Despite the leaps they've made over the past couple of years, it's easy to forget that virtual and augmented are both very young mediums. While VR is mature enough to be selling in both high-end and low-end varieties, AR is mostly secluded in business use until consumer-ready headsets are ready to ship near the beginning of the next decade.
The youth of VR and AR is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, neither of these technologies are fully ready to take on the world, but they're also getting better, with companies introducing new innovations and trying to create new experiences seemingly almost daily.
Read this: Wareable Tech Awards 2017 winners
That's why we wanted to honor the best VR/AR Innovation of the Year and VR/AR Experience of the Year at the Wareable Tech Awards. And this is why Vive Tracker and Resident Evil 7 won.
VR/AR Innovation of the Year
Every since we first tried it at CES 2017, we've called HTC's Vive Tracker a "game changer." That's high praise, and it's also true. One of the problems with VR is that the immersion is broken by what you can actually interact with. Hand tracking is still primitive, so with the mainstream headsets you're using controllers that try their best to simulate touch.
When you're in the virtual world, you're not actually touching anything. You're still holding a controller and playing with digital objects, like it's a regular video game that just happens to be in 360 degrees around you. The Vive Tracker changes everything by accounting for everything. You can stick it on any object, have Vive's sensors pick it up, and have it transported into your virtual world.
We've seen developers try their hand at sticking on Trackers on everything from cats to piĆ±atas, even hanging them on ceiling fans. In each case, the Tracker allowed the developer to create props and items in the virtual world using real world items.
The Trackers are now available for general consumers to pick up, which means the floodgates are ready to open on all new, even more immersive experiences. You can now pick up an actual bat with a Tracker on it and swing away in VR. You can play tennis with an actual racket. You can use a light gun to shoot away all the virtual ducks you can.
The other nominees put up a valiant fight. Google Daydream is looking to bring comfortable, good VR to the low end, while Oculus Touch is out to create an on-the-go standalone headset. Microsoft HoloLens is currently the de-facto AR headset for businesses and Windows Mixed Reality is aimed at bringing affordable PC VR to the masses in a wide spectrum of quality. Avegant's light field displays is an amazing look into the future, while the Mira Prism aims to give us a Samsung Gear VR like experience for augmented reality on our phones.
It's Apple's ARKit that took our Highly Commended prize, though. While it doesn't change the game the way the Trackers do, we were surprised by how high quality the experience already is. ARKit, at its heart, is Apple's long-term play to build up an ecosystem for its rumored AR smartglasses. If the exciting demos from developers are any indication, ARKit is going to be a huge deal one day.
But for now, the Vive Tracker's adaptability and ability to change the way we interact with virtual reality in our homes is why it took home the top prize.
VR/AR Experience of the Year
The world of virtual and augmented reality experiences is in an interesting place. More and more of them are coming out, but a lot of those experiences are from independent developers looking to experiment in virtual and augmented reality, rather than big established names.
While a lot of big developers have dabbled in virtual reality for blockbuster, triple-A games, most of these experiences have been small. Like doing a single X-Wing VR mission in Star Wars: Battlefront or an on-rail shooter like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
And then Resident Evil 7 came along, and won our VR/AR Experience of the Year. Capcom didn't just build out a small VR experience within its game, it made it so that you could play the entire game in virtual reality. You would dodge a crazy, cannibalistic family, sneak around a decrepit house and more in virtual reality, adding to the fright and terror at every step.
The VR/AR innovation contenders
- Google Daydream guideThe essential guide to all things Daydream
- Microsoft HoloLens guideUpdated: We dig a little deeper into Microsoft's vision for augmented reality
- Avegant's light field ARAR Week: Avegant's light field does wonders for our eyes
- Mira's Prism headset brings AR to iPhoneIs this the gateway drug augmented reality headsets need?
This was a contentious category, however, as it was filled with great contenders. Lone Echo/Echo Arena is a game that couldn't exist in any other medium. Arden's Wake and The Protectors showed us how tremendous VR filmmaking could be, while Google Arts and Culture aimed to educate us a little bit. Facebook Spaces wants to revolutionize the way we interact with our friends online while Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality brings the genius of the show to a new, more interactive medium.
However, Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is the experience that took our Highly Commended prize. You get a lightsaber and the Lenovo Mirage headset, and combine them to slash your way through a whole bunch of holograms. It's a ton of fun, and Star Wars fans and AR enthusiasts alike will have something to enjoy here, especially if you've got kids.
In the end, Resident Evil 7 carving its space out as the biggest mainstream VR/AR experience, and showing everyone else that you can create a big, blockbuster experience not cordoned off into a small section is what won it our VR/AR Experience of the Year.