Stompy dinosaur! That got your attention. Which was probably Apple’s thinking when it initially introduced the power of augmented reality by way of a massive Tyrannosaurus rex. But this also smacks a bit of gimmick – and that’s a problem for the slew of ARKit apps now rampaging around the App Store like a crazed prehistoric beast.
So we’ve scoured the App Store for serious apps that help you achieve practical goals and educate yourself, and a handful of fab games that benefit from an added dimension; but, well, we just couldn’t resist throwing into the mix some oddball efforts that are entertainingly daft.
Six seriously good ARKit apps to install today
Use your iPhone or iPad to amble about a virtual gallery, audition furniture, stare at the stars, and learn what makes things – including you – tick.
Shepard Fairey AR - Damage
Walk around a warehouse-sized exhibition by the bloke who created the Obama HOPE poster. It’s cheaper than a gallery ticket, but the app still lets you get up close and personal with the artwork. You can even hear the fizz of a nearby neon sign, and – optionally – the artist explaining his work in your ear.
The BBC wants to inject some education into your brain, mostly by having you gawp at things the British pilfered from other countries. With AR, you no longer have to hoof it to a museum, though – you can now check out a Corinthian helmet and 30 other artefacts as they hover in front of your face.
Not sure whether that chair will work in your living room? Well, you could drive to IKEA, lug some boxes home, put the thing together, and collapse in a heap. Or you could instead have this AR app plonk an AR chair on your rug, and feel a bit smug. (Then realise you like it, and then curse that the app can’t magically turn a virtual chair into the real thing.)
Sky Guide AR
The snag with astronomy is the stars unsportingly only come out at night. Until now. With Sky Guide AR, you can map constellations on to the daytime sky, making everyone around you think you’re a nutter when they ask what you’re doing in the blazing sunshine, and you respond by saying you’re stargazing.
When you want to learn about something on your iPhone, you probably head to Wikipedia or YouTube. But JigSpace goes one better, shoving interactive 3D objects in front of your eyeballs – perfect when you urgently need to master how a piano works, the science of tectonic plates, or the anatomy of a trebuchet.
Human Anatomy Atlas 2019
This atlas enables you to place a virtual cadaver on a table, then gleefully dissect it. Although the app’s aimed at medical students, it’s fascinating for anyone who wants to know more about anything from skeletons to organs. Keen but can’t quite stomach the price tag? Try oddball levitating organ Insight Heart for two quid instead.
Five ARKit games that bring a new dimension to play
Always being told gaming’s a sedentary pursuit? Not with these titles, which force you to get off of your bum to play.
Monster Park - AR Dino World
Should you be of the opinion it’s crushingly unfair that only eccentric owners of genetics companies with dubious safety records should have access to a dinosaur park, this app sets things right by putting one on your desk. T-Rexes stomp and pterosaurs screech – until you create your own extinction event by repeatedly whacking them with a finger.
AR Smash Tanks!
It’s not so much ‘smash tanks’ as ‘smash everything’ in this gleefully destructive mash-up of board game, Angry Birds ping-and-release controls, and seminal head-to-head videogame Tank. Project the arena on anything from a coffee table to a large outdoor space, then drag/aim/release to careen about, grabbing airdropped weapons, wrecking the landscape, and smashing up your opponent’s tanks.
This deranged puzzle game has you fiddling with snoozing heads that contain weird and whacky dioramas, the aim being to wake them up so they’ll sing to you. In flat-o-vision, they look like children’s toys created by a designer hopped up on sugar. In AR, that effect is heightened, with the strange contraptions dumped on a table or carpet, ready for perusal.
In 2D, Splitter Critters is brilliant – sort-of Lemmings meets Fruit Ninja, with you slicing and dragging the landscape to help toddling aliens to their ship. Initially, the AR mode looks like Splitter Critters in a box – until you twist your device and realise the pathfinding antics now happen across three dimensions.
There are hints of Monument Valley about ARise, in that it involves impossible pathways. But rather than mucking about with Escher-like constructions, ARise has you regularly shift your view of each puzzle. Using perspective, you ‘join’ pieces of landscape, in order to help a pint-sized adventurer dodder onwards to their goal.
Five slices of ARKit weirdness you have to try
As you might expect, not everyone’s taking augmented reality entirely seriously. Here’s our pick of the more ‘out there’ apps.
No, we’re not losing our minds: Scanbot has some full-on AR inside, in the form of a sort-of game. In fact, you get a fast-paced score-attack effort, where you must scan as many virtual documents as possible within 60 seconds. It certainly beats a humdrum approach to tutorials, and it’s a neatly quirky way to approach AR.
Helmed by an AI determined to end the human race, CARROT Weather bides its time dishing out weather forecasts and snark (such as suggesting a cloud “looks like you getting garrotted by an assassin”). In AR mode, she hovers menacingly above the table, like an Apple HomePod infused with the combined personality of HAL 9000 and Siân Lloyd.
With GIFs and stickers having infected every corner of the internet, GIPHY World invites you to have them take over your home. Drag and drop stickers into 3D space, walk around, take videos, become hypnotised by the weirdness, and reason Apple’s stompy Tyrannosaurus was in fact actually quite sensible for illustrating AR after all.
We earlier in this round-up mentioned IKEA’s app, and Housecraft is in broadly similar territory. But there’s a rather more mischievous edge here, with you being able to resize objects and dump dozens of them in a huge pile. If you ever want to know what 15 sofas would look like in your flat, now’s your chance.
You might wonder how a calculator can benefit from AR. Presumably, so did PCalc’s author. So instead, he transformed his app’s ‘about’ screen into a bizarre sandbox where you lob infinite iPhones and anti-gravity bananas about the place. It’s certainly a step on from tapping out 5318008 and flipping a calculator upside-down for a chuckle.