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Combine the real and the virtual with this selection of augmented reality apps and games
With iOS 11, Apple ushered in an augmented reality revolution. Because ARKit is baked into the heart of iOS, every developer immediately had access to hugely powerful tools for crafting virtual realities inside your iPhone.
We’ve scoured the App Store to find the best apps and games that take advantage of blending virtual objects with your local environment, providing you with exciting new ways to interact with immersive digital experiences.
Our favorite ARKit apps
From measuring tapes to a map of the heavens, ARKit boosts your iPhone whether you’re into practical utilities or expanding your horizons.
Free or $2.99/£2.99 • v1.1 • 43.2 MB • By Rinat Khanov
AR MeasureKit was the best ARKit measuring tape we tried. The basic ruler tool comes free, and is a cinch to use. Once your iPhone’s calibrated for AR, you simply tap start and end points. Measurements should be taken with a pinch of salt – during testing, they were often a centimeter or so out – but are fine for rough estimates.
Pay the one-off IAP and you unlock additional tools, including angles, a hollow cube with user-definable dimensions, and levels. All previous measurements remain in the virtual space until it’s cleared, enabling you to map out multiple items, before taking a few snaps for subsequent reference.
Free • v1.1.7 • 71.3 MB • By Inter IKEA Systems B.V.
Yes, we’re recommending what’s effectively a catalog for a multinational chain, but that’s because IKEA Place hints at shopping’s future. With a paper tome, you imagine how a chair will look in your home. With IKEA Place, you drop virtual objects directly into your room, which land on the floor with a satisfying thunk.
Others are getting in on the action, too – Amazon (free) has introduced AR, to show how that new coffee maker would look in your kitchen. And if you want something not being pushed by an actual store, try Housecraft (free). In that app, you drop furniture into a room, but bouncy physics makes for a playful experience as you create chair pile-ups.
$0.99/99p • v1.2 • 457 MB • By ANIMA RES
Anatomy apps are a great outlet for AR. You can see how medical students can benefit from being able to explore a virtual human – inside and out – at any given moment. Human Anatomy Atlas 2018 is a comprehensive take – although at $24.99/£23.99 it’s a bit pricey for the merely curious.
By contrast, Insight Heart costs a buck, and is also a deeply surreal experience. Define a place for a human to plant its feet, and an outline briefly appears, before vanishing and leaving a levitating, beating heart in its wake. This can be explored and switched between various states – great for when you fancy a live view of myocardial infarction in your kitchen.
Free • v2.0.6 • 147 MB • By JigSpace Inc.
ARKit provides plenty of scope for increasing people’s understanding of how objects work. Exploded diagrams of the kind seen in books become something else entirely when presented in 3D, hovering above a table.
JigSpace’s claim to offer “3D knowledge for anything” is overblown – the app has a mere few dozen items to explore. However, it’s hard to be too critical about a free download that can plonk a tiny trebuchet on your table, then have you rummage about the human ear, before exploring a car’s transmission, the NASA Lunar Lander, and a tutorial on how to best maintain a fridge.
Sky Guide AR
$2.99/£2.99 • v6.5.2 • 221 MB • By Fifth Star Labs LLC
The most elegant, usable astronomy app on iPhone, Sky Guide AR now adds an augmented reality layer. During the day, this maps stars, planets and other celestial bodies on to the daytime sky. But it also functions under twilight and nighttime, helping you understand more about the constellations you’re looking at. At any hour, it’s all rather alluring.
For a slightly different AR take on the heavens, there’s Night Sky (free + IAP). The app’s digital orrery has you walk ‘within’ the solar system, exploring planets and moons. It’s a tad twitchy and only available in the premium mode – although you get a month’s trial for free.
Free + IAP • v8.1.1 • 144 MB • ByAugmentra
One of the most directly practical uses of AR has to be mapping, and ViewRanger offers excellent overlays. As you hike or bike, the app’s Skyline feature works with offline maps to identify nearby locations and points of interest.
