Augmented reality (AR), which superimposes digital content or imagery on top of what you’re seeing, is changing the way we interact with our physical surroundings.
Play an AR game app, and you may find animated monsters in your living room. Or use a location-based app to reveal hidden details about the block you're on, like which stores have an ATM or that a nearby park that has major historical significance.
Here are a few AR apps that are well worth trying out:
How it works: Aim your smartphone camera at a magazine page, poster, flyer, greeting card or other printed work and watch as movies, music videos, slideshows and online links suddenly appear. Layar makes this kind of groundbreaking interactivity possible.
Killer feature: Access everything from bonus musical content by your favorite artists to information on events that are happening in your backyard just by scanning compatible printouts, some of which come complete with location-targeted extras.
Pro tip: Discover nearby eateries, handy discount coupons and reviews or recommendations just by scanning AR-enabled print advertisements. It’s a tasty way to digest possible options—and one that’s becoming increasingly popular with brands and businesses.
Best for: Anyone who wants to find out more about something they’ve just read about or get a little more hands-on with this information.
How it works: A must-have for astronomy buffs, simply point Star Walk 2 at the night sky above to watch the AR app instantly sketch out a complete guide to nearby planets, stars, constellations and other objects of interest.
Killer feature: Search and fast-forward features make it simple to learn everything there is to know about asteroids, meteor showers, celestial bodies and more—and track the movement of the stars and planets over time.
Pro tip: Simply pinch the display or tap on objects as you use the program to zoom in for a closer view, get more information about specific items of interest or locate an object on the sky map.
Best for: Those who like looking up at the heavens—and getting a glimpse at all their highlights.
How it works: Just whip out your smartphone camera, enter something you’re searching for (“nail salon, Mexican restaurant, etc.”) and scan the world around you to see what’s hiding nearby. Wikitude displays digital pop-ups that will let you know what’s in driving distance and how far away it is.
Killer feature: Shopping around for clothes or electronics? Pan the aisles with your camera the next time you hit a store featured in Wikitude, and you may be surprised what pops up: Bonus animations, videos, audio clips and more may play when Wikitude scans compatible print advertisements or product packages.
Pro tip: Using Wikitude’s software tools, you can even create your own augmented reality apps, games and advertising campaigns. You can download them here.
Best for: Techies looking to get a glimpse at the many possible practical real-world applications AR opens up.
How it works: One of an ever-growing range of AR video-game apps, AR Invaders challenges you to fight off space invaders by scanning your surroundings for enemies and tapping away to fire at them.
Killer feature: Multiplayer mode lets you team up with friends to send extraterrestrial adversaries packing. Try not to accidentally bump into each other while frantically searching for targets.
Pro tip: Standing while playing can provide for more entertainment, but try sitting down and enjoying the game’s 180-degree mode if you need a break from all the head-spinning excitement.
Best for: Gaming enthusiasts open to seeing the world (and potential victims) from entirely new angles.
How it works: Simply point your mobile device’s camera at an interactive image of a human body, and Anatomy 4D will display a 3D model that you can rotate, zoom and play with to give you a guided tour.
Killer feature: Can’t tell a ventricle from an aorta, or the lymphatic from the nervous system? Zoom to explore each organ or body part up close.
Pro tip: Studying for biology tests just got way simpler. Get a fresh viewpoint just by tilting, panning and moving your device around the 3D image.
Best for: Science buffs, students cramming for quizzes or anyone interested in learning more about just how much of a marvel of engineering we homo sapiens really are.
Scott Steinberg is a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation.