We’ve all seen the futuristic sci-fic films that feature cool headsets or bionic eyes that enable someone to see live information around them. Perhaps the best known examples include Terminator, Robocop and Iron Man, who each have the ability to identify and analyse the environment around them, like the Terminator’s ability to identify that one particular punk’s garments would fit him perfectly – “Your clothes… give them to me, now”.
Augmented Reality apps have been available on the Android Market for some time, and I believe they represent one of the best things about smart phones; the ability to overlay the view through your camera with useful and fun information was one of the things that initially wowed me enough to buy my first Android. Now, there are some pitfalls in trying out AR apps. Some – let me tell you – are pretty awful. I’ve weeded these out, and below are what I consider the best currently available on the Android Market.
So, read on for a round-up of great AR apps and let your Android show you what it can do! It’s like the future… only ‘now’.
You probably have heard of Google Sky Map and quite rightly too. Whether you are an amateur astronomer or simply a Carl Sagan look-a-like, being able to gaze up at the stars and identify constellations, stars and planets drip in geeky-cool.
All you need to do is point your phone upwards toward the night sky and everything is identified in front of you in real time. Move your camera around, and the details will change with the direction you’re pointing at. Brilliant for educational purposes too. And as you should expect from Google, the application is smooth and super-easy to use.
Layar was the first Android AR app I ever tried and watching an early demo of it encouraged me to buy an Android in the first place. Layar adds a variety of ‘layers’ to your phones camera world-view. The app really is a bundle of different apps in one as you can search for houses for sale, local people on Twitter, play games or even identify places where crime has taken place!
There are loads of different layers available through the app so well worth exploring in depth to get the best out of it. The UI is incredibly polished and intuitive, blending useful function with a good-looking interface. While most AR apps usually work quite well, few have as good an interface as Layar.
Color Blindness is a clever app that demonstrates vision from the perspective of someone who is color blind. Through the camera the view splits into a normal view and a color blind view, enabling you to compare and see how color blindness can affect people.
You could actually also use this if you think you might be color blind yourself. If you cannot tell the difference between the two images it might be worth getting it checked out!
Another AR browser, you can view different things through Junaio depending on your preferences. So, if you are out and looking for the nearest fast food restaurant the app can tell you through your camera viewer. It also features a comprehensive bar code scanner and the ability to save favourites.
While not quite as fully-featured as Layar, Junaio works very well and includes a number of different functions. I particularly enjoyed a virtual tour of Valencia in Spain, but there is lots to play with in the app.
This smart little application lets you add your friends’ faces to a few different avatars. You can then view them through the camera based on their locations. Interestingly, the app also utilizes text-to-speak technology so your friends avatar will speak their latest Twitter or Facebook status update right in front of you. The UI is a bit rough around the edges, to be honest, but the app works well regardless.
It’s a little on the quirky side, but it’s fun nonetheless. For fact fans, the app’s name is a nod to the fantastic Kafka novel ‘The Metamophosis’ where a man wakes up in the body of a beetle.
GeoGoggle lets you view accurate geographical information around you. It lets you see your longtitude and latitude, altitude, direction (via a 3D compass), and speed, as well as the distance to a specified location. Using your GPS the app can integrate with Geocaching apps like c:geo. You can also take pictures using the app.
An additional feature of GeoGoggle enables you to view a map and see where you have taken particular photographs in a certain location. The app has a rich UI, is very polished and works incredibly well, providing a great information resource; it’s ideal for outdoorsy-types and adventurers.
Movue integrates AR with the Yelp and Qype services, allowing you to view location-specific real-time business information. It’s great for exploring new places and finding new hang-outs in familiar ones. You can also jump directly to Yelp and Qype to see reviews and ratings for different places, letting you check how good a restaurant might be before you go in!
All the information you get through Movue can be viewed through the camera – there are also short cuts that allow you to phone the business directly or see it in map view. Really useful if you are out and about and want to know the best local spots.
Paintball allows you to play real-time AR paintball through your Android. Simply get a few Android-toting buddies to download the app, link up and away you go. The game lets you build up points for bonuses too, and you can earn new virtual paintballing weaponry. The game detects the color of shirt your opponent is wearing, allowing you to target them. You can set times for specific matches and actually save your best shots to view back.
While it might be a hassle to get enough friends with Androids over to try it out, it is great fun and works really well… and you avoid the massive bruises and hurt egos you get from normal paintballing!
Parallel Kingdom is a multi-award-winning augmented reality game. The game makes itself out to be a kind of portal to another world, allowing you to see a variety of mythical beasts around you. It’s a big MMORPG and you can build resources and then trade them with other players. You can build your own kingdom and place flags, construct houses and hunt creatures. It lets you hold up your phone and see this universe for yourself.
There is a large and diverse online community associated with the game with players all over the world. Very geeky, but a superb and clever use of AR in gaming.
This cool little game simulates the familiar rock, paper, sissors game. By identifying the shape of your hand in front of the camera you play against the game’s AI over a series of rounds.
I found that the camera picked up your hand shape better in good light, but it’s simple and easy to play! The UI is quite good too; much better than many apps that choose to use augmented reality yet neglect the interface.
Wikitude World Browser is probably the king of augmented reality information apps. In your camera viewer it lets you see Wikipedia articles, ATM machine locations, local restaurants, Tweets, FourSquare locations, Flickr pictures, YouTube videos and lots more… all local to you. The UI in the app is superb and the AR is accurate and well displayed.
You could also download ‘Wikitude Drive’ which presents a unique sat-nav experience. Instead of following the map, simply follow the lines placed right along your route. The app is great for exploring new places or making the most of those around you. Wikitude World Browser has won various awards and should be considered one of those ‘essential’ apps people talk incessantly about.
This useful application is an AR sat-nav which overlays the way ahead with walking instructions. If you get lost anywhere, or are unsure how to reach a location, the app will present the way ahead with a white line- simply follow the line to reach your destination. Incredibly simple, yet it works fantastically and it is easy to find your way.
There are many sat-nav apps in the market – most notably Google Navigation – but as AugSatnav focuses solely on walkers, this is a good alternative to the more popular applications.
Go ghost-hunting with this fun and clever game! The app recognizes your location and places around you a number of ghosts and bonuses. You must find these ghosts and trap them. In order to do so, simply get as close to them as possible and fire a special net at them. You can see the ghosts through your viewer, hovering scarily in front of you! You can time games and build up points and bonuses.
SpecTrek is great for getting out of the house and improving fitness, especially as the game gets gradually harder, with more area to cover the more you play it. Brilliant for children too.
So this has been a concise round-up of smart augmented reality applications available (mostly for free) in the Android Market. As I mentioned before there are quite a few AR apps in the market that are incredibly poor and include shockingly bad UI, but the ones in this list attempt to remedy that.
I personally think augmented reality has been seriously underused and wish there were more good apps that implement it. However, those on this list are genuinely very impressive and really demonstrate some of the very cool functionality. Definitely try some out if you haven’t already – and please let us know if there are any good ones I have missed!