NEW YORK: Augmented Reality (AR) is set to reach 16.4% of the US population by 2019, driven by the high penetration of smartphones and the popularity of the Facebook and Snapchat apps, according to eMarketer.

However, not all realities are created equal, as Virtual Reality (VR) is estimated to grow much slower, new figures from the research firm suggest.

In 2017, 40m people in the US will engage with some form of AR at least once a month.

The main reason for this growth, up by almost a third on 2016, is the adoption of AR technologies across the popular platforms Snapchat and Facebook, with their respective products: Lenses and Stories.

eMarketer predicts this growth will continue into 2019, at which point it estimates there will be 54.4m AR users in the US, or almost a fifth of the population.

Currently, users of Snapchat Lenses make up the vast majority of the company's estimates, forecasting analyst Chris Bendtsen said.

"Snapchat growth will continue to contribute to AR users in the future, but in the next several years eMarketer also expects Facebook Stories to be a significant growth driver of AR usage," he said, since it is now widely available to Facebook's user base.

The outlook is not as bright for VR, which has been slower to catch on in the US – a key mature market. However, VR has seen a year on year user growth of 109.5%, driven primarily by the gaming industry, which will attract 9.6m monthly users this year.

AR has a significant advantage over VR in that more than 80% of Americans already own smartphones. Whereas virtual reality experiences require extra hardware, with dedicated headsets retailing for high prices, AR benefits from an extension of prior behaviour.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has been working on "mixed reality" and has just unveiled a successor to its Hololens headset, with a pair of relatively normal glasses that use a technique called digital holography.

Data sourced from eMarketer, CNBC; additional content by WARC staff