Virtual reality has been around for decades - Nintendo's Virtual Boy anyone? But today's smartphones are being offered with VR capabilities, leaving developers scrambling to find new and innovative ways to make use of this hot technology that everyone with a smartphone has access to. Today The Discovery Channel produces Shark Week content with virtual reality users in mind, leaving many folks wondering where this technology is going.

Virtual Reality Has The Capability To Transform Real Estate, And That's Not All

Realtors have been using virtual reality to sell homes for quite some time now, "Virtual reality's photorealism can zoom in on selling-point details of surfaces and lighting, as well as immerse you in views from a veranda that feel utterly real. Potential buyers or renters now have an emotional connection to what they're experiencing." (Boaz Ashkenazy, co-founder, and co-owner of Studio 216, a Seattle company that creates virtual reality tours for the real estate industry.)

Imagine the hassles of buying a home without being able to walk through it when you are relocating to a new city. Now imagine slipping your smartphone into a Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard headset and taking a virtual tour.

Virtual reality also has the ability to transform the classroom experience, and it is getting so accessible and affordable that soon educational videos could be replaced with virtual reality tours of molecules.

According to U.S. News and World Report, "Washington Leadership Academy plans to use part of the XQ money to hire developers to build a scientifically accurate, virtual-reality chemistry lab. "There are a million kids in the country who don't have access to high-level chemistry," notes educational entrepreneur, Seth Andrew. "And I don't mean good teachers - I mean any chemistry at all." He describes how a virtual chemistry lab, which would not only allow kids to walk through molecules to see their structure, but would allow students to conduct virtual experiments, could be both less expensive and more educationally valuable than a traditional lab stocked with beakers and Bunsen burners.

"The use of virtual reality is starting to gain traction in education. Google recently launched Google Expeditions, an app that offers 360-degree virtual field trips to zoos, museums or even places it would be impossible to visit like Ancient Greece or Mars.

The company Nearpod is working to combine virtual reality with traditional lesson plans for a more immersive, technology-driven approach to learning. Numerous other efforts are in the works."

Virtual Reality Is Hot Now, But It Is Being Replaced With Augmented Reality

Augmented reality combines the visual aspects of virtual reality with other sensory cues, such as haptic feedback and binaural audio. By 2021 both technologies are expected to be a $108 billion market, with augmented reality alone clocking in at $83 billion. In 2016 the development of augmented reality gear cost over $2.3 billion.

Even Apple is getting in on the augmented reality development boom - they recently released their own AR development kit that will make integrating AR content into existing technology easier. According to a CNBC report, "Virtual and augmented reality product company Marxent has been developing AR apps for Apple products for six years. The company's CEO and co-founder, Beck Besecker, called the announcement a "game changer" because it will help to embed the tech into everyday life.

"(This) could theoretically add a 4th dimension to how we experience the world. Once Apple starts integrating AR into the most popular apps, like email, texting, photos, maps, and music, it will bring AR into our lives in a deep and meaningful way on a daily basis." he told CNBC in an email comment.

So What's Next?

The biggest question is always what will come next, the hardware or the applications? Though it's hard to say whether the demand will lead production or the production will manufacture its own demand, the technologies will likely be developed side by side in tandem. As new applications are discovered emerging technologies will try to keep pace, and as technologies advance new uses will be found.

Before long augmented reality will be used every day in offices across the world to help make workplace communication more efficient and more personal, while virtual reality will be used to supplement instruction in classrooms that may not have the resources to give their students firsthand experiences. Learn more about the differences between virtual reality and augmented reality from this infographic from Lumus. Even if you haven't experienced either one yet, you are likely to encounter both in the near future.