AR vs MR: Decoding the Key Differences between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality

AR vs MR: Decoding the Key Differences between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality

Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are two immersive technologies that have been gaining traction in recent years. Both provide users with unique experiences that blend the real world with digital elements, but they do so in distinct ways. While AR overlays digital content onto the user’s view of the real world, MR goes a step further by integrating digital objects into the user’s environment, allowing for interaction with these objects in a more realistic manner.

The rise of AR and MR technologies has led to a wide range of applications, from entertainment and gaming to professional training and education. As these technologies continue to advance, they are expected to impact various industries and play a crucial role in shaping the future of our digital experiences. With major tech companies investing heavily in AR and MR development, it is essential to understand the differences between the two and the potential implications of their widespread adoption.

Key Takeaways

  • Augmented reality overlays digital content onto the real world, while mixed reality integrates digital objects into the user’s environment.
  • Both technologies have applications in industries such as entertainment, education, and professional training.
  • Major tech companies are investing in AR and MR development, indicating their potential to shape the future of digital experiences.

Defining the Basics

When discussing various immersive technologies, it’s essential to understand the differences between Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR). These experiences fall under the broader category of Extended Reality (XR). Let’s define each technology and explore their unique characteristics.

Augmented Reality (AR) enhances the physical world by overlaying digital content, such as images or text, on the user’s view of the real environment. Users interact with AR through devices like smartphones, tablets, or smart glasses. The digital content in AR doesn’t interact with the real world and remains separated from it. For example, an AR app can help users visualize furniture placement in their homes by superimposing 3D models on the smartphone’s camera view. This technology is commonly used in applications like navigation, gaming, and marketing.

Mixed Reality (MR) advances a step further than AR by combining the virtual and physical worlds in a way that enables virtual objects to interact with the real environment. In MR, users don’t just see the digital content; they can manipulate and interact with it as if it’s part of their surroundings. This is achieved through advanced devices such as Microsoft HoloLens, which uses multiple cameras and sensors to allow interaction between the virtual and real worlds. MR has numerous applications in industries like healthcare, construction, and entertainment.

Virtual Reality (VR) transports users into an entirely different, immersive environment. Unlike AR and MR, VR isolates its users from the real world, providing an artificial experience using 3D graphics and sounds. Users access VR through headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, which track their head movements and gestures to create an interactive virtual world. VR is mainly used in gaming, simulations, and training programs.

In summary, while AR enhances the real world by adding digital content, MR merges physical and virtual objects in a seamless way, and VR entirely separates users from their real environment. These technologies offer various levels of immersion, interactivity, and potential applications in XR.

Comparison table

Augmented Reality (AR)
Mixed Reality (MR)
In AR, there is typically limited to no direct interaction between the digital and physical world components.
The key difference between AR and MR is the user’s ability to interact with the digital display. MR allows users to manipulate and interact with virtual objects and information.
AR is commonly accessible with a smartphone, without the need for specialized equipment.
MR requires a headset with a transparent lens or camera to create a more immersive experience.
AR has a wide range of applications, including gaming, education, design, healthcare, and more. It’s often used to overlay informative content onto real-world objects.
MR takes the applications of AR a step further, allowing for more interactive and immersive experiences. It’s used in fields like education, healthcare, military training, and more.

Core Technologies and Devices

Headsets and Devices

In the realm of both augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), various headsets and devices have emerged to provide the best possible experience. Virtual reality (VR) headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, primarily focus on fully immersing users in a computer-generated environment. However, AR and MR devices aim to enhance users’ experience within the real world.

The Microsoft HoloLens and its successor, the Microsoft HoloLens 2, are examples of mixed reality headsets. They overlay holograms and digital information onto users’ physical surroundings, allowing them to interact with both real and virtual objects simultaneously.

On the other hand, AR devices like Google Glass 1 and other smart glasses focus on displaying context-sensitive information relevant to the user’s environment. These devices can be an extension of smartphones, which offer AR capabilities through their built-in cameras and displays.

Smart Glasses and Other Tools

Smart glasses are a popular example of AR devices designed to provide location-based or context-sensitive information to users. By combining computer vision with display technologies, these glasses enable users to access information without obstructing their view of the real world.

In addition to smart glasses, there has been an increasing development of other tools designed to improve and expand AR and MR experiences. For instance, Windows Mixed Reality 2 encompasses both AR and VR, providing a wide range of tools for developers to create immersive and interactive applications for various industries.

