12 Augmented Reality Apps That Put Pokemon Go to Shame

Back in the summer of 2016, it was nearly impossible to step outside without seeing hoards of people capturing virtual monsters on their phones. Pokemon Go took the world by storm and brought augmented reality (AR) into the mainstream, earning over $1 billion in just a few months.^1 The app blended the beloved gaming franchise with real-world locations, encouraging millions to explore their surroundings in an entirely new way.

But Pokemon Go was just the beginning. Since its viral launch, the number of AR apps available on the market has surged by over 300%.^2 Advancements in computer vision, 3D graphics, and mobile cameras have made AR experiences far more immersive and interactive. From gaming to social media to education, AR is unlocking new possibilities across industries.

While catching cute critters is still fun, today‘s AR apps go far beyond what Pokemon Go delivered. In this post, we‘ll share 12 innovative AR apps that showcase the mind-bending potential of this technology. If you thought Pokemon Go was revolutionary, wait until you see what these apps can do.

Next-Level AR Gaming

Pokemon Go proved AR‘s power to make gaming more active and social. But recent AR games are taking the technology to new heights with larger multiplayer battles, richer world-building, and more seamless integration with the real environment.

Minecraft Earth gameplay

Minecraft Earth transforms the global phenomenon into a shared AR universe. It uses OpenStreetMap data to turn real-world structures and landmarks into resource-gathering sites and building canvases.^3 Player creations persist in specific geolocations, forming a virtual topography that mirrors the actual world. You can stumble upon other players‘ masterpieces, collaborate on designs, and join friends to battle monsters in life-sized AR arenas. It takes the core Minecraft experience and quite literally projects it over the entire planet.

For Potterheads, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite conjures up magic in your everyday surroundings. As you explore real neighborhoods, you‘ll discover spell energy, potion ingredients, and iconic characters from the series. You can choose your wizarding profession, cast spells by tracing glyphs on your phone, and team up with other players to defeat mythical beasts in multiplayer challenges. The app‘s rich AR visuals, haptic wand feedback, and moody soundscape work together to make casting spells feel believable.

Other standout AR games include:

  • Zombies, Run! – An immersive audio running game and training app that motivates you to move by simulating a zombie apocalypse scenario with AR zombies and audio cues as you run in the real world.
  • Knightfall – An epic medieval RPG that transforms your environment into the AR battlefield, using your phone‘s camera to render your avatar, enemies, and special effects in realistic 3D.

AR Gets Social

While AR games steal the spotlight, some of the most frequent interactions with the technology happen on social media. AR lenses are now a core feature of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, letting users alter their appearance and surroundings in photos and videos.

Over 75% of Snapchat‘s daily active users engage with AR content every day.^4 The app offers thousands of lenses developed by an in-house team and community creators. Some of the most popular lenses include face-swapping with friends, adding a dancing hot dog character to your snaps, and transforming yourself into a cartoon character. Snapchat is investing heavily in making lenses more realistic, with a recent acquisition of AI company AI Factory to power more accurate facial mapping.^5

Instagram AR filter examples

Not to be outdone, Instagram launched its Spark AR Studio in 2019, opening up filter creation to all users. There are now over 1 million AR effects on the app, ranging from virtual makeup looks to effects that change as you move.^6 The platform reports that over 600 million people use AR filters and lenses on Instagram and Facebook every month.^7

TikTok is the latest social app to double down on AR features. It rolled out an AR ads format and Effect House, a platform for anyone to build and share AR filters on TikTok.^8 With special effects at the core of its short-form video format, TikTok could emerge as a major player in social AR.

Social AR experiences are all about enhancing communication and creativity. The ability to instantly change your look, take on a new persona, or transport your selfies to fantastical settings makes for endlessly entertaining content to share with friends. Brands are also tapping into the power of AR lenses for immersive advertising and viral product placements.

Practical Magic

In addition to gaming and social uses, AR apps are increasingly making everyday tasks faster, easier, and more intuitive. They can give us useful information in context, help us preview decisions, and guide us through physical spaces.

One of the category leaders is Google Lens, a multi-purpose AR app that can identify plants and animals, translate text, scan QR codes, solve math equations, and more – all just by pointing your phone camera. Google Lens now recognizes over 15 billion objects and can even copy and paste real-world text into your phone notepad.^9 By making your camera intelligent, Google Lens turns the whole world into a searchable database.

IKEA Place AR app

For home design, the IKEA Place app is a game-changer. It enables you to virtually place true-to-scale 3D models of IKEA furniture in your space so you can see how they fit and match your decor before buying.^10 The app automatically measures the dimensions of your room and renders the photorealistic furniture models with accurate shadows and lighting. With IKEA reporting that over 20% of its app users end up visiting a store to complete a purchase, AR is proving its power to drive conversions.^11

Google and Apple are both making AR a core part of their navigation experiences. Google Maps is rolling out Live View mode, which overlays walking directions and place markers onto your camera feed to provide more intuitive wayfinding. Apple Maps also includes an AR mode that uses your iPhone‘s camera and motion sensors to help you pinpoint where you are and which way you‘re facing.^12

Other examples of useful AR apps:

  • Magnifier – Uses your phone‘s camera zoom and flash to turn it into a magnifying glass for reading small text
  • Measure – Enables you to measure the length and area of real-world objects by drawing lines in AR
  • NightSky – Identifies stars, constellations, and satellites as you point your phone at the sky
  • AmikasaLens – Lets you translate Japanese text to English in real-time by pointing your camera

As these apps show, AR has vast potential to simplify how we access information and make decisions in the physical world. By overlaying relevant data onto our surroundings, AR can empower us to understand and navigate any situation.

