AR Apps Add a New View to Your Phone
The Pokémon Go craze may be so 2016, but augmented reality apps aren't going anywhere. In fact, with AR-powered apps coming to the iPhone thanks to ARKit developer tools and Google introducing developer tools of its own in the form of ARCore, the future of AR is pretty exciting.
But the present shouldn't be overlooked either. From augmented reality viewers that provide immersive print and advertising, to clever AR games, social media toys, and practical utilities, check out some of the best augmented reality apps available for Android and iOS devices.
Photo Credit: Philip Michaels/Tom's Guide
Just a Line (Android, iOS: Free)
Doodles just got a lot more interested. Google's latest ARCore creation, Just a Line, brings your drawings to life using augmented reality. Since it's a Google app, it's compatible with a host of Android devices. However, the free app just made the leap to iOS so iPhone users can get in on the fun. All you need to play is a smartphone, your finger and plenty of imagination. After you've finished your AR masterpiece, you can capture on video and share it with friends. Although Just a Line can be a fun solo activity, it's a lot better with a friend or two.
Google Lens (Android, iOS: Free)
Google Lens is the latest iteration of the Google Goggles concept, with the search giant using the power of its computing cloud to help identify text, images, objects and landmarks in your photographs in order to get more information. The app is available in a standalone version in Android, and is also integrated into the latest versions of Google Photos on Android and iOS as well as the Google app for iOS.
MORE: Google Lens Guide
Google Maps (Android, iOS: Free)
Google Maps (Android, iOS) is the latest app from the search giant to build in augmented reality features . Maps is adding an AR mode that helps you navigate to your destination by adding virtual signs and directional arrows over the live view on your phone in order to point the way. AR Mode is in limited testing at the moment, and there's no firm word on when it might release to the general public, but it's an exciting addition to one of the best navigation apps out there. (Image credit: The Wall Street Journal)
Civilizations AR (Android, iOS: Free)
BBC's Civilizations AR (Android, iOS) is a tie-in app to the broadcaster's Civilizations documentary series. It uses the power of augmented reality to bring to you more than 30 different artifacts from across the many epochs and great civilizations of the world. It's the next best thing to being able to handle these ancient treasures and works of art. Each artifact can be viewed in lifelike 3D renderings using your phone as an AR viewfinder. 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.
Mondly (Android, iOS: Free)
Language learning app Mondly (Android, iOS) adds an augmented reality-assisted spin with a module for ARKit and AR Core-enabled phones. Mondly's AR features engages language learners with an animated chatbot as well as visualizations of objects and words to help make learning more dynamic, as well as providing instant feedback on pronunciation and any errors. All of this is in addition to Mondly's lessons, games, and practice conversations designed to cover more than 30 different languages.
YouCam Makeup (Android, iOS: Free)
YouCam Makeup (Android, iOS) is an AR-assisted selfie camera that doubles up as a makeup and fashion assistant, letting you preview a range of beauty products such as lipstick, blush, and eye makeup from brands like L'Oreal, Maybelline, and Urban Decay, generated in real-time with augmented reality. In addition to the makeup and accessories previews and your expected selfie cam editing features, YouCam Makeup also features a lively social element, allowing you to share looks, follow other users, and shop and review featured products.
The Machines (Android, iOS: $4.99)
The Machines is a competitive multiplayer strategy game that takes advantage of Apple's ARKit to turn your tabletop into a virtual battlefield. Players take command of a force of machines to defeat their enemy, with the iPhone serving as a viewfinder that you have to physically move around to position your forces and aim superweapons. Players can train and learn in the practice mode, and once they're ready, they can battle it out in online multiplayer or in local multiplayer with friends gathered around the same table. The game has now branched out to Android, letting a whole new field of players get in on the augmented reality action.
Euclidean Skies (iOS: $4.99)
The mind-bending Escher-space-meets-Rubik's-Cube puzzles of Euclidean Lands get a worthy sequel in Euclidan Skies, where you must guide an adventurer past puzzles and perilous foes through a combination of clever moves and rotating the very level itself. Like its predecessor, Euclidean Skies features an augmented reality mode that lets you get a new perspective on the action, projecting the level and its characters right into your own living room.
ARise (iOS: $2.99)
ARise is another excellent showcase of augmented reality's potential as a gaming medium, with the game's environmental platform puzzles laid out in AR-space that you can then explore and interact with. Unlike traditional AR experiences, the marker-less capabilities of ARKit lets you turn just about any space, whether it's home, the bus stop, or the office break room into a gaming space.
Pokémon Go (Android, iOS: Free)
Combining the addictive collecting and battling-ready gameplay of Nintendo's Pokémon with Niantic's augmented reality technology, Pokémon Go (Android, iOS) took the mobile gaming world by storm in 2016, and updates have continued. Pokémon Go sends players exploring their neighborhood on foot to discover, photograph and collect cute Pokémon from Nintendo's hit franchise. Each player's phone functions as a map and viewfinder, guiding you toward Poké Stops to collect items and helping you spot Pokemon to capture. Updates to the app have made gym battles more accessible to all players while introducing Raid Battles, which puts up to 20 trainers in co-op fights against powerful monsters.
Ingress Prime (Android, iOS: Free)
Ingress, the augmented reality ancestor to Pokémon Go has gotten a face lift with Ingress Prime (Android, iOS). This revamp features interface and performance tweaks inspired by years of the original Ingress as well as Pokémon Go. Players will join the ranks of rival secret societies, the Enlightened and Resistance, wandering the streets collecting Exotic Matter (XM) and fighting for control of XM portals around real-world locations. You also construct control fields by linking together your faction's portals. The faction-based gameplay and the mechanic of linking wildly separated locations to form control fields encourages players to get to know other local players as well as the many unappreciated landmarks around you.