As these technologies continue to evolve, more devices will emerge, potentially offering new and innovative forms of AR and MR experiences. The seamless integration between the virtual and physical worlds will enhance user interactions and offer exciting opportunities for businesses and consumers alike.

User Interaction and Experience


In both augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), interactivity plays a crucial role in shaping the user experience. These technologies enable users to engage with digital elements that are overlaid onto the physical world, creating a seamless blend of virtual and real environments. While AR focuses on enhancing the user’s perception of their real-world surroundings by adding virtual components, MR goes a step further by enabling users to interact with virtual elements as if they were part of the physical environment 3

Users can manipulate virtual objects and interfaces within MR applications using devices such as gloves, controllers, or their own hands, depending on the system’s design. For example, a virtual keyboard could be used to input data, or users might work together on a digital construct within a shared MR space.

Immersion and Presence

A key aspect of both AR and MR is the immersion and presence they offer. Immersive experiences involve the user’s perception of being physically present within a virtual environment, while augmented environments aim to enhance the user’s experience of the real world with additional digital content. In MR environments, users can maintain their connection to the real world while also experiencing a heightened sense of presence within the virtual space.

This interplay between real and digital elements can lead to unique experiences that challenge the traditional boundaries between physical and virtual worlds. For example, users might explore virtual landscapes that stretch out around them, interacting with digital objects and other users as they navigate the environment.


Collaboration is another critical component of user interaction and experience in AR and MR environments. These technologies enable users to work together in shared virtual spaces, engaging with digital content and each other within the context of the physical world.

For UX designers, creating collaborative environments requires careful consideration of how users will interact with virtual elements and with other users. As technology advances, AR and MR will continue to evolve, driving new forms of collaboration and interaction in both personal and professional settings.

Overall, user interaction and experience in AR and MR environments is a complex interplay of interactivity, immersion, presence, and collaboration. As these technologies continue to be developed and refined, new opportunities will emerge for users to engage with each other and their environments in creative and innovative ways.

Industry Applications

Healthcare and Training

In the healthcare sector, both augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are contributing to significant advancements. They are streamlining medical procedures, providing new training methods, and enhancing diagnostic processes. For example, surgeons are using AR technology to overlay virtual images on the physical body to improve precision during surgeries. Additionally, medical professionals use MR for realistic training simulations, such as practicing surgical techniques or navigating complex medical situations.

Gaming and Entertainment

The gaming and entertainment industry has embraced AR and MR, offering immersive experiences to consumers. Well-known AR games like Pokémon GO have popularized the technology, as users can interact within a blend of real-world elements and digital information. Meanwhile, MR games, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, create interactive experiences by combining virtual objects with physical spaces, allowing users to interact with both the digital and real environment.

Business and Production

AR and MR technologies are significantly impacting the business world and production processes, particularly in industries such as manufacturing, construction, and retail. Companies utilize AR to enhance worker productivity, streamline assembly processes, and optimize maintenance procedures. Simultaneously, MR can superimpose virtual prototypes onto physical environments, allowing engineers to visualize and test designs in the real world without having to create multiple physical prototypes.


In the field of education, AR and MR technologies can make learning more interactive and engaging. AR applications can overlay digital information and visuals onto physical textbooks, allowing students to access more in-depth learning materials. MR can take learning a step further by constructing immersive 3D environments where students can explore and interact with a subject from various perspectives. These technologies can transform traditional classrooms, providing opportunities for collaboration, exploration, and experimentation across various academic disciplines.

Major Companies and Products

Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft, a leading technology company, has been a significant player in the mixed reality space with their product, HoloLens. The HoloLens system combines the capabilities of augmented and virtual reality, as it enhances the user’s view of their real environment with digital images and holograms. This innovative device, which runs on Windows, has found practical applications in various industries, including construction, gaming, healthcare, and education.

Google Glass

Google, another pioneering tech company, ventured into the realm of augmented reality with their product Google Glass. Though initially launched as a consumer device, Google Glass has pivoted toward enterprise applications. With a heads-up display, users receive real-time information on their field of view, which becomes especially useful in industrial and manufacturing sectors, where efficiency, safety, and hands-free operation are critical.

Apple AR

Apple, known for its world-renowned product suite, also has a strong presence in the augmented reality domain with its ARKit 4. This innovative framework enables developers to create AR applications for iOS devices. With ARKit, iPhones and iPads offer users advanced AR experiences that enhance their interactions with the real world. Apple continues its pursuit of developing AR products with rumors of a forthcoming AR headset, which could potentially bring new capabilities to this space.

