100% field FOV and great graphics. At the current state of technology, such a device could cost more than 5000$ at mass productions prices. Yikes!
And we have seen this happened, VR started to be widely adopted (again, started) only after it’s price went below 500$ US. Therefor, in order to lower the cost of an AR devices 1 order of magnitude, takes a lot of progress on the display technology, which still is -apparently- far away. That’s why phone devices remain the de facto AR display scenario. Maybe transparent OLEDs will help.
Also, that’s the main reason why Microsoft wisely tagged HoloLens as an industrial device, not to be confused and criticized with a cost that consumers can’t afford.
These economical limitations unfortunately have proclaim some victims: Meta and Daqri couldn’t last enough to see the cost of these components come down in order for their great visions of AR (honestly) become widely adopted.
Snap is taking a different approach with the AR glasses, however the initial product wasn’t a success, perseverance is key here.
VR could ride in the success to reach its current state, however AR doesn’t have anything to hang on, until it does.