20 Best Augmented Reality Apps – VR for the Rest of Us
Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality
Virtual reality, or VR, has a reputation for being for hardcore gamers. You know: the serious tech heads who don’t think it’s at all strange to sit in a room with a giant set of black goggles over their eyes and interact with people, places, and things that don’t actually exist.
For the rest of us, there’s probably a healthy curiosity about VR, but it’s not to the point where we’re willing to spend a few hundred pounds on a serious piece of equipment.
Augmented reality, or AR, on the other hand, combines reality (or real reality, since the word “reality” on its own need some qualification here) with virtual reality. It’s not only a more approachable solution for the majority of people who don’t want to have two of their five senses completely cut off from (real) reality, but it’s more accessible, since all you need is your smartphone.
The category of AR apps has been quickly growing over the past few years. Now, there are lots of AR apps that do all sorts of things: entertain, educate, share helpful information, tap into users’ creativity, and more.
Here are 20 of our favourite augmented reality apps.
Think of the name as layer plus AR, since that’s what Layar does: add layers of digital content over the world – augmenting our reality. It enhances printed materials, and gives you location-specific information, wherever you are.
You can scan any package or page that has digital content (as noted by the Layar icon) to bring it up. It also scans QR codes and has AV playback capabilities. Bring up the Geo option to find out what’s around you, including points of interest, restaurants, and even homes for sale.
Layar works with most social media channels, so you can easily share what you find, and you can save favourites right to your phone. Layar is free, and it’s a great first experience with AR for the average consumer because it’s so simple and so useful.
2. Star Walk
Knowledge of constellations and the stars in the sky has long been a way for travellers to find their way home. Now, we’ve got maps and GPS, but it’s still awe-inspiring to gaze up at the night sky and find the same shapes and patterns that our ancestors saw.
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about what you’re looking at, the Star Walk AR app can tell you. Point your phone’s (or tablet’s) camera at the sky, and the app will find your location and give you all of the information about the stars in your field of view.
If you’re looking for a particular constellation or star, the app can tell you when and how you can see it. It syncs with social media, so you can share your findings. It’s a great education tool for young and old stargazers.
Using Wikitude is like having Yelp, Trip Advisor, Twitter, Facebook, and several other helpful sites with you all at once.
It’s location based, so all you have to do is hold your phone’s camera up, and you’ll get reviews, geo-tagged Tweets and posts, and all sorts of useful information for the places in your immediate proximity.
It’s an immensely helpful tool for travellers who need spontaneous details on where to go and what to do, but really, it’s helpful for everyone.
4. Google Ingress
This intense augmented reality app from Google, Ingress is all about brainy fun, and it’s sure to appeal to serious gamers who don’t yet have (or want) a full-on VR set-up.
It’s an impressively immersive game that blends science fiction, mystery, and adventure, and players use their phone to find portals and create control fields.
If you love multi-faceted role playing games with loads of people and you’ve always fancied yourself a bit of a spy, you might find Ingress incredibly addictive.
5. ARBasketball/Kick Ball (AR Soccer)
What’s the point of having augmented reality if you can’t have a little mindless fun once in a while? These two apps provide just that, and they’re both quite simple.
For ARBasketball, you just print a marker and point your phone at it. You’ll be given a VR ball and shown a VR hoop, and all you have to do is start shooting.
Prefer football? With the Android Kick Ball app, all you need to do is point your smartphone’s camera at your feet and start kicking around the VR ball.
Again, these apps aren’t going to do anything of great use, but they’re awfully good for a goof.
6. AR Invaders
AR Invaders is like playing Space Invaders, Galaga, Asteroids, or any other spacey shooter game, except you’re standing right in the middle of it.
Alien invaders fly around wherever you’re standing, and you shoot them. There’s a multiplayer mode to get your friends in on the action, and the game is different whenever you’re in a new location.
It’s a great introduction to AR gaming.
7. Toywheel Toy Car RC
If you had a good time tooling around with an RC car when you were a kid, you’ll love the Toywheel Toy Car RC augmented reality app. Or rather, the kids in your life will love it.
Using targets that you can print on any ordinary printer, you can use your iPhone or iPad to drive a virtual RC car through your real environment.
On the floor? Of course. Over the couch? Totally. Over the sleeping dog? Well, that’s up to you. Toy Car RC is another fun app that lets kids get in on the AR action.
8. Mybrana 3D
Aspiring filmmakers, wannabe animators, auteurs and new media artists of all ages: you’re gonna like this one.
