More and more of Silicon Valley's biggest tech firms are blurring the line between what's virtual and what's real. 

Alphabet's (GOOGL) Google, Apple (AAPL) Facebook (FB) and Snap (SNAP)  are just a few of the tech juggernauts that are poised to make big bets on augmented reality, a technology that involves layering computer-generated graphics, sounds or GPS data onto real-world environments, like live video. It's become the tech du jour ever since  Nintendo  (NTDOY) released Pokémon Go last July, after which consumers began to clamor for more mass-market AR applications beyond just game play. 

The rise of AR comes as another, similar technology is generating just as much buzz, but is likely to take much longer to bring to the masses -- virtual reality. Tech companies are also jockeying with the rapid rise of digital assistants, which despite being somewhat separate from AR, uses some of the same machine learning software applied in AR. 

Unlike AR, virtual reality involves life-like simulations or experiences that, for now, can only be viewed using a headset, most of which are priced out of reach for the average consumer. That's part of the reason why AR seems to be overtaking VR, said Tim Bajarin, president of tech research firm Creative Strategies. Aside from Google's $15 cardboard VR headset, the cheapest VR goggles are Facebook's Oculus Rift, which costs $599. 

"Even though virtual reality has a lot of promise, the problem is that to deliver VR, you have to have a set of goggles," Bajarin said. "On the other hand, you have a platform within this platform that you can already deliver in existing user platforms and that's AR." 

Pokémon Go was the tipping point that made mobile phone vendors and the software community realize that instead of waiting around to bring VR to the masses -- something that Bajarin thinks will take at least a decade -- tech companies can move ahead with AR.

Facebook and Snap eyeing augmented reality.
Facebook and Snap eyeing augmented reality.

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