Learning Through Immersion

AR is also proving to be a powerful medium for interactive education, with numerous apps that help explain complex concepts through 3D visualization and virtual interactivity. Unlike static diagrams or pre-rendered animations, AR experiences respond to the student‘s movement and input, encouraging active participation in the learning process.

For example, Froggipedia enables students to virtually dissect a realistic frog model and learn the function of each anatomical part.^13 The app uses your phone‘s camera to show the frog on your desk, letting you zoom in, rotate, and peel back layers to see the internal organs. It even simulates the frog‘s reflex movements when you prod it. This kind of hands-on exploration simply isn‘t possible with a textbook or video.

Solar System AR app

In the realm of astronomy, AR apps like Solar System and Night Sky allow you to discover the wonders of space without a telescope. Just point your phone at the sky and the apps label stars, constellations, planets, and satellites in real-time based on your location.^14 You can zoom in to view 3D models of celestial objects, learn their composition and history, and even time travel to see how the sky appeared in the past or will look in the future. With AR, the universe is at your fingertips.

Other notable AR education apps:

  • GeoGebra AR – Helps students visualize math concepts like graphing equations and geometric shapes in 3D space
  • AR Makr – A platform for creating and sharing AR flashcards and study aids
  • Mondly – Uses speech recognition and AR conversations with virtual characters to teach foreign language skills
  • AstroReality – Provides mini AR lessons on planets, moons, and NASA spacecraft using physical models

By leveraging sight, sound, and motion tracking, AR can engage multiple senses and help different types of learners grasp abstract ideas. There‘s vast opportunity to create AR content for any subject, from exploring historical sites to simulating science experiments to practicing professional skills.

The Road Ahead for AR

Pokemon Go was a breakthrough app that brought AR to the masses. But as the examples above demonstrate, today‘s AR ecosystem goes far beyond catching virtual monsters. We‘re seeing AR apps that are more realistic, responsive, and relevant to our daily lives.

However, the current generation of smartphone-based AR is still quite limited. Holding up your phone to view and interact with digital content is ultimately an unnatural experience. The holy grail is lightweight AR glasses that can intelligently display information, visuals, and interfaces directly in your field of view, essentially giving you superpowers.

AR glasses concept

The major tech players are already working toward this vision. Apple is rumored to be developing AR glasses that could launch as early as 2022.^15 Facebook has shown off prototype AR glasses and is investing heavily in the technology through its Reality Labs division.^16 Snapchat recently unveiled next-gen Spectacles that feature dual waveguide displays and a 26.3 degree field of view – the most advanced AR glasses yet.^17 Microsoft and Google are focusing on enterprise customers with the HoloLens and Glass headsets.

As AR hardware gets more compact and powerful, we‘ll likely see a new wave of apps and experiences that blend the digital and physical worlds in profound ways. Imagine:

  • Never forgetting a face or name with AR contact lenses that display key facts about people you meet
  • Following a recipe right before your eyes with ingredient lists and video instructions floating in your kitchen
  • Visualizing your Strava running route or workout data overlaid on the road or gym around you
  • Collaborating on 3D design projects with coworkers in a shared AR space using hand gestures
  • Attending virtual concerts with friends, with the crowd and stage digitally rendered in your living room

Of course, this future also raises important questions around privacy, distraction, and digital wellbeing that will need to be addressed. As with any transformative technology, AR must be developed and deployed thoughtfully.

Getting Started With AR Apps

If you‘re excited by the potential of AR and want to start exploring what‘s possible today, there are a few ways to get started:

  1. Download some of the AR apps featured in this post that match your interests, whether it‘s gaming, social, utility, or education. Most are free and easy to get started with. Pay attention to how the AR features enhance or change the experience compared to non-AR apps.

  2. If you‘re an aspiring AR developer, both Apple‘s ARKit and Google‘s ARCore offer robust tools and documentation for building AR apps. Unity and Unreal Engine also have AR-specific features and templates. Start by going through some basic tutorials and example projects.

  3. Follow AR/VR industry news and thought leaders to stay up-to-date on the latest apps, technologies, and trends. Some good resources include the AR Insider and VRScout blogs, the Augmented podcast, and Twitter accounts like @augmentedpixel and @kentbye.

  4. Attend AR-focused events and conferences (virtually or in-person) to learn from experts, discover new projects, and network with like-minded creators. Major ones include AWE, Augmented World Expo, and the VRARA Global Summit.

  5. Get inspired by exploring AR art, games, and experiences online. The app store is just one distribution channel – you can find cutting-edge AR experiments hosted on the web or at in-person installations. Keep an open mind about what‘s possible.

Most importantly, approach AR with a sense of curiosity and creativity. The technology is still in its early stages, and there‘s so much uncharted territory to explore. Whether you‘re a developer, designer, artist, educator, or just a tech enthusiast, you have an opportunity to help shape the future of this exciting medium.

Pokémon Go introduced the world to AR. But it was just the beginning. Today‘s AR apps are pushing the boundaries of what‘s possible on smartphones, and tomorrow‘s wearables will unlock even more immersive and integrated AR experiences. By blending the digital and physical worlds, AR has the potential to fundamentally enhance how we learn, work, play, and connect with each other. It‘s an exciting time to dive in and start discovering the possibilities.