What is AR: A Beginner’s Guide to Reality Augmentation

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Dejan Cvetnarevic
Written by
Dejan Cvetnarevic

Updated · Sep 14, 2023

Dejan Cvetnarevic
Content Writer | Joined October 2021 | LinkedIn
Dejan Cvetnarevic

With a degree in English Language and Literature and immense love for tech, Dejan's unique blend of ... | See full bio

Teodora Dobrilova
Edited by
Teodora Dobrilova


Teodora Dobrilova
Editor-in-chief, Social Media And Digital Marketing Expert | Joined October 2021
Teodora Dobrilova

After getting a master's degree in Literature, Publishing, and Mass Media, Teodora spent most of her... | See full bio

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Augmented Reality (AR) is a cutting-edge technology that superimposes digital elements, such as graphics, sounds, or haptic feedback, onto the real-world environment. 

It blurs the line between the virtual and physical worlds, enriching your sensory experience and enhancing your interactions with your surroundings. 

AR is widely used in various industries, from entertainment and gaming to healthcare and education. Its potential is immense, and its applications continue to expand as technology advances.

🔑  Key Takeaways

  • AR is a transformative technology that integrates digital information into the real world, offering various applications across diverse industries.
  • AR and VR are not the same. They each offer different functionality and user experience.
  • AR has four variations: Market-based, Markerless, Location-based, and Projection-based. Each type comes with distinct functions and uses.
  • Industries like healthcare, retail, and entertainment have invested in AR technology.

Defining Augmented Reality and its Functionality

Augmented Reality is a technology that enhances the real world by overlaying virtual elements. It employs various tools and components to seamlessly blend computer-generated content with the user's immediate environment, creating a mixed-reality experience.

Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), which immerses users in a completely simulated environment, AR maintains a connection with the natural world while adding supplementary information or interactive elements.

🎉 Fun Fact:

The AR-VR market was valued at $209.2 billion in 2022, and it’s expected to proliferate in the coming years. 

Before diving into the types and inner workings of AR, here’s a brief contrast between AR and VR. To avoid confusion, users need to comprehend their distinctions better.

A Brief Contrast Between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

AR and VR are often interchanged due to their similarities, but they differ significantly in functionality and user experience.

While AR enhances reality by adding virtual elements to the real world, VR immerses users in a completely virtual environment, cutting off their connection to the physical world. AR provides a more practical approach, overlaying digital content within the real world, making it suitable for various industries like healthcare, education, and retail. 

On the other hand, VR excels in gaming, training simulations, and virtual experiences where complete immersion is desired. VR is as popular as AR. In 2022, VR users ballooned to 171 million, cementing its place in the tech industry.

Now, let's explore the different types of Augmented Reality and how they are employed in various applications.

Types of Augmented Reality

With 1.4 billion AR users, it’s safe to say that AR’s popularity is growing. Along with this include the variations of AR types, each with distinct functionalities and applications. 

Here’s a closer look at each type of augmented reality:

Marker-based AR

Marker-based AR involves the recognition of predefined markers or patterns to trigger the display of virtual content. These markers are reference points for the AR system to understand where to place the digital elements. Popularly used in interactive advertising and gaming, this type of AR is a great way to engage users through smartphone apps or dedicated AR glasses.

QR code AR

Markerless AR

Markerless AR, also known as location-based AR, relies on the device's sensors, such as GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope, to position virtual objects accurately within the physical environment. This type of AR is commonly used in navigation apps, allowing users to view directions and points of interest overlaid on the live camera feed.

Pokemon GO

Location-based AR

Location-based AR takes advantage of GPS and other location data to provide context-aware information to users. It offers personalized experiences based on the user's location, making it a powerful tool for tour guides, city exploration apps, and location-specific marketing campaigns.

Location in AR

Projection-based AR

Projection-based AR involves projecting virtual elements onto real-world surfaces, creating interactive displays that users can interact with directly. This type of AR is often used in exhibitions, museums, and entertainment venues to deliver engaging and immersive experiences.

Topography Projection

How AR Works: The Components That Power Augmented Reality

AR is made possible by seamlessly integrating various components that work together to deliver the augmented experience. Let's delve into these crucial components:

Artificial Intelligence

Applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a vital role in AR by enabling object recognition, tracking, and gesture interpretation. AI algorithms allow AR devices to understand the user's environment and interact intelligently with the virtual elements. This capability is essential for creating realistic and responsive AR experiences.


Sensors, including GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and depth sensors, provide essential data about the user's physical environment and movements to AR devices. These sensors ensure the accurate positioning of virtual objects and allow for precise interactions with the augmented content.

AR Software

AR software is the engine that processes data from sensors and AI algorithms to render and display virtual elements on the user's screen. The software seamlessly integrates the natural world and the virtual content, enabling a convincing AR experience.


AR requires substantial processing power to handle the real-time data from sensors and AI and render the virtual elements. Advanced processors in modern AR devices ensure smooth performance and reduce latency, contributing to an immersive user experience.


High-quality lenses are essential for AR devices, as they facilitate the projection of virtual elements onto the user's field of view. These lenses enhance clarity, contrast, and color, ensuring the virtual content seamlessly blends with the real world.