Mybrana lets you make short videos with a twist, adding bits of animation (called branas) to whatever it is you’re shooting. Imagine dragons flying through the sky, aliens roaming in the park, or the legs of an octopus in your bathtub.
Some branas are available for purchase, or you can design (and share) your own. It’s all in good fun, but with a strong creative element.
9. Quiver (formerly ColAR Mix)
Quiver is a really cool app for bringing drawings to life. Not just any drawings, though: you have to use one of the colouring pages provided on the Quiver website, many of which are free.
Once your kids (or you) colour one in, you capture it with the app, and it’s instantly a 3D figure that you can control. For children who enjoy colouring, or for adults who are jumping in on the grown-up colouring book trend, this AR app is a great way to take this age-old hobby just one step further.
10. Anatomy 4D
For biology students or anyone with an interest in how the human body works, this vivid, educational, and totally free app uses free printable images (or “targets”) to bring ordinary anatomy textbook images to life.
You can see, in 3D, the various systems of the body, zoom in, and change opacity to see how organs and more work together.
The classroom possibilities for the Anatomy 4D augmented reality app, especially in schools that have lots of iPads to pass around, are endless.
Free for iOS and Android, Blippar is an AR app that will “fuel your curiosity,” as its tagline goes. It’s sort of like an AR scanner for everything around you. Scan anything — anything — and the app gives you a wealth of new information.
It’s called “blipping,” and the Blippar team is really hoping that this term “blip” takes off. You can blip anything from an object to a magazine to an advertisement, and more. There’s lots of educational potential here, but there’s also a lot of marketing potential too. Blippar currently works with dozens of big brand names and their products (everyone from Coca Cola to Cracker Jack to Unilever) to unlock content.
What will you see? It depends, but blipping typically reveals interesting factoids, interactive content, games, new media, and anything else that you can consume on a mobile device. As the Blippar community grows, new blippable items should be added, and eventually, most of your surroundings will be a blipper’s paradise.
12. Google Translate
You’ve probably used Google’s translation feature many times, and you’re probably wondering why it needs to use AR to work. You just type in words and get a translation, right? Well, yes, and while that’s so much better than carrying around a pocket translation dictionary, it still isn’t a perfect system. What about signs in public places?
This is where you want AR. All you need to do is open the app and hold your phone up so it can see the sign. You’ll get a full translation without having to type in anything. Now that’s convenient! Google Translate is totally free for iOS and (of course) Android.
13. Field Trip
Docents at museums and tour guides at historical sites are so helpful because they give you all sorts of information about the things around you. When you’re out exploring on your own, though, it can feel like you’re missing a big part of the field trip experience. Here’s where the free Field Trip AR app comes in.
Available for iOS, Android, and even Glass (the app is a Google product), Field Trip provides interesting details about the history around you. It really is, as the name suggests, a great way to take an educational field trip any time — and you don’t even have to board a big yellow school bus to do it.
Aurasma is an AR platform that allows users to create auras, or interactive content related to specific items in real space. For the average user, though, using the free Aurasma app (for both iOS and Android) is a way to learn about and engage with the world around them.
It’s a fun little tool for anyone who loves to learn — a bit of a novelty, even — but where it really shines is in the education sector. Using the full potential of Aurasma, teachers can make textbooks come alive, with animations, videos, audio tracks, and more that students will actually be excited to check out.
Currently, there’s lots of marketing content on Aurasma, and that’s the part of the app that the company is really pushing; helping big businesses create Auras is a big way in which Aurasma makes money, so it’s somewhat understandable. However, there are Auras everywhere, anyone can create one to share, and anyone can use the app to learn more about his or her surroundings.
15. Crayola Color Alive
Colouring with crayons is a longstanding favourite activity of children everywhere. And while a beautifully finished colouring book page is a source of pride for kids the world over, wouldn’t it be nice if those pages actually, you know, did something? Enter Crayola Color Alive — now we’re getting somewhere.
This free app, which is available for iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle, and Windows Phone, literally takes your drawings off the page. It works with special Color Alive pages; free samples are available on the Crayola website, and additional books of pages featuring characters like Barbie, the Minions, superheroes, and more can be purchased from Crayola.
Once the pages are colored, they can be scanned into the app, and the characters come alive. Kids aren’t just creating a colouring page — they’re making animated characters! You can interact with them, move them around, make them do things, and more. It’s a fun way to take colouring into the 21st century, and children will be charmed by the possibilities.
Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny the fact that tattoos are ridiculously popular. If you’re entertaining the idea of getting yourself inked but are getting nervous about the level of commitment that requires (seriously, these things are for life), an AR app like InkHunter can be a great aid.