Thyng (Android, iOS: Free)
Thyng (Android, iOS) is a toolkit for creating your own augmented reality experiences, with tools to create a variety of AR effects, such as placing animated figures and 3D models on top of surfaces and targets, suspending videos and photographs in mid-air, and more. You can then take snapshots of your creations, or record 30-second videos. The app is available on Android and iOS, powered by ARCore and ARKit respectively.
Vuforia Chalk (Android, iOS: Free)
Vuforia Chalk (Android, iOS) is an interesting app that turns your smartphone into a powerful visual tech support tool. Once the app connects you and a friend or tech guru through a video call, you use your phone's rear camera as a viewfinder to show exactly what you need help with. Both parties can then draw on the screen with augmented reality chalk marks that work like visual annotations, letting you find the right buttons, dials, and controls, without the confusion caused by just verbal descriptions.
World Brush (iOS: Free)
The world is your canvas with World Brush, an iOS augmented reality app that allows you to draw and paint over real-world views using a variety of virtual brushes. Once you're done, your virtual painting is saved to its approximate GPS location, allowing other World Brush users nearby to view your creations. And of course, there's a system to like, dislike, and report creations with offensive content.
IKEA Place (Android, iOS: Free)
Furniture giant IKEA has experimented in the past with AR in its catalog apps, but the new IKEA Place app (Android, iOS) is a marked improvement, taking advantage of AR developer tools to help users easily visualize how a variety of IKEA furniture designs would look like in their home. Users scan their floor plan with their phone, and then you can select furniture designs and drag and drop them into place using your smartphone as a viewfinder.
AR MeaseureKit (iOS: Free, $2.99 for all tools)
AR MeasureKit might not be as flashy as other AR apps like games and drawing tools, but it provides soime really handy utility functions, turning your iPhone into a pocket measuring tool. The free version of the app comes with a ruler function that lets you measure the length of surfaces, with a chaining tool for measuring more complex lengths. A $2.99 in-app purchase unlocks full functionality, with tools for placing AR marker pins, measuring angles, trajectories, a person's height, and checking whether a surface is level.
Measure (Android: Free)
Not to be outdone, Google has its own augmented reality measuring tool, aptly named Measure, that takes advantage of ARCore as a testbed and showcase of Android's augmented reality capabilities. You can measure the length and height of flat surfaces or objects, switch between imperial and metric measurements, take photos of your measurements, and copy measurements to your clipboard.
Star Walk 2 (Android, iOS: $2.99)
Take augmented reality to the heavens with Star Walk 2 (Android, iOS), an AR app that uses your device's sensors and location data to present an interactive view of the night sky. All you need to do is point your device skyward, and the app will display a matching view of custom-rendered constellations, planets and other celestial bodies in real time, with more details available on demand. Other features include a Time Machine mode for viewing starscapes at past or future dates, an overlay to see skies at different wavelengths and a built-in Night Mode, which makes the app more comfortable to use in the low light.
Holo (Android, iOS: Free)
Holo (Android, iOS) lets users place a variety of holographic models and figures into a scene for photo and video capture. The app does limit you to a single hologram at a time, but it's still one of the most enjoyable AR experiences on the market today due to its extensive library of content available. You can also easily share all of your creations directly from the app’s built-in access to popular social media platforms.
Snapchat (Android, iOS: Free)
Snapchat's (Android, iOS) self-destructing messages have been a hit among its users, but it also includes augmented reality elements in the form of a variety of real-time transformations, filters and special effects called Lenses that you can add to Snapchat video message which you send to your contacts. The right lens can transform you into an animal, swap your face with another person's, or make you barf rainbows, making for a fun and silly addition to your Snapchat messages.
GIPHY World (iOS: Free)
GIPHY's joining in on the AR wagon with GIPHY World, an app that allows you to overlay animated GIFs and stickers live through AR. Users can choose from GIFs or a number of stickers, place them like marker pins, and then record short videos that you can then save and share to other people for an immersive GIF experience.
Instagram (Android, iOS: Free)
After adding Snapchat-style filters to its own app, Facebook has finally ported them over to Instagram (Android, iOS). These AR face features work both via the front-facing and rear cameras and with all of Instagram’s photo and video capture modes as well. Interested users can try on various crowns, turn themselves into a koala or a rabbit or choose to have math equations float around their heads.
WallaMe (Android, iOS: Free)
The world becomes your canvas with WallaMe (Android, iOS), an augmented reality app that lets you create geotagged works of art drawn or painted on walls, sidewalks, or buildings without having to spill a single drop of paint. You can then share the locations of your messages or artwork with your friends so that they can view your work with their own smartphone camera using WallaMe. You also can make your work public for any WallaMe user to discover with their viewfinder. In addition to using your phone as a viewfinder, you can search for other user-created WallaMe walls using a map interface.
Google Translate (Android, iOS: Free)
Google Translate (Android, iOS) is already a handy text and audio translation tool, and it gets even better with its augmented reality real-time visual translation features. All you need to do is hold up your smartphone camera and focus on the text, and Google Translate will provide real-time translations of words and phrases from a variety of languages. Users can download language packs, allowing for select offline translations when away from a cellular network.
Sun Seeker (Android: $7.49; iOS: $9.99)
Sun Seeker (Android, iOS) 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 showing the path and position of the sun at a given date and time, as well as specifics such as predicted sunrise, sunset and maximum elevation. While it seems like just a pricey software toy, it does have practical applications for a variety of professions, such as for photographers or architects planning to make use of natural lighting.