It makes for a curious comparison when set next to old-style illustrations of hill and mountain ranges many hikers still swear by. ViewRanger blows them away with near-instantaneous peak labeling, alongside pointers for nearby towns and lakes. It’ll even give you a virtual trail to follow (and leave digital breadcrumbs behind) when following a predefined route.
Our favorite ARKit games
Merging the real and the virtual might seem gimmicky in gaming. But the best ARKit games fully utilize 3D space, forcing you to engage physically with virtual worlds.
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.3 • 237 MB • By Climax Studios Ltd.
There’s a hint of Monument Valley about ARise, in it also being a path-finding puzzler based around optical illusions. But whereas Monument Valley’s impossible routes are solved by manipulating Escher-like illustrative worlds, ARise has you play with perspective by moving yourself.
Each of the game’s worlds finds a tiny adventurer attempting to reach a goal and wake a massive golem. When his path is blocked, you must reorient the landscape, finding the perfect angle to transform empty spaces into solid pathways. It’s short, but compelling and engaging. Just ensure you’ve plenty of space to move about in – you’ll need it.
Free• v1.0.3 • 139 MB • By Nitrome
Flat Pack’s standard mode wraps a platform game around 3D shapes. The hero dodders along, avoiding hazards and scooping up gold nuggets. But because of how the levels are constructed, you may find yourself moving over several surfaces, only to wind up back where you started, but facing in a completely different direction.
In the five AR levels, all this happens in constructions that hover in space. Each one is glibly titled. On Your Knees has a bit where you must crouch down and look up to see what’s going on. You can guess what Get Some Exercise makes you do. Like ARise, you’ll need plenty of space to successfully navigate around this one.
Mammoth Mini Golf AR
$4.99/£4.99 • v1.0.5 • 110 MB • By Ezone.com
This mini-golf game is mostly ‘mammoth’ in its inclusion of large, hairy beasts, rather than the fairly simple courses. However, because the game happily works on any flat surface, it can be experienced on anything from a dining table to the entire floor of a large room.
On a table, the game’s fine. The left/right/power/shoot controls are simple, and you get the choice of a standard game or ‘sudden death’ par-or-better mode. But when the course is larger, you can walk around it, and crouch down to get a better view. It’s then Mammoth Mini Golf AR feels almost like the real thing – albeit with prehistoric elephants romping about.
My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.2.1 • 82.0 MB • By StoryToys Entertainment Limited
Starring in an adorable children’s book and animation, the Very Hungry Caterpillar also turns out to be well suited to AR. On setting up the play area, the titular larvae appears along with trees and a toy box. You drop apples to feed the ravenous creature, and play with toys; when the caterpillar is thoroughly tired, you encourage it to have a little snooze on a stump.
This outing lacks the variety of activities found in the superb standard app, but it’s still charming. It’s child-friendly, too: younger users can interact with objects just by focusing on them closely in the center of the screen.
$1.99/£1.99 • v1.0.1 • 63.7 MB • By Marc Sureda
With AR being a new technology, it’s sometimes rather nice to just play – and that’s the sole reason for Playground AR’s existence. There’s no goal here, other than to have fun, experimenting in a physics sandbox, messing around with the various toys you’re provided with.
Most of them are colored blocks, which can be stacked and turned into impressive structures. But you also get components to construct machines, a couple of pre-made vehicles, and bombs to blow everything up with. Unfortunately, you can’t save and resume creations – but perhaps that’s missing the point. Playground AR’s all about being in the moment, mucking around with some exciting new toys.
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.3 • 135 MB • By RAC7 Games
This extremely smart puzzle game marries hints of platforming, auto-running, and classic title Lemmings. Each level finds you slicing through the landscape, dragging the now separated parts of the scene, in an attempt to lead a critter to his little spaceship.
At first, the AR levels look pretty much identical – just dumped before you in a virtual box. But as you explore further, you realize the creators have added another dimension to the game. Your brain is subsequently pummelled into submission, with you trying to figure out how to get the critters to their goal across multiple planes in 3D.