Headworn vs handheld devices for AR
The relatively new world of augmented reality (AR) can be a challenging field to navigate for people inexperienced with immersive technology. It means adapting to a whole new way or working, and some will find it difficult to know where to begin when deciding which equipment to invest in, with numerous hardware options already on the market and more arriving all the time.
by Adam Savage
But one of the things that separates AR from VR is that many applications don’t require a headset at all, and simply run off of a tablet or smartphone – devices that most of us already possess. But that doesn’t mean everything that can be done on a headworn device like the Microsoft HoloLens can be done just as well on an iPad, and vice versa. So what are the differences between headsets and mobile devices when it comes to augmented reality?
One of the main advantages of wearing a headset is that it leaves your hands free to carry out the job you’re doing. This is especially useful in sectors such as construction and manufacturing where workers are required to do lots of manual tasks and would benefit from having quick and easy access to information. Being able to access crucial data instantly and have it displayed right in front of you without losing sight of the real-world environment is why AR is now really starting to make progress in industrial applications.
However, when many of these tasks take many hours to complete, some have reported feelings of discomfort after long periods spent wearing a headset. The manufacturers are working on solutions to this problem though, and the latest models do seem to be getting lighter, while a lot of work is being done to them fit more snugly.
Increasing the field of view (FoV) is another area that headset companies are currently trying to improve. There were concerns over earlier models that offered very narrow FoVs as wearers were limited to what they could see right in front of them, but the Magic Leap One, for example, offers some of the best specs currently available with a horizontal FoV of 40° and a vertical FoV of 30°. There is still a way to go before the technology is able to match the naked human eye, though.
There are many great industry applications that can simply be downloaded onto a tablet or phone and used straight away, without the need to purchase and put on an expensive, bulky headset. The user is already familiar with the technology from day-to-day use and because many of us will have already tried AR apps from the consumer world, the learning curve can be much shorter than with headworn devices.
User interaction is where handheld solutions also score highly. It’s great being able to work hands-free with a headset, but in some situations you really need those hands to interact with the application. Yes, the headset wearer can use gestures to control the environment and some models come with controller accessories, but many prefer the ease-of-use that a touchscreen brings, while being able to swipe, scroll and navigate in a way that they’re used to.
Using a handheld device also keeps the user firmly in touch with the real world. It is more of an issue in virtual reality, but engaging in VR and AR activities can make some people feel as if they are too immersed in what they’re experiencing. Even though AR is simply an overlaying of digital information on top of the physical environment – rather than total immersion in a fully virtual space – users have reported feeling too detached from reality when wearing a headset. With a tablet however, the user is not at risk of any sensory confusion.
There are now a lot of great AR apps for mobile devices out there for construction professionals, such as AR Check and AR Mapper, and with AR and VR continuing to gain ground in the sector, you can expect many more to come over the next few years. Advancements in heardworn hardware are also gathering pace. As headsets continue to get more practical, powerful and intuitive, we will start to see more of them in use at all stages of the construction process.
Whether it’s in your hand or on your head, augmented reality is one of the most exciting technologies out there at the moment, and if your company isn’t already looking into it, then why not?