Ready for a reality check? This week’s episode of Brandstorm features XR Futurist Alan Smithson. Alan talks about the differences between Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Extended (XR), what they can do, what you will need to participate, and how it is changing how companies market brands.

Alan Smithson

Alan is an XR futurist, inventor, author of DJ Prophets, mentor for Techstars, and CEO of MetaVRse, North America’s largest VR and AR consultancy. More than 20 years ago, Alan started his interest in technology while working as a DJ. The convergence of his love for music and technology led him to invent the Emulator, the world’s first, multi-touch application for Windows that let musicians create music using a giant, see-through touch screen. Alan began working with huge brands and musicians like Lincoln Park, Infected Mushroom and Armin Van Buuren.

In 2014, Alan saw VR for the first time and realized this was the start of everything, in his mind. He learned everything he could about 360 videos, AR apps and VR training. He invented the first VR Photo Booth and is currently working with the Museum of the Future, in Dubai, and the Ontario Science Center to develop the XR Learning Center.


North America’s largest Virtual and Augmented Reality consultancy, the mission of Alan’s company is to inspire and educate the next generation of young entrepreneurs to think and act in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. With that in mind, MetaVRse is working on two initiatives, XR for Education and the XR Learning Center.

Reality 101

What is the difference between VR, AR, MR and XR? Alan says virtual reality is when you put on headsets and it transports you to a whole other destination or world. The technology takes over your hearing and vision senses and immerses you into where you are. Augmented Reality is when you can take your phone and hold it over something and you can see data overlaid on it. Google Maps is a good example of AR. Mixed Reality takes elements from both VR and AR. Extended Reality covers all of the immersive technologies and puts them under one umbrella.

Is Immersive Technology for Real?

Alan believes we are in the third phase of adopting these technologies. The first was making sure the technology works. The second was when marketers started using the technology to create gimmickry the drew attention to their brands. Now in the third, or utilitarian phase, we are just scratching the surface of what immersive technology can do. For example, IKEA has an application called “Place” that lets you place their furniture in your home in real sizes, so you can see how everything fits. Cases like this will allow consumers to make better purchasing decisions and help brands to better connect with consumers.

Alan says we are currently seeing a shift to 3-D everything. Facebook recently announced 3-D assets that let you turn your shoes, sunglasses or other products into 3-D. Snap Chat has millions of viewers under the age of 30, and is pushing the limits of what you can do with mobile phones.

AR/VR Uses

In the next three to five years, Alan believes there will be a significant uptick in using VR in marketing and sales, as well as training. He also sees great potential in mobile-based AR. By the end of 2018, more than 1.6 billion mobile devices will by AR-enabled. Alan thinks this is an untapped market. While the U.S. has been slow to adopt, China has invested trillions of dollars in mobile e-commerce. Amazon and Wal-Mart are also making great strides in mobile e-commerce. Alan has coined the term “v-commerce,” intersecting VR with AR in e-commerce for retailers.

AR and VR Costs

Creating an AR or VR experience doesn’t have to be expensive. 360 videos are relatively cheap. Car companies are using what is called “3 Degrees of Freedom” to allow the customer to look left, right, up and down and see what it’s like to be in their car. Not enough of an immersive experience, there is now “6 Degrees of Freedom,” where customers can move left, right, up and down to feel more of what it is like to drive the car. From something as simple as placing a camera in the car while you are driving, the cost can be as little as $10,000 to $100,000. Creating a full-on motion-simulated experience can be anywhere from $500,000 to several million dollars.

In AR, companies are spending anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to do things like bringing a label to life. A company in Australia, makes a wine called 19 Criminals. Each of the 19 people on the bottle have committed a crime and if you hold your phone over the label, their stories are told.

AR/VR Devices

A VR experience can be as simple as having a computer or phone to pan around 360 videos. The next step up is Google Cardboard, which costs about $10 – $20. It is a cardboard box with a pair of lenses that you put your phone in and use the phone’s onboard technology. For mobile phone-based VR, there a what is called a Google Daydream. Alan says it’s just a nicer cardboard box made of material. The next step up in investment are VR headsets like the Focus, Pico Neo and Oculus Go. With the Vibe, Oculus Rift and PlayStation headsets, you can actually move around in a VR space. The various headsets run anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars.

When will XR become Commonplace?

Apple is very quietly working on XR technology with its Apple Glasses, but Alan feels it will be some time before the company can create glasses that are small and comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time, possibly five to seven years. In the meantime, both Apple and Google have released its developer’s kits, putting all of the technology in an AR-enabled mobile phone to help developers begin to think in 3-D and eventually create this technology.

AI or Artificial Intelligence

AI is a broad term for computer vision and machine learning, which is vital to Mixed Reality, or MR. Headsets with 3-D scanners collect point cloud data and convert the data into 3-D objects. It maps the world around you in real time. AI needs to be able to distinguish a cat from a dog, or a car, or a person. Once AI can do that, there will be no delineation between AR, VR, 5G, MR, IOT, or Quantum Computing. Everything will just be computing.

L’oreal recently purchased technology from Modiface that uses AR-enabled phones to map a customer’s face in real time and allow an individual try on makeup. The company has seen a 60 percent increase in mobile shopping, just another example of the potential in v-commerce, according to Alan.

AR/VR Education and Expertise

Unfortunately, schools lag way behind in teaching XR technology to marketing students. Alan knows of no other university that does so. It’s one of the main reasons Alan and his company are working on XR for Education and developing the XR Learning Center. As a consultancy, MetaVRse is always looking for the best and brightest in this field. If you have an idea and don’t know how to execute it, Alan’s team can help you find someone who can. Or, Alan recommends that you reach out to a local chapter of the AR/VR Association, to help find experts in your market.


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