This looks like it's going to be the year for the best iPhone AR apps to grab a permanent place on your Apple smartphone. For years, Apple has talked about the potential of augmented reality and released multiple versions of its ARKit developer tools to help create AR-friendly apps for the iPhone. And all that work should pay off later in 2020.
That's because the iPhone 12 slated to arrive this fall is widely expected to add a time-of-flight sensor to go with the rear cameras on the iPhone Pro models. That sensor will not only improve bokeh effects on portrait shots, it will help run more sophisticated AR apps. Apple has already tipped its hand by adding a LiDAR sensor to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2020 that debuted this year, with an eye toward boosting the AR features on its tablet.
- See more of the best AR apps for both iOS and Android
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But you don't have to wait for the iPhone 12 models to join the list of best iPhones. Plenty of apps already take advantage of AR, and if you've got an iPhone of fairly recent vintage — the iPhone 6s or later — you've got a device capable of experiencing AR now, before the company releases updated iPhones or its long-rumored Apple AR glasses. Here are the best iPhone AR apps you can use right now.
The best iPhone AR apps on the iOS App Store
It's no secret that plenty of iPhone users turn to Google Maps instead of the built-in Maps app that comes with their phones, thanks to some stellar features in Google's navigation tool. One of those is the Live View look that brings augmented reality to Google Maps.
Live View helps you find your way by superimposing virtual signs and directional arrows over the live camera view on your iPhone’s screen in order to point the way to your destination. And this feature comes on top of the other tools available in Maps, ranging from turn-by-turn directions, commuting instructions, location search, reviews, and more.
- Download Google Maps for iOS
The Civilizations AR app brings ancient relics and cultural treasures to life using augmented reality to turn your iPhone into a mobile museum. You can view each artifact in lifelike 3D renderings, with your phone's screen serving as the viewfinder for this best iPhone AR app.
The AR approach gives you both unprecedented views and the ability to zoom in and spin around items. You can check out interactive features like x-ray views and narrations, and learn about the secrets, origins and history of these global cultural treasures. It's the next best thing to holding a historical artifact in your own hands.
- Download Civilizations AR for iOS
Actually dissecting a once-living frog is a feat not all students can, nor want to, do. You know what's a lot nicer? Using Froggipedia to slice open a virtual Kermit.
The AR app works on both the iPhone and iPad, but if you've got a tablet that supports Apple Pencil, you can take advantage of that stylus to really study anatomy and biology using Froggipedia. It sounds a lot less dangerous than taking an actual scalpel to an amphibian. And the best part? No cleanup.
- Download Froggipedia for iOS
The Machines has been an impressive addition to the ranks of the best iPhone AR apps, so much so that Apple has featured on-stage demos at iPhone launches. Take this competitive multiplayer co-op strategy game for a spin, and you can see why it garners so much attention.
You take on opponents either online or locally in the same room, shooting at each other and destroying virtual bases. As one player rotates their device, the sound of the game adjusts based around real world obstacles that would obscure traveling sound. It's really an impressive effect that makes the most out of augmented reality.
- Download The Machines for iOS
As with The Machines, Smash Tanks turns your tabletop into a battlefield, with the virtual action unfolding on your iPhone's display. In Smash tanks, you command cartoon tanks across an AR battlespace as you fling troops across the battlefield to destroy your enemy.
While this is one of the best iPhone AR apps, it's Smash Tanks' use of simple physics-based gameplay that makes the app so appealing. Smash Tanks offers single-player and multiplayer modes, providing a lot of ways to enjoy the game. And it plays just as well on your carpet or on the floor of your living room as it does outdoors, meaning you're never far away from an engaging AR battle.
- Download Smash Tanks for iOS
Big Bang AR
A collaboration between CERN and Google Arts & Culture, Big Bang AR brings the history of the cosmos to your living room, using augmented reality rendering to help you visualize the opening seconds of the universe and the titanic forces unleashed that define our universe today.
Narrated by Tilda Swinton, Big Bang AR is a media-rich presentation that showcases everything from the big bang to the final moments of a supernova, as well as the birth of our solar system and the Earth itself.
- Download Big Bang AR for iOS
SketchAR turns your iPhoone into an augmented reality drawing aid. The app overlays a sketch or line art image on a blank piece of paper that you can then trace over or use as the basis of your own sketch.
There's a library of sketches that comes with SketchAR, but you'll really get the most out of the app by turning your photos into traceable line art. SketchAR is designed to work on A4 sized paper, or any paper with four reference circle markers drawn on it to provide scale markers to the app.
- Download SketchAR for iOS
WWF Free Rivers
Since a class trip down the white-water rapids is both expensive and slightly dangerous, the World Wildlife Fund has got the next best thing with this addition to the list of best iPhone AR apps.
Free Rivers allows you to place interactive models of real locations — including the Himalayas, the African savanna and southeast Asian deltas — on a tabletop, for classroom edification and enjoyment. Kids can even take control, with options to create dams to properly manage water.
