All the Cool Augmented Reality (AR) Things Your iPhone Can Do Right This Minute

Augmented reality (AR) has come a long way in the past few years, especially on iPhones and iPads. What was once a niche technology confined to gimmicky apps and tech demos has quickly become a mainstream part of the iOS experience. According to a 2022 survey by Deloitte, nearly 90% of iPhone users in the US have tried mobile AR, with 21% using it regularly.

Chances are you‘ve already experienced AR without even realizing it, whether trying on virtual sunglasses, placing 3D furniture models in your living room, or catching Pokemon hiding in the real world. But these popular use cases barely scratch the surface of what‘s possible with AR on iPhone today. Thanks to continuous improvements in hardware and software, the latest iPhones are capable of incredibly realistic and dynamic AR experiences that border on magic.

How does AR work on iPhone?

At a basic level, AR on iPhone works by using the device‘s camera to capture live video of the real world, then overlaying digital content on top of that view. The iPhone‘s advanced sensors, processors, and software work together to analyze the camera feed in real-time, determining the size and position of physical surfaces like floors and tabletops. This allows 3D models, animations, and interactive content to be anchored convincingly to points in the real world.

Here are some of the key technologies that power AR experiences on recent iPhones:

  • A14 and A15 Bionic chips: These custom Apple silicon processors contain dedicated neural engines for machine learning tasks integral to AR, like scene recognition, depth estimation, and real-time object tracking.
  • LiDAR scanner: Available on iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPad Pro models, LiDAR uses laser light to map the surrounding environment in 3D. This allows for instant placement of AR content and more lifelike interaction with the real world.
  • Ultra Wide camera: The wider field of view lets AR apps see more of your surroundings for better object placement and tracking.
  • ARKit: Apple‘s powerful software framework handles many complex AR tasks under the hood, making it easier for developers to create rich AR experiences.

All of these technological advancements combine to enable a new breed of iPhone AR apps that are more realistic, interactive, and useful than ever before.

Examples of cutting-edge AR apps on iPhone

What kind of AR experiences are possible on a modern iPhone? The options span a wide range of interests and use cases, from gaming and entertainment to education and utility. Here are some particularly impressive examples:

AR gaming

iPhone AR gaming has come a long way since the monumental success of Pokemon Go in 2016. The latest AR-enabled games feature console-quality graphics, precise environment mapping, and innovative gameplay mechanics that turn the whole world into your virtual playground.

One standout is Minecraft Earth, an AR adaptation of the hugely popular sandbox game. As you walk around in real life, you encounter Minecraft creatures and resources overlaid on your surroundings. You can build virtual Minecraft structures on any flat surface, then expand them to life-size scale and even step inside. Collaborative building lets you team up with friends to create vast, intricate worlds together in AR. It‘s like stepping into the game in real life.

Other notable AR games include:

  • Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs: The classic physics puzzler is even more engaging in AR. Slingshot the iconic birds to topple virtual pig fortresses assembled on your tabletop, floor, or any flat surface.
  • Harry Potter: Wizards Unite: Cast spells, encounter fantastic beasts, and duel dark wizards in real-world locations. Collect ingredients for potions as you walk around and teleport to iconic Wizarding World places.
  • The Machines: An action-packed competitive multiplayer game that transforms your tabletop into a dynamic battlefield. Command troops and robots to capture your opponent‘s base in intense, up-close arcade combat.
Game Developer Release Date Avg Rating (iOS) Downloads (millions)
Minecraft Earth Mojang 2019 4.5 21.7
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs Resolution Games 2019 4.0 4.3
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Niantic 2019 4.4 17.8
The Machines Directive Games 2018 4.6 2.6

AR shopping and home design

One of the most practical applications of AR technology is seeing how products look in your space before you buy them. The latest AR shopping apps let you browse photorealistic 3D models of furniture, appliances, clothing, and more, then instantly "try" them in your home or on your body to see how they fit. This helps take the guesswork out of online shopping and reduces the hassle of returns.

A pioneer in this space is IKEA Place, one of the first furniture shopping apps to use AR when it launched in 2017. Browse IKEA‘s entire catalog in the app, then use your iPhone camera to place true-to-scale 3D models of couches, desks, shelving units and more in your home. You can rotate and reposition the furniture to see how it fits in any room, visualizing how an item‘s size, color, and style match your existing decor. If you like what you see, you can order straight from the app.

Other standout AR shopping apps include:

  • Wayfair: Place full-scale 3D models of furniture and decor into your room, then purchase directly if you like the look. View items in different colors and materials and see how they look in different lighting conditions.
  • Warby Parker: Try on dozens of glasses frames virtually to see which styles best fit your face. The app uses precise measurements and iPhone‘s TrueDepth camera to recommend the perfect frames for you.
  • Gucci: Use AR to "try on" shoes and see how they look from different angles as you move your foot. Also preview how clothing items drape and fit with AR mannequins you can resize to match your body dimensions.
App Category Release Date Supported iPhone Models
IKEA Place Furniture 2017 iPhone 6s or later
Wayfair Home goods 2018 iPhone 7 or later
Warby Parker Glasses 2019 iPhone X or later
Gucci Luxury fashion 2020 iPhone X or later

AR learning and discovery

AR has the potential to make learning more immersive and engaging by letting students manipulate and explore 3D models of complex concepts. Imagine holding a virtual beating heart in your hand as you learn about anatomy, or walking around a lifesize model of the solar system in your backyard.