Application of AR: Embracing AR Across Various Industries

In 2022, the wearable devices market that heavily utilized AR rose to $1.1 billion, proving that AR is valuable in multiple industries. Its versatility has led to its integration into businesses and organizations, revolutionizing healthcare, education, and other fields.

Let's explore how AR is applied in different sectors:


AR transforms the automotive industry by offering heads-up displays (HUDs) that project critical information onto the windshield. These displays provide drivers with navigation instructions, speed limits, and real-time safety alerts, keeping them informed while reducing distractions.


In the medical field, AR is revolutionizing patient care and surgical procedures. Surgeons use AR to visualize 3D models of organs and tissues during surgeries, allowing for more precise and minimally invasive procedures.

💡 Did You Know?

AR is being studied for pain management in physical therapy. Medical experts and developers are exploring how it can be used to minimize pain and discomfort based on unique patient data.


The shopping experience can also be enhanced by AR, as it enables virtual try-ons and product visualizations. Customers can use AR apps to see how furniture, clothing, or makeup will look in their homes or on their bodies, leading to more informed purchase decisions.


AR is reshaping the manufacturing process by providing workers with real-time instructions and digital overlays for assembly and maintenance tasks. This streamlines production and reduces errors.


When integrated into educational apps and platforms, AR creates immersive learning experiences. Students can explore historical sites, view 3D models of complex concepts, and interact with virtual objects, making learning engaging and memorable.


AR has revolutionized the gaming and entertainment industry by offering interactive and immersive experiences. Games like Pokemon GO have made AR mainstream, encouraging users to explore the natural world to find virtual creatures.

Social Media

In social media platforms, developers use AR for filters and effects, enabling users to add fun and engaging overlays to their photos and videos. These filters have become a popular way for 4.8 billion social media users to express themselves creatively.


AR-powered tour guides enhance tourism experiences by providing users with historical information, augmented maps, and AR-enhanced travel guides. Visitors can gain deeper insights into landmarks and cultural sites.

The Development of Augmented Reality Over the Years

As the technology progressed, AR saw rapid advancements in the 21st century, bringing us closer to its widespread adoption.

AR has come a long way since its inception, evolving significantly. Here's a brief timeline highlighting key milestones in the development of AR:

A Timeline for Augmented Reality

  • 1968: a computer scientist, Ivan Sutherland, created the first head-mounted display  system, "The Sword of Damocles." It laid the foundation for future AR systems.
  • 1990: Boeing researcher Tom Caudell coined the term "Augmented Reality" to describe a digital display used in aircraft assembly, merging virtual objects with the physical environment.
  • 1992: Louis Rosenberg developed the Virtual Fixtures system, which allowed users to interact with virtual objects superimposed on real-world scenes using force feedback.
  • 1998: The ARToolKit was released by Hirokazu Kato, an open-source software library that enabled real-time AR experiences using markers and a camera.
  • 2000: The Wearable AR System (WAR) developed by Steve Mann is one of the first AR systems integrated into clothing and worn as a personal computing device.
  • 2009: Layar launched the first mobile AR app, allowing users to view digital information overlaid on their smartphone's camera view.
  • 2013: Google announced "Project Glass," now known as Google Glass, a wearable AR device with a head-mounted display, camera, and voice commands.
  • 2016: Pokemon GO, developed by Niantic, became a global phenomenon, showcasing the potential of AR in gaming and location-based experiences.
  • 2017: Apple released ARKit, an AR development platform for iOS devices, enabling developers to create AR apps for millions of iPhones and iPads.
  • 2018: Magic Leap, a highly anticipated AR startup, launched its first headset, promising spatial computing experiences with high-quality virtual objects.
  • 2019: Microsoft released HoloLens 2, an advanced AR headset with improved field of view and interaction capabilities for enterprise and industrial applications.
  • 2020: AR became increasingly integrated into social media platforms, with Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram introducing AR filters and effects for users.
  • 2021: AR continued to expand into various industries, including education, healthcare, and retail, offering innovative solutions for training, visualization, and customer experiences.

📈 Market Trends:

Based on ongoing trends, experts predict the AR market will surpass $340 billion by 2028. This rise is fueled by AR-powered devices, advanced smartphones, and smart glasses.

Tying Everything Together

Augmented Reality has emerged as a transformative technology with vast applications across diverse industries. Its ability to blend the virtual and physical worlds has led to innovative solutions in healthcare, education, entertainment, and manufacturing. As technology continues to evolve, AR's potential will expand even further, offering exciting possibilities for the future.


Where is AR used in real-life?

Augmented Reality has been used in many aspects of daily activity. The most notable of these applications are in the fields of business, with uses by Nike and Adidas and productivity with hardware like Google Glass and Apple’s Vision Pro.

Why is it called the AR?

It’s called such because it utilizes the blending of a virtual interface with what exists in the real world. Augmented Reality augments the existing world around the user instead of replacing it with something entirely virtual.

What are the most essential parts of AR?

The most critical parts of Augmented Reality are the hardware necessary to project the virtual interface and the software, which utilizes the natural world as a staging ground for the technology.


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