Behind The Buzzword: XR

A Term With A Lot (Or Very Little) Meaning

Steven Lerner

Digital Transformation professionals are often inundated with a barrage of new business buzzwords. Does a particular buzzword refer to meaningful technology, or is it just another example of meaningless terminology? Each week, Enterprise Mobility Exchange publishes Behind The Buzzword, a quick overview of new technology jargon and how professionals view it.

XR is one of those technology terms that are so new in the enterprise, chances are that you may not have formed enough of an opinion about it. As more real and virtual environments make their way into the enterprise, XR will be one of those new theories that you won’t be able to escape. Consequently, XR is now becoming one of the most prolific IT buzzwords of 2019.

Before explaining the story behind XR’s rise as a buzzword, let’s first discuss the meaning and practicality of it. A 2018 research paper by Steve Mann, Tom Furness Yu Yuan, Jay Iorio, and Zixin Wang define XR as a mixed reality environment that is “the union between ubiquitous sensor/actuator networks and shared online virtual worlds.” The acronym stands for either “extended reality” or “extended response.”

The history of this concept can be traced back to 1961 when Charles Wychoff patented a film that leveraged XR as an advanced way to view nuclear explosions. Thirty years later in 1991, Wychoff teamed up with Mann to create XR vision devices that blended virtual/augmented reality to extend human sensory capabilities.

Today, XR can refer to all real and virtual combined environments generated by technology, which includes augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). By extension, mixed reality (MR), which is the combination of augmented and virtual environments, is part of XR. There is a growing list of deployment opportunities in the enterprise, including collaborating with remote workers and enhancing surveillance capabilities.

See Related: Virtual Reality Training: Walmart Leverages VR For Employees

Although serving as an umbrella term for VR and AR helped solidify a place for XR in the enterprise, it also resulted in the term becoming an annoying buzzword. The first problem is that there isn’t technically a universal definition (or understanding) about what XR really entails. Despite the uncertainty of XR’s meaning, business and technology professionals still throw around the nebulous term.

This also presents XR’s other problem: that it is being used interchangeably to describe other forms of alternative reality environments. This hodgepodge term doesn’t do justice to the distinct differences between VR and AR.

By looking at XR’s original meaning, it is clear that the term might be impactful in the enterprise. However, it is recommended that instead of using XR as a term to sound trendy, just refer to the environment as AR or VR instead. If you absolutely have to use the term, say extended reality instead of XR because it might be confused with the iPhone XR.

Are there any technology buzzwords or phrases that you are tired of hearing? Share them with Editor Steven Lerner by emailing