JigSpace is an app that aims to bring knowledge to life with interactive AR "Jigs". Browse the library of 3D models spanning science, math, history, and more. Then place the model in the real world and walk around it, zoom in and out, and interact with animated features. For example, you can "dissect" a jet engine to see how all the parts move together, or witness a volcano erupt from all angles.

Other powerful AR learning tools include:

  • Froggipedia: Explore and dissect a virtual frog to learn about amphibian anatomy. No scalpel or questionable smell required.
  • Plantale: Identify plants, trees, and flowers just by pointing your iPhone camera at them. See AR info cards with names, species, and biological details.
  • Sky View: Point your iPhone at the sky to identify stars, constellations, planets, and satellites passing overhead. View AR overlays showing distances, trajectories, and more.
App Category Release Date Jigs/Topics Available
JigSpace STEM 2017 1000+
Froggipedia Biology 2018 1
Plantale Botany 2022 400,000+
Sky View Astronomy 2019 n/a (dynamic data)

AR creativity and expression

For creatives and artists, AR opens up a whole new medium for expression and experimentation. You can paint and sculpt in 3D space, create and share virtual installations, and collaborate on AR projects with colleagues around the globe.

A recent example is World Brush, an AR app that lets you paint on the world around you with virtual brushes. Create dazzling animated strokes that cling to real-world surfaces, then share your air-painted creations for other users to discover. You can even use the app to leave secret messages for friends and strangers in specific locations, like a bouquet of digital roses on a park bench.

Other cool AR creativity apps:

  • Maquette: A spatial layout and prototyping tool for XR (AR/VR). Quickly mock up 3D scenes and interfaces, then invite teammates to collaborate and experience your design in AR.
  • Adobe Aero: Create immersive AR experiences using assets from Adobe Creative Cloud apps like Photoshop and Illustrator. Bring your designs into the real world and enhance with animations and interactivity.
  • Spark AR Studio: Facebook‘s tool for creating and sharing AR effects across Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms. Customize and remix templates or build from scratch.
App Pricing Standout Feature
World Brush Free Geo-tagged public drawings
Maquette Free Multi-user live collaboration
Adobe Aero Free trial, $14.99/mo Asset import from Creative Cloud
Spark AR Studio Free Sharing to social media

The future of AR on iPhone and beyond

The examples covered here offer just a glimpse of the creative ways developers are leveraging AR to make iPhone apps more useful and engaging. But we‘ve still only scratched the surface of AR‘s potential.

As Apple continues to build out the iPhone‘s AR capabilities with each new hardware and software update, we can expect to see even more advanced and realistic AR experiences in the coming years. Improved environment mapping, object recognition, and rendering will enable more seamless blending of the virtual and physical. And tighter integration with other Apple technologies and services could extend AR interactions to new domains like navigation, live translation, FaceTime calls, and more.

It‘s widely rumored that Apple is also working on a dedicated AR headset and/or glasses that could take iPhone AR experiences to the next level. Imagine wearing a sleek visor that projects photorealistic 3D content right into your field of view, responding instantly and naturally to your voice and gestures. You could play immersive games, conduct virtual meetings, tour properties remotely, and learn hands-on skills – all without looking at your iPhone screen. Sophisticated spatial audio would add to the sense of immersion and directionality.

Ming-Chi Kuo, a respected Apple analyst with a strong track record, predicts that Apple will release its first AR headset in 2023, followed by a more affordable and fashionable version by 2025. If these products take off, they could make AR a mainstream computing platform on par with the smartphone. Statista forecasts that nearly 1.8 billion people globally will be using mobile AR by 2025, up from 810 million in 2020.

But Apple isn‘t the only tech giant betting big on AR. Meta (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, Google, Snap, and others are all heavily invested in AR hardware and software. As more AR devices and platforms come to market in the coming years, competition and innovation will accelerate. We‘ll likely see a Cambrian explosion of new AR use cases and experiences that fundamentally transform the way we work, learn, shop, and connect with each other.

In the meantime, you can get a taste of this exciting future today by exploring the wealth of cutting-edge AR apps already available on your iPhone. Download some of the examples covered here and prepare to see your surroundings in a whole new light. Whether you want to supercharge your selfies, become a digital graffiti artist, or dissect a virtual frog, there‘s an iPhone AR app to make it happen. All you need is a sense of curiosity and a willingness to try new things. The future is now – just point your camera and dive in.