Augmented reality, or AR for short, lets you virtually experiment with and manipulate the real world through technology. You’ve probably seen AR at work in popular games for both Android and iOS, but there are so many other cool apps that use it, too.
Augmented reality apps for Android and iOS let you test out what things might look like, like a tattoo on your body or a certain couch in your home. You can be silly with AR in Snapchat or serious with it in a few business-focused apps. Heck, you can even tinker with simpler AR features in apps like Google Lens and Google Translate. Whatever your interests are, there’s a wide range of possibilities with AR in mobile apps, and we found the top augmented reality apps across all kinds of categories.
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Quite a few popular gaming apps take advantage of how cool and immersive AR is. Incorporating AR into a mobile game makes it more interactive and fun for users, helping them tie in the real world while interacting with the virtual objects in their game.
- Pokémon GO (iOS, Android): If you’ve ever played a Pokémon game on a Nintendo console, you need to give Pokémon GO (Free, with in-app purchases) a try, too. It’s one of the top AR apps in general, and a ton of fun to play. You can collect all your favorites from the original gen all the way up to the newest gen of Pokémon. There are fun missions and field research tasks to complete to make the game more interesting. Plus, you can hatch Pokémon eggs by walking, so if you’re looking for something to inspire you to exercise, there’s nothing more adorable than this.
- Jurassic World Alive (iOS, Android): If collecting Pokémon doesn’t sound interesting to you, maybe collecting dinosaurs will. Jurassic World Alive (Free, with in-app purchases) lets you collect different dinosaur species, as well as create your own unique species in a lab with dinosaur DNA you find. Similar to Pokémon GO, you can compete against other players or choose to complete story missions and other tasks.
- Ingress Prime (iOS, Android): Ingress Prime (Free, with in-app purchases) is less of a collection game and more of a strategy game. You’ll choose between two Factions: the Enlightened or the Resistance. Whichever Faction you choose, your goal is to claim as much territory and link as many portals as you can for your Faction. The game uses real-world landmarks, like monuments or public artwork, to store resources you need for your Scanner and house important portals. You might also end up fighting players from other Factions in real time!
Although AR shines in a fun gaming environment, it’s really great for learning, too. An AR experience makes things more interactive. It can also make learning feel like a game, even if you’re learning about material that’s typically drier, like history or science.
- BBC Civilisations AR (iOS, Android): For history buffs and novices alike, the BBC’s Civilisations AR (Free) is a fantastic way to learn more about the world around you. The BBC collaborated with Nexus Studios and over 30 museums in the UK to bring a virtual collection of historical artifacts and information to your smartphone. It’s fascinating to see to-scale artifacts through an app instead of only being able to see it in a museum halfway across the world. And to be able to learn at your own pace with an interesting narrative is just awesome.
- Mission to Mars AR (iOS, Android): If you’ve ever been intrigued about the rovers on Mars, this is the app for you. Mission to Mars AR (Free) lets you experience what it was like to land the first rover on Mars. You can see what the Perseverance rover sees, control a virtual rocket launch and rover landing, virtually drive a rover down your street or hallway, and so much more. As the app advertises, this truly is the best way to experience Mars until we can actually go there ourselves!
Apps with AR are a great way to show off your personality as well for gaming and education. AR can also make it easier to have fun in social media or learn how to express yourself through art.
- Snapchat (iOS, Android): Snapchat (Free, with in-app purchases) is probably the king of social media AR apps. Although Snapchat has multiple filters you can use, they also have AR lenses that can transform you or your surroundings. Their face lenses can turn you and anyone else on camera into a puppy, a baby, another gender, and more. And while you can choose to keep your snaps in Snapchat, you can also save and share them on your other social platforms.
- Sketch AR (iOS, Android): Sketch AR (Free, with paid options) lets you develop your sketching skills, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced. The app gives you a step-by-step tutorial for all kinds of different animals, plants, and more to help you up your drawing skills. You can either pay for a pro membership or watch video ads to unlock these step-by-step tutorials. You can follow the tutorial just by looking through the directions and recreating the drawing on paper, or you can have the tutorial presented to you in AR for you to follow it that way.
With augmented reality, apps can do some pretty amazing things like let you test out a potential tattoo idea, a creative makeup look, or a bold new hairstyle. That way, you’re not stuck with a look you regret because you’ve already tried it out virtually.
- InkHunter (iOS, Android): If you’ve had an idea for a tattoo but are worried whether or not it will look good on you, check out InkHunter (Free). You can sketch out what you’re thinking and, through AR, see what it’ll look like on your body. Or, if you want tattoo ideas, feel free to browse through tons of uploaded tattoo designs from incredible artists.
- YouCam Makeup (iOS, Android): YouCam Makeup (Free, with paid options) is an incredibly useful app for anyone who has ever thought about changing up their hair or experimenting with different makeup looks. The free version offers a decent variety of hair colors and makeup looks to choose from, but the premium version ($24.99 per year) unlocks additional options as well as features like teeth whitening, lip plumping, and skin perfecting. It also removes ads and watermarks from photos. If you’ve always wondered what an eyeshadow or lipstick color would look like on you, their AR features will perfectly match up makeup looks with your face so you can see what it would look like.
AR is also quite handy to use around the home. Whether you want to see what a new piece of furniture would look like in the bedroom or you’re trying to figure out the best way to measure and maximize your space, there’s an app that can help you out.
- Houzz (iOS, Android): You can buy home décor, furniture, fixtures, and more directly through the Houzz app (Free, with in-app purchases). But before you make your final decision, you can see what the item will look like in your home through AR simply by adding a drag and drop couch in your virtual living room. Plus, the interior design app can also help you get style ideas if you’re stuck and also help connect you with professionals in your area if you need any help with a home renovation.
- AR Ruler (iOS, Android): The AR Ruler app (Free, with paid option available) is exactly what it says it is—a ruler that uses AR. It can help you look at a space and get an idea for what the measurements of your walls, floors, and surrounding furniture are. Then, you can help use those measurements to create a floor plan for, say, a renovation.
Believe it or not, AR isn’t always just fun and games. AR can be very useful for companies to help internally communicate their ideas and collaborate in both augmented and virtual reality.
- Augment (iOS, Android): Although you can use Augment (Free) to test out certain items in your home, similar to the Houzz app, business owners can probably get more use out of this app. You can create a custom 3D model of a product that you sell and allow your customers to try it out in their own home, likely increasing your sales. Or, you can also use Augment to visualize a prototype of something before it’s fully produced.
- Vuforia Chalk (iOS, Android): Vuforia Chalk (Free) is incredibly useful for businesses that have a lot of complicated, step-by-step procedures to carry out. With Vuforia Chalk, you don’t have to be in person to physically show someone how to carry out a task like fixing a toilet or organizing a store display. You and other people can use the app to draw on the virtual environment and show exactly what you’re talking about. Then, whatever is drawn around an object on the screen will stay around that object even when the camera moves away from it. For example, if a plumber uses Vuforia Chalk to help an apprentice fix a toilet and he makes a circle around a broken piece of the flushing mechanism, that circle will stay drawn around the broken piece even if the apprentice moves his camera away from the toilet .
- Wikitude (iOS, Android): Wikitude (Free) is fantastic to use for building a unique marketing campaign. You can create your own custom AR customer experience—like a magical storybook wonderland through your bookstore or a virtual puzzle to find all the AR chocolates in your bakery—then share it via a QR code. When people scan the code with their mobile device, they’ll see everything you’ve created and hopefully follow your marketing trail to whatever product or service you’re selling. It’s a great way to connect and be more engaged with your customer base.