How to Use Augmented Reality on Your iPhone

What to Know

  • You need an app that offers augmented reality features.
  • As of iOS 11, iPhones support augmented reality at operating system level. 

This article explains what augmented reality is, what you need to use it on an iPhone or iPad, and some notable apps with augmented reality features for iOS 11 or higher.

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality, or AR, is a technology that overlays digital information onto the real world, using apps on smartphones and other devices. Generally speaking, augmented reality apps let users "see" through the cameras on their devices. The apps then add data delivered from the Internet to the image being shown.

Augmented reality doesn't get the same kind of hype as virtual reality (VR), but it has the potential to be a much more widely used and much more world-changing technology. And, unlike VR, you can use augmented reality without buying any accessories, like a heads-up display or special eyeglasses.

Children playing with augmented reality on iPhone with lego castle in the background
Apple Inc.

Probably the most famous example of augmented reality is Pokemon Go. It also happens to be a terrific example of how the technology can work.

With Pokemon Go, you open the app and then point your smartphone at something. The app displays what's being "seen" through your phone's camera. Then, if a Pokemon is nearby, the digital character appears to exist in the real world.

Another useful example is the Vivino app, which helps you track the wines you drink. With augmented reality, you hold a restaurant's wine list up for your phone's camera to "see." The app recognizes every wine on the list and overlays that wine's average rating onto the list to help you make a good choice.

Because AR works with many existing smartphones, and because you can use it much more naturally in daily life and don't need to wear a headset that cuts you off from the world as happens with VR. Many observers predict augmented reality will become widely used and will have the potential to change the way we do many things (from day-to-day activities to specialized tasks).

What You Need to Use Augmented Reality on the iPhone or iPad 

Unlike virtual reality on the iPhone, almost anyone can use augmented reality on their iPhone. All you need is an app that offers augmented reality features. Some apps may require other features, such as GPS or Wi-Fi, but if you've got a phone that can run apps, you've got those features, too.

As of the release of iOS 11, virtually all recent iPhones support augmented reality delivered at the operating system level. That's thanks to the ARKit framework, which Apple created to help app developers more easily create AR apps. Thanks to iOS 11 and ARKit, there's been an explosion of AR apps. Check out 12 of our favorite AR apps for the iPhone and iPad.

Apple introduced a LiDAR system on its 2020 iPad Pro models, although it remains yet to be seen how it will be used. You can be sure the LiDAR system is going to be helpful towards making AR even better.

Notable Augmented Reality Apps for iPhone and iPad

If you want to check out augmented reality on the iPhone or iPad today, here are some great apps to start with:

Amikasa: The hardest part of furniture shopping is figuring out if a piece will work well in your space. Amikasa solves that by superimposing furniture into your room.

Pokemon Go: In this smash-hit game, Pokemon are "hidden" all over the place — indoors and outdoors, worldwide — and you can find, capture, train, and fight them using your smartphone and its camera.

Vivino: Take pictures of the bottle of wine you drink, and the app recognizes it. Rate wines to create a taste profile and track your favorites, then use the app to find the best prices nearby. 

Zombies GO!: Think of Pokemon Go, but put zombies in place of cute creatures, and you've got the basic idea. The fun is that the zombies show up in the real world, right in front of you.

Looking for even more augmented reality apps? Check out The 10 Best iPhone Augmented Reality (AR) Apps.

The Future of Augmented Reality on iPhone

Even cooler than the AR features built into iOS 11 and the hardware to support them in the iPhone X series, there are rumors that Apple is working on eyeglasses with augmented reality features built-in. These would be like Google Glass or Snap Spectacles — which are used for taking pictures in Snapchat — but connected to your iPhone. Apps on your iPhone would feed data to the glasses, and that data would be displayed on the lens of the glasses where only the user can see it.

Only time will tell whether those glasses are ever released and, if they are, whether they are a success. Google Glass, for instance, was largely a failure and is no longer produced. But Apple has a track record of making technology fashionable and integrated into our daily lives. If any company can produce AR glasses that are widely used, Apple is probably the one.

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