- Download WWF Free Rivers for iOS
One of our favorite iPhone AR apps yet, Vuforia Chalk uses augmented reality technology to supercharge tech support for the 21st century.
Chalk sets up a video call between two devices, where the person getting advice points their rear camera at whatever they need explained to them, and the other person draws on their own screen as they speak their suggestions. The person getting the help sees those doodles live, appearing on their screen, falling on the specific buttons, knobs and other parts of what they're looking at.
- Download Vuforia Chalk for iOS
Turn your iPhone into a mobile dance instructor with Dance Reality, an ARKit-powered app that teaches you the basic footwork and timings of a variety of dance styles. Pick a style of dance, and Dance Reality superimposes the footwork on your smartphone screen, along with a virtual instructor showing you how to put it altogether.
Users can select from a variety of dance styles, including the option to learn the footwork for whether you're leading or following. There's also solo and couple practice features.
- Download Dance Reality for iOS
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
Angry Birds might not be the mobile gaming juggernaut it once was, but it still throws up some cool concept games, like Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs, which takes the physics puzzler to augmented reality.
You can now project piggy fortresses into your living room, using an AR slingshot and an array of different birds to make those structures come tumbling down.
- Download Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs for iOS
ARia’s Legacy is an interesting looking adventure puzzle game that draws inspiration from immersive puzzles like horror game The Room, while putting an AR spin on things.
One of the best iPhone AR apps if you like puzzle games, ARia's Legacy doesn’t stop with projecting puzzle elements, but practically creates an entire virtual room around you, with your iPhone or iPad as a viewfinder for interacting with puzzles, machines, clues and tools.
The game is free, though the full unlock for the first chapter’s four escape rooms will cost you $2.99, with further puzzles incoming as the game releases further episodes.
- Download ARia's Legacy for iOS
Curious about trying your hand at creating AR experiences? Thyng provides tools for everyday users to create AR objects and play around with them.
What exactly can you do with Thyng on your iPhone? While one example allowed users to turn themselves into chess pieces, another created a three-by-three grid of football game streams, aka Pigskin Paradise.
- Download Thyng for iOS
ARise is a platform adventure game allows you to drop its world into your home, office, or anywhere else you go. As beautiful as top iOS puzzle game Monument Valley but less confusing, ARise looks to provide a calming and serene way to game.
The first level of ARise is free to play, but you'll have to pay $0.99 to unlock the full experience. All told, that's not much to put up for a gaming experience that makes the most of the iPhone's AR powers.
- Download ARise for iOS
Much more legal than carrying around a cadaver around with you, Insight Heart allows you to drop a transparent human body with a thumping heart onto what you see in front of you.
By moving your iPhone around the animation, walking closer and closer, you'll learn more about the incredibly vital organ. It's a great way to study the human body using nothing more than the smartphone you're already carrying around with you.
- Download Insight Heart for iOS
Popular home improvement app Houzz includes a View in My Room 3D tool, bolstered by Apple's ARKit toolset. That allows app users to get even more detail after dropping objects — selected from the app's library of half a million products — into their living spaces. You'll also see how those objects handle lighting.
The Houzz app does more than just let you see how objects look in a real-world space. You can also buy the items that tie your rooms together directly from the app.
- Download Houzz for iOS
Looking for something more specific than Houzz for decorating your home? The Ikea Place app works much the same way, using AR to let you to virtually drop new pieces of furniture from the famous company into your own living spaces and find out. Sadly, there are no virtual meatballs included with Ikea Place, though we still consider it one of the best iPhone AR apps.
- Download Ikea Place for iOS
Sun Seeker is a specialized AR app that tracks and predicts the movement of the sun in the sky, providing a flat compass view and augmented reality viewfinder that shows the path and position of the sun at a given date and time.
The app provides additional specifics such as predicted sunrise, sunset and maximum elevation. While it seems like just a pricey software toy, Sun Seeker does have practical applications for a variety of professions, such as for photographers or architects planning to make use of natural lighting.
- Download Sun Seeker for iOS
Google gets another entry into our list of best iPhone AR apps with Google Translate. This app makes excellent use of augmented reality to help convert written text from 88 different languages for users live and in real time.
Google Translate taps into the power of your iPhone camera and cloud processing to quickly interpret text and then overlay the translation on your iPhone screen, effectively replacing the original text in real time. It’s not always perfect, but is very convenient and serviceable for quick signs or labels, and comes on top of Google Translate’s text and audio translation features.
- Download Google Translate for iOS
Everybody loves GIFs, and so it feels right that GIPHY (the best site for finding them) has brought them into augmented reality on the iPhone
The GIPHY World app allows users to drop the moving images into videos and photos, and then share them with friends. Many apps have added similar AR sticker features over the years, but we're still charmed by how GIPHY pulls it off.
- Download GIPHY World for iOS