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6 nerd words everybody gets wrong

Mike Elgan | Dec. 1, 2015
Words matter. If you're going to talk tech, make sure you do it right.

virtual reality football headset and gloves

The language of technology is a moving target. As the technology changes, so do the usage models, business models and behaviors associated with it. So do the words.

There are words people often use incorrectly. You don’t have to be a linguist to do your tech talk right. Here are the most commonly used words and phrases everyone should know and how to use them.

Virtual reality

When you put goggles or special glasses over your eyes, such as Samsung's Gear VR, next year's Oculus Rift or devices based on Google Cardboard, you see something that isn't there. If what you see is 100% computer generated, you're experiencing virtual reality (VR).

But these same goggles are also capable of showing video. In fact, most of the content available on these platforms so far has been 360-degree video. Some of this video is just a flat moving image, and some is extremely sophisticated 3D video that shows depth. Either way, if what you're seeing was shot with a set of cameras, rather than created with a computer, then you're experiencing "immersive video," not "virtual reality."

Calling 360-degree video "virtual reality" is a common mistake. You should call it "immersive video."

Augmented reality

Another broad class of experiential glasses or goggles enables you to see the real world, but into this natural field of vision, artificial, computer-generated content is placed. Google Glass is at one end of the spectrum. Microsoft's HoloLens and Magic Leap is at the other.

Google Glass displays a rectangular screen, which is usually filled with the kind of notification content you might see on your phone. HoloLens and Magic Leap actually create the illusion that the computer-generated content is there and can interact with real world -- for example, that virtual objects are sitting on real tables -- or going under them.

These experiences are usually referred to as "augmented reality." But they're usually not.

"Augmented reality" is just what it sounds like: when reality is augmented. The most widely used augmented reality app is probably Google's Word Lens app, which translates signs and menus into other languages. Here's me using the iPhone version in Italy. There's also a Google Glass version.

The label "augmented reality" is appropriate because reality is the focus of attention -- the experience of real things are being enhanced by computer-supplied information or images.

However, many of the applications for Glass, HoloLens, Magic Leap and other platforms insert information into the users experience that is unrelated to reality. For example, Google Glass might show an incoming email notification. Magic Leap might play a game in which reality is just the background, and the content of the game is the main focus of attention.

 

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