Augmented Reality and Your Smartphone

You don’t need to break the bank or sell a kidney to begin enjoying augmented reality.

Scottie Gardonio
Image Credit: TrendsWatcher, Illustration by IFA

New smartphones are being launched with the typical fanfare often seen from large companies, and tech predictions speculate 2018 will be the year augmented reality finally goes mainstream.

The future of what AR will mean to our daily lives still remains to be seen, but, even today, there are plenty of ways to dip your digital toe into the augmented pool.

Now, if you’re like the majority of the population, and you don’t happen to work for an AR startup allowing you access to all of the newest high-tech gear, you’re one of the many who can’t afford to buy a super snazzy wearable device.

While there is some validity to the need for a wearable or similar-type device in order to promote the longevity of AR in everyday life, as described in Are Wearables the Next Big Thing for AR?, you don’t need to break the bank or sell a kidney to begin enjoying augmented reality.

Image Credit: LittleFun

In fact, there are countless experiences and benefits you can explore in the AR world today, just by picking up your smartphone.

It should be stated that the following examples work on most smartphones, but some restrictions apply (there always have to be restrictions). A handful of apps don’t work across Android and iOS devices, and most work best if you have recently-updated software. Others, still, only work with newer models of phones. When it comes to tech, though, aren’t we all fairly used to needing “updated” and “new” models in order to partake in the latest and greatest?

Invizimalsby Novarama and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Gaming & Entertainment

Entertainment may be the biggest category of AR apps right now, and this is for good reason. Without going into detail, as you can get more information on this topic by reading Why is AR/VR Synonymous with Gaming?, games are an easy user-introduction to new technology.

Do you want to have a pet dragon Tamagotchi-style? AR Dragon allows you to bring your fantastical beast along on your daily ventures via overlaid imagery.

If a dragon isn’t for you, though, there are plenty of similar cat AR apps which allow anyone to become a crazy cat lady without ever alerting neighbors, friends or family to the feline addiction.

Perhaps you’d prefer to scare yourself silly. Ghost Snap AR Horror Survival is here to help in your quest. A game seen through your phone’s screen, you can hunt any space you’re in for the ghosts who hunt you. And, while it might seem innocent enough, the game basically just brought Slenderman into your living room.

If you’re not interested in wearing adult diapers for your AR experience, there are still plenty of entertainment options. Multi-player games exist so you can play with your friends. What can be best described as the future of board games, you and your closest comrades can sit around a flat surface and play without fear of loosing tiny pieces or having your crazy cat lady neighbor’s pesky cat walk through to destroy the playing field.

Educational & Informative

While gaming and entertainment are fun, there are also quite a few informative and educational-based apps blossoming in this new space.

The night sky, something that has intrigued humankind since time began, has found very practical applications in augmented reality. If you have ever sat outside and wondered what particular star or planet is shining so brightly tonight, apps such as Star Walk 2 and Star Chart will be your new best friends. Via your phone’s screen, you can now look at the night sky to discover exactly what is shining so bright above your head.

AR app for star gazing
Image Credit: Star Walk 2

Naturally, some bright lights in the sky are not the distant stars and planets we’ve learned about since childhood. No, instead, many are man-made objects. So, if you’re wondering what the moving light in the sky represents, you can utilize SatelliteAR. However, I’ve yet to locate an accurate AR app to correctly identify UFOs, so there’s still progress to be made.

Weather is another subject venturing into AR. With CARROT Weather, you can overlay forecasts right onto a scene you see in front of your eyes.

If none of those apps strike your fancy, though, and you’re looking for something a bit more hands-on, you can also learn to draw better through your AR-enabled smartphone. Instead of being forever known for your prehistoric-like stick figure creations, you can use apps like SketchAR to learn better skills by the way of augmented reality tracing.

And, if you’re looking for even more education, we can look at apps such as Complete Anatomy 2018, AR Engineering, or (Science) Illustrated AR. With the emerging space of educational AR apps, students of any age can utilize better, 3D graphics for their educational purposes instead of relying on just the 2D drawings seen in common textbooks.

It should be noted, that with many of the educational applications, additional materials such as documents or textbooks may be needed. In these cases, the user would scan a specific symbol with his/her smartphone to generate the predetermined and appropriate AR graphic.

Functional AR apps
Image Credit: Google Translate


Countless utilitarian types of AR apps are also being released at increasing rates.

As of now, Apple is showing a lot of pride in their AR Measurekit tool which allows for reasonably accurate measuring of spaces and items.

The recently released Google Translate allows you to view foreign text via your smartphone screen to see a translation with minimal effort.

You can even preview what a tattoo might look like on your skin with apps such as Inkhunter.

Ar app - InkHunter
Image Credit: InkHunter

From getting your bearings with AR compasses and navigating your walks with augmented-based navigation to testing out new furniture in your house with apps such as IKEA Catalog and Roomle, a whole host of our everyday activities are seeing evolutions in the AR space right now.

Even the United States Postal Service has a leg in the game with USPS® AR. By utilizing targeted symbols, a person can roll a smartphone over a piece of mail to see an entirely new experience unfold.

The Ones You (maybe) Didn’t Know You Were Already Using

Of course, there are also a handful of AR-enabled smartphone apps you’re probably already using.

Since augmented reality can be used in nearly every industry, it would make sense for us to already see the tech in social media.

If you’ve seen the flowered halo or the dog snout and ears on a friend’s Snapchat, that was done by way of augmented reality. The new animated, 3D bitmojis are also AR. Putting moveable (or anchored) type over a video you took is also… you guessed it… AR! As it turns out, Snapchat’s entire platform is popular largely due to the AR tech they’ve enabled.

This competition has now leaked into the Facebook and Instagram spaces, as well. While the three platforms differ in many ways, there are similarities between how they handle their own versions of “stories” and how users can integrate AR at will.

Experiment and Explore

New AR apps are being released daily, and the sparse few mentioned here only represent a fraction of what is available for today’s users.

As time goes on, we’ll continue to see more types emerge, but we’ll also see the quality of the existing ones increase.

Whats more, we’ll begin to see more phones come with certain AR apps permanently installed. Just as you have no choice as to whether “Stocks” will be a forever app on your phone, you will also see an increasing amount of AR apps being pre-installed in similar fashions.

As this trend continues forward, users will become more immersed in how AR can be used for entertainment, education and everyday life in such a way that nearly every app on your smartphone will eventually have an AR component. That is, of course, assuming we don’t ditch the phones for fantastically-futuristic AR wearables!

Scottie Gardonio
Scottie Gardonio
Scottie is an award-winning designer with many years of experience in creative markets. A passionate Augmented and Virtual Reality proponent, she has been a leader implementing AR/VR in the historical tourism industry of Minnesota. Through discuss...
Scottie is an award-winning designer with many years of experience in creative markets. A passionate Augmented and Virtual Reality proponent, she has been a leader implementing AR/VR in the historical tourism industry of Minnesota. Through discuss...