Snapchat Filters

Snapchat, a popular social media platform, has pioneered the use of AR through their filters 5. By integrating AR into their app, they paved the way for widespread consumer adoption of AR technology. Snapchat’s users can overlay digital images and animations onto their real-world selfies, which continues to drive the platform’s popularity, especially among younger users. Snapchat has not only bolstered its own success but has also inspired other social media platforms to incorporate AR features.

In the realm of AR and mixed reality, tech titans like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, alongside innovative startups such as Snapchat, have contributed significantly to the growth and development of this exciting technology. These companies and their products continue to transform our interactions with the digital world, making advancements in areas ranging from entertainment and social media to industrial and enterprise applications.

Future Trends and Implications

Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) continue to evolve, with advancements in technology leading to new and innovative ways to blend the digital world with the physical environment. The rise of ARCore and ARKit has made it easier for developers to create AR experiences on smartphones, allowing users to combine their mobile phones, tablets, and cameras to interact with virtual content.

As more people adopt VR headsets and consoles, the demand for immersive experiences within the simulation of different environments is driving the development of new tools for engineers, technicians, and other professionals. The use of AR and MR in industries such as film, TV, and movies is slowly becoming a reality as these technologies enable more realistic and engaging content to be created. This growing connection to the metaverse brings new opportunities, as well as potential safety concerns, for users in various fields.

In the near future, AR and MR technologies are expected to play a vital role in improving the efficiency and safety of on-site technicians and engineers. For instance, superimposing digital information over machinery and equipment helps professionals visualize, troubleshoot, and perform maintenance more effectively. Furthermore, the integration of AR and MR into safety training programs has the potential to reduce workplace accidents and improve overall job performance.

Beyond industrial applications, the popularity of AR and MR is expanding into everyday consumer electronics. The release of AR- and MR-compatible smartphones, PCs, and console gaming systems has introduced countless new applications and experiences for millions of users. From interactive storytelling in films and televisions to immersive gaming experiences, AR and MR technologies are becoming an umbrella term that encompasses various aspects of the digital and physical world.

As these technologies continue to advance, the line between reality and the simulated environment could become increasingly blurred. Consequently, it becomes essential for developers, manufacturers, and content creators to ensure seamless interactions and responsible user experiences when designing AR and MR applications. By addressing current challenges and unlocking new possibilities, AR and MR will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact across various industries and daily life.

What are the key differences between augmented reality and mixed reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digital content onto the real world through a device like a smartphone or AR glasses. Users can still see and interact with their surroundings while engaging with holographic additions. On the other hand, Mixed Reality (MR) merges the real and digital worlds, and allows users to interact with both simultaneously. MR enables digital objects to be anchored in the real world, creating a more immersive experience.

How do mixed reality devices compare to augmented reality devices?

Mixed Reality devices, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, are usually more advanced than most Augmented Reality devices. They feature more robust hardware and sensors capable of tracking the user’s environment and movements to create an interactive, seamless blend between digital and physical worlds. AR devices, like smartphone-based applications or Google Glass, generally provide a simpler overlay of digital content onto the user’s surroundings.

In what ways does mixed reality enhance the potential of augmented reality?

Mixed Reality expands upon the capabilities of Augmented Reality by allowing users to interact with digital content as if it were a part of the real world. While AR may simply overlay information or images, MR takes it a step further by integrating digital objects into the physical environment and enabling users to manipulate these objects with natural gestures and movements.

Can you provide examples of applications for both augmented and mixed reality?

In Augmented Reality:
Retailers can provide customers with virtual try-on experiences for clothing or accessories.
Navigation apps can display directions and points of interest directly onto the user’s surroundings.
In Mixed Reality:
Architects can view and modify 3D models of buildings in real-world scale.
Medical professionals can use MR to visualize complex anatomy for training or surgical planning.

How does the user experience differ between augmented reality and mixed reality?

The user experience in Augmented Reality typically involves viewing digital content overlaid on the user’s real-world environment, often through a screen or transparent display. In Mixed Reality, users not only view digital content, but can also interact with it seamlessly as if it were part of the physical world around them. This interaction provides a more immersive experience and sets MR apart from traditional AR.

What are the primary industries utilizing augmented reality and mixed reality technologies?

Various industries are leveraging AR and MR technologies, including but not limited to:
Education: Enhancing learning experiences through interactive content and simulations.
Healthcare: Assisting in diagnostics, training, and surgical planning.
Manufacturing: Streamlining product design, assembly, maintenance, and quality control processes.
Entertainment: Creating immersive gaming and storytelling experiences.
Retail: Customizing shopping experiences with virtual try-ons and product visualizations.

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