Most people I know don’t think about augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality or the umbrella term for all of these immersive technologies – extended reality, abbreviated as XR.

It’s not all the jargon that’s stopping them, it’s that they don’t really know how XR fits into their world.

I work in tech and happen to write about XR, so that impacts my world now In my daily interactions with software developers and PR people. However, this is my bubble. To my friends and family, extended reality still feels like a distant reality filled with expensive headsets and virtual games.

But as Enhanced World Expo At Long Beach offerings, the XR is much larger than that. If you’re not interested in XR yet, here are some things I saw at AWE 2024 that might make you reconsider.

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XR isn’t just about gaming: it can be productive too

Two men sitting on an airplane wearing glasses Two men sitting on an airplane wearing glasses

Augmented reality can be productive.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

The idea of ​​extended reality can feel claustrophobic when most of your options are headphones that are heavy and uncomfortable to wear for long hours.

Spacetop AR Laptop from Sightful Neither creating games nor video was their top priority. It’s focused on work and productivity, so you won’t end up with a heavy headset, but with a stylish pair of augmented reality glasses that look like Ray Bans. It connects to the keyboard from a laptop whose screen has been removed.

Once you put on the AR glasses, a 100-inch virtual canvas appears, which you can fill with different windows, all overlaid on the physical world in front of you. You can do almost anything you can do in a web browser, but privately and with a lot more space than you would get from a traditional laptop. Imagine needing to run multiple displays wherever you bring your laptop, and you can start to see the appeal of Spacetop.

Even the largest laptop cannot open that many windows at once. Augmented reality doesn’t always have to be about visiting a distant planet or killing zombies. Sometimes, it can just be a more thorough way to check your emails, send work messages, or create a presentation, whether you’re stuck on a plane or sitting comfortably on the couch.

XR can create a more immersive museum experience

Two people wearing augmented reality glasses in a museum exhibit Two people wearing augmented reality glasses in a museum exhibit

Augmented reality headsets provide interactive and educational experiences.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Extended reality isn’t always meant to replace what you see, it can also enhance it.

If you go to certain museums, you can enhance your experience with engaging audio guides. You can put on a pair of headphones and you can quickly get more context for anything you’re looking at on the show floor. But what if you could have a more immersive visual experience instead of an auditory one?

At AWE, I put on the lightweight Magic Leap 2 AR glasses and walked through a makeshift museum filled with artifacts. I could see everything clearly in the real world, but when I approached certain objects in my AR glasses, I could suddenly see relevant information appear virtually. I can even interact with specific objects, press a button to see more information, or show other objects.

XR exhibits already exist, but such technology could be adopted by more museums and galleries to help deliver richer, more immersive experiences to anyone who enters them.

XR can be a creative outlet

Man wearing headphones and drawing with a pen Man wearing headphones and drawing with a pen

As a digital artist, you use a digital brush.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Apple’s Vision Pro is geared toward productivity, but it’s also been pushed as a tool for creativity. And while it can be exhausting to be creative with a headset attached to your face, these devices are now being used to write, draw, and paint in virtual reality. It’s not all work and games.

Logitech’s new MX Ink Pen expands what you can do creatively in Meta Quest by adding a physical smart pen to help you create in the virtual world. You can certainly use the stock Meta Quest controller to do some of what the stylus can do, but the MX Ink offers precision, which is important when creating.

The VR controllers provided with your headset can be used to create clumsily, but MX Ink gives you more control when drawing, drawing, or painting in VR or AR. Just as using your finger to draw on your tablet is more intuitive than drawing with a mouse, the Pen opens up a lot for creatives, allowing for greater precision and advanced features.

You can use XR to better control the devices in your home

Man controls a TV with hand gestures Man controls a TV with hand gestures

Use XR hand gestures to control objects in real life.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Of the ways we interact with the world, hand gestures are a surprisingly prominent and essential way to communicate. We can quickly call someone or express our anger in traffic with a simple hand gesture, especially when words can’t do the job. In the world of augmented reality, hand gestures provide a smooth and intuitive way to interact with augmented parts, such as moving a floating window or playing a video, but there are always ways to control the world — and not just virtually.

Doublepoint is a company that focuses on touch interfaces, and its WowMouse app lets you control the devices in your home using your Android smartwatch and simple hand gestures. You can swipe your hand to skip a song on Spotify on your TV or rotate your wrist to dim a smart light bulb in your lamp. You can connect your watch via Bluetooth to almost any smart device to control it.

Although it’s debatable whether this falls under the XR umbrella, these same gestures are used to navigate virtual spaces such as VisionOS and Meta Horizon OS. Being able to use it without a virtual display is a great introduction to the XR space in your home without having to spend a lot of money on additional hardware.

Watch this: Spacetop laptop AR hands-on

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