Currently free for iOS, with Android and Windows Phone versions in the works, InkHunter allows you to see what you’d look like with a tattoo. Using AR, the app realistically superimposes one of their designs or a design of your own on your body. You can even take photos of it to share and see what others think — not that you need their approval, but you get the picture.
Friends, home improvement junkies, interior design enthusiasts — lend us your ears. You know what a challenge it can be to really get a feel for how a new piece of furniture will fit in your space. Sure, that couch seems like it would work, but then once you get it inside, you realize it’s too big, or has all the wrong lines, or just isn’t fitting in.
Had you used Snapshop, though, you could have figured all this out before you actually purchased the piece and unpacked it in your living room. This free iOS app (sorry, Android users) gives you the chance to browse pieces from stores like CB2, Pier 1, and more, then, using AR, see how specific pieces look where you’d put them in your home. It’s actually quite handy, and if you’re a professional interior designer, this little AR app could become a real godsend for you.
18. Hyundai Virtual Guide
It made its big-time debut at CES 2016, and while Hyundai Virtual Guide isn’t available for download yet, it has the potential to change how we maintain our cars. Essentially, this is an interactive owner’s manual that uses AR to show you what’s what on your dashboard and under the hood.
This may sound like a neat little educational thing — oh, so that’s where the air filter is located — but it basically lets you be your own grease monkey. This is great news for anyone who regularly takes their car in for minor issues but feels like they should be able to fix the problem themselves.
The first edition of this AR app will be just for the Hyundai Sonata, but we’re thinking it won’t be long before every Hyundai model, and indeed, every new car out there, has its own AR app for minor repairs. It may be bad news for mechanics who stand to lose income from those little jobs, but it’s really great news for anyone who owns a car.
We all depend on the sun to live, but some of us depend on it a bit more than others. Those who work as photographers, farmers, gardeners, architects, and other professionals who rely on that great keylight in the sky will want to know about Sunseeker.
Unlike most of the other apps on our list, Sunseeker is not free; it’s $9.99 USD (about £7) for iOS and slightly less for Android. However, what it does is use AR to show you the path of the sun through the sky and where the sunlight will hit throughout the day at given hours. Need to shoot some portraits? You’ll know what times are best when you use Sunseeker. Looking for the best place to plant some full-sun plants? Sunseeker. Want to make sure the building you’re designing has good southern exposure? Again, Sunseeker.
This app is also a worthwhile investment for house hunters who want to see exactly how the natural light will come into any given home. It will let you know if that sun room is, indeed, sunny, and if the garden is truly in the best spot.
Coming soon from start-up Curioscope, Virtuali-Tee is an awesome-looking AR system that helps kids learn about the human body. Using the app, students can look into the body’s different systems and actually see what they look like.
Here’s the catch: to get things to line up properly, someone has to wear the shirt. That’s the “tee” part in Virtuali-Tee: the pattern on the shirt shows the app where to put everything. It’s an interesting concept, and apparently, lots of people thought it was great as well: over 1500 people pledged more than £74,000 on the company’s Kickstarter campaign and over $110,000 on a simultaneous Indiegogo campaign a few months back.
The app is free, the tees are about £18 each (less for volume), and there’s even a VR component to the whole system that allows you to actually travel through blood vessels and into the body’s organs. It looks like it should be available by the start of the 2016-2017 academic year.
What the Future Holds For Augmented Reality Apps
It’s safe to say that augmented reality is growing more popular by the day, and that we’ll probably see more and more AR apps in the coming years. What sorts of experiences will they facilitate?
Well, games and entertainment, of course, will be big. Marketing uses are also on the rise, as AR helps companies extend their advertising dollars by making their campaigns both techie-cool and on-demand. And one has to wonder if there’s an AR social media component waiting in the wings.
The big area for future growth in AR, though, is probably education. It’s a great learning tool, and a great way to take advantage of the tablets and other technology that many schools already own. There’s no need to invest in more expensive equipment; just download the apps, many of which are free, and get started learning everything from science to history to art. We’ve told you about a few educational apps here, and expect to see many more in the next year or two.
Give Them a Try!
If you’ve been curious about virtual reality, or if you’re interested in pushing the boundaries of what you can do with your smartphone or tablet, these ten augmented reality apps are definitely worth trying. Many of them are free, and there’s sure to be something on our list that will appeal to everyone.
We’re just scratching the surface of AR, though. What’s your favourite augmented reality app, and why? Leave a comment and let us know what we should check out next!
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