Apple has big plans for augmented reality. Last week, the company released iOS 11 to the iPhone world, which lays the foundations for a future where people peer through their phones to look at virtual objects, superimposed onto the real world. There have been other AR developments (who doesn’t love Snapchat’s dancing hotdog?) but Apple looks best positioned to make it more than just a gimmick or novelty.
Apple’s toobox for developers is called ARKit which will enable coders to make their own augmented reality apps. Apple’s allowed a number of firms to build experiments to see how the technology could work in practice. Some are simple toys, like Citymapper’s new feature that lets you, er, place a virtual mascot on the floor. But others show real promise, and help to explain why CEO Tim Cook thinks the future is “unbelievably cool.”
The below apps, which run on devices powered by the Apple A9 or above (which means the iPhone 6 and older are out of the picture), are some of the best examples of where the technology is headed. Here’s what you should try:
Fifth Star Labs’ newest release brings the night sky alive through augmented reality. Sy Guide AR uses the new augmented reality features to superimpose guides over the night sky, revealing which constellations and planets are available where.
“Is it a star or the planet Mars?” the description reads. “Knowing what’s up in your night sky is now effortless with Sky Guide. Hold your iPhone or iPad up and Sky Guide automatically aligns itself to the stars above you—no setup required!”
This app allows users to preview products before they buy, and it’s an ideal way to understand how augmented reality could change shopping. Simply scan the floor, pick a product, and preview it right in your home.
“The app includes 3D and true-to-scale models of everything from sofas and armchairs to footstools and coffee tables,” the app’s description reads. “IKEA Place gives you an accurate impression of the furniture’s size, design and functionality in your home so you can stop wondering and start doing.”
What It’s Best At: Planning out your Ikea order ahead of time.
PLNAR provides rapid floor measurements at the touch of a button. It’s the start of something promised by the first iPhone 10 years ago: an all-in-one tool in your pocket that replaces almost everything you may carry everyday. While older phones could replace a compass and spirit level, augmented reality makes it possible to finally ditch the tape measure.
“The practical use of augmented reality to accomplish everyday tasks is revolutionary for the home services industry, and it’s made even easier by Apple’s ARKit,” Andy Greff, CEO of developer SmartPicture Technologies, said in a statement. “With PLNAR, we’ve built an AR experience that makes it easy for the individual consumer to virtually measure any room with nothing more than an iPhone, while also giving flooring companies, insurance, interior design and home renovation professionals an interactive tool to increase efficiency and revenue.”
What It’s Best At: Drawing up a floor plan quickly and efficiently.
Carrot Weather, the super-accurate forecast app with a personalized voice assistant, has entered the real world. The virtual robot floats in front of you, offering a detailed breakdown of the outside weather.
“Now you can get my hilariously snarky forecasts in augmented reality! Just promise not to poke my ocular sensor,” the company’s update notes read.
It’s a little bit of fun, but it demonstrates how augmented reality can make even mundane apps like weather come to life. It’s easy to picture an AR-based stock ticker or calculator app providing a level of interactivity beyond the flat interfaces of yesteryear.
What It’s Best At: Getting detailed weather updates from a virtual assistant.
This app is from the creators of Strava, but does not require users to make an account before use. You can load up previous activity, famous routes and browse friends’ activities. The app will generate a 3D model of the route right there in the room. Tell your friends about the time you cycled Alpe d’Huez by loading up a scale model and pointing out various aspects as you go.
“One of our favorite things to do once the map has been placed is to use the iOS screen recording feature to produce beautiful videos,” the app’s description reads. “Once you’ve started recording in AR, the phone becomes like a camera and you can act like the director of your own action replay - panning, zooming, and tracking your route. Once you’re finished, the video will show up in the camera roll, ready to send out to friends on social networks.”
What It’s Best At: Previewing (and showing off) your most ambitious routes.
A robotic snake could soon replace your phone. Check out this video to see how.