Definition Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality

What is Augmented Reality? A (new) Definition

Augmented Reality (AR) is a rapidly developing topic in academia, society and business practice. But: What is Augmented Reality? A consistent and contemporary definition is lacking, especially when attempts are made to differentiate between mixed reality and assisted reality. Even more curious: The general use of language contradicts existing definitions and demarcations to Virtual Reality (VR) or Mixed Reality (MR). Reason enough to propose a new and more practical definition of XR (AR, VR, MR) in this paper. Furthermore, our current survey shows how little knowledge about AR, VR, MR and Co. exists in society.

Milgram defines Mixed Reality as an umbrella term for Augmented Reality and Augmented Virtuality. However, in today’s linguistic usage Mixed Reality is often regarded as a particularly realistic fusion of reality and virtual elements. Therefore we propose a new definition and delimitation.

What is Augmented Reality? Definition, delimitation and subforms

Augmented Reality (short: AR) provides users with virtual, context-dependent information in real-time, which is superimposed on their field of vision. In the simplest case, this content is plain, two-dimensional and merely superimposed. The term Assisted Reality is often used for this in technical jargon. In more advanced applications, AR content is three-dimensional, interactive and realistically integrated into the environment. This is then referred to as Mixed Reality. In its strongest form, virtual objects are no longer distinguishable from reality.

Augmented Reality is basically not limited to a specific end device. The technology can be applied to the following devices:

  • stationary devices (e.g. AR billboards, virtual mirrors)
  • mobile devices (apps on smartphones and tablets)
  • Wearables (AR Smart Glasses such as Google Glass or Microsoft Hololens)

In the future, there will certainly be AR in-body devices, which are currently primarily in the proof-of-concept phase. A well-known example are Augmented Reality Contact Lenses.

In contrast, virtual reality completely replaces the physical world with a fictitious reality. While the user is in a VR world, he/she does not perceive his/her real environment. With Augmented Reality, on the other hand, the real environment is always visible, but is extended by virtual elements. XR is the umbrella term for AR and VR. However, XR is also an unclearly defined abbreviation. Thus, the term is often used as an abbreviation for “Extended Realities” or “Expanded Realities”. Sometimes the “X” in XR is only used as a placeholder (“Variable X”) for any form of new reality. In this case, one also speaks of “New Realities”.

Definition Augmented Reality

Abbildung: XR als Überbegriff für VR und AR, wobei AR der Überbegriff für ein Kontinuum zwischen Assisted Reality und Mixed Reality darstellt.

In the picture gallery you can see some examples XR. In addition, we explain what it is most likely to be based on our definition. Augmented reality, mixed reality, assisted reality or virtual reality? With the arrows on the side you can scroll. These come, for example, from Google Glass Glasses (more Assisted Reality), Microsoft Hololens (more Mixed Reality) or Oculus Rift (Virtual Reality). Pokémon Go – probably the best known AR game – is somewhere between Assisted and Mixed Reality. While the characters are faded in with some degree of reality, they don’t stay in the same place or interact with real objects.

Survey: Unclear understanding of Augmented Reality in the public

How well known is Augmented Reality to the public? At the end of 2019 we interviewed consumers via a professional market research panel as part of a project 315 US. The initial aim was for people to assess themselves. Do they think they know what Augmented Reality is? Or do they even have experience in using it?

Self-assessment: Knowledge about Augmented Reality

First we asked people to assess themselves. 45.5 percent rated their knowledge of AR as good, while 54.5 percent had little or no previous contact with augmented reality.

Believe to know what Augmented Reality is


Believe not to know what Augmented Reality is

Around half of the Americans surveyed do not yet know much about the term Augmented Reality! Many also do not know the differences between augmented reality and virtual reality.

Differences between Augmented and Virtual Reality: Almost half do not know them

Next, we asked all subjects to express the differences between AR and VR in their own words. We coded and analyzed these open answers and came to unexpected results:

  • 44.7% could not explain the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality.
  • 25.9% defined the differences between augmented and virtual reality incorrectly.
  • Only 29.4% could correctly reflect the differences.

Whoever can answer the question “What is Augmented Reality?” should – so one should think – also able to explain the differences to Virtual Reality. We have also investigated this by asking them to describe the differences between AR and VR in their own words. We compared the subjects’ self-assessment with what they wrote in the open answer.

  • Of the 45.5% self-appointed experts, about a quarter (24.1%) could not put the difference into their own words. Just under half (44.8%) can do so correctly. Almost a third (31.0%) described the differences incorrectly. Examples of such statements were “Augmented is all fake, virtual reality is a mixture” or “I would classify them the same”.
  • Of the 54.5% of self-appointed non-specialists, most of them, namely almost two thirds (61.9%), were unable to explain the difference. 21.6% incorrectly explained the difference between AR and VR. Surprisingly, 16.5% of those who stated that they had no prior knowledge of supervisory boards and boards of directors nevertheless defined the differences correctly.

Conclusion: There is still a lot to do to educate people about the basics of XR! After all, the potential of AR, VR & Co – as for example in marketing – is enormous. This is also proven by numerous studies.

Definition Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality

How and where Augmented Reality can be used

There are many areas of application for Augmented Reality. Private persons, companies, educational institutions, hospitals, NGOs etc. can benefit from it:

  • Marketing (e.g. advertising, product presentations, storytelling)
  • Customer service, after sales
  • Process optimization (provide employees with information and support through AR); define work steps
  • Training
  • Gaming
  • Planning (e.g. measuring of rooms)

There are some important criteria to be considered. These are (without claiming completeness):

  • User-friendliness (usability)
  • Real added value (AR is not the right medium for every purpose!)
  • Technically mature
  • Measurable (relevant KPIs, tools for analysis, feedback possibility for users etc.) and economical (benefit > cost!)
  • Scalability
  • Integrated (AR should not be operated as a silo solution, but should be integrated into a strategy and bestenede systems)


Boston Consulting Group (2018). Augmented Reality: Is the Camera the Next Big Thing in Advertising?

Kunkel, N., Soechtig, S., Miniman, J., Stauch, C., 2016. Augmented and Virtual Reality Go to Work. Deloitte Report., URL:

Oleynick, V.C., Thrash, T.M., LeFew, M.C., Moldovan, E.G., Kieffaber, P.D., 2014. The Scientific study of Inspiration in the creative process: challenges and opportunities. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 8, 1–8.

Rauschnabel, P. A., Felix, R., & Hinsch, C. (2019). Augmented reality marketing: How mobile AR-apps can improve brands through inspiration. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 49, 43-53.

Rauschnabel, P. A., He, J., & Ro, Y. K. (2018). Antecedents to the adoption of augmented reality smart glasses: A closer look at privacy risks. Journal of Business Research, 92, 374-384.

Thrash, T.M., Maruskin, L.A., Cassidy, S.E., Fryer, J.W., Ryan, R.M., 2010. Mediating between the muse and the masses: inspiration and the actualization of creative ideas. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (3), 469–487.

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Vorgeschlagene Zitation:

xrealitylab (2020): Was ist Augmented Reality? Eine (neue) Definition; 15.01.2020, URL:


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