If you thought Augmented Reality was all about Pokémon Go and people wearing ridiculous glasses, you were wrong.
Well, not entirely. The ridiculous glasses are still a thing.
But these clunky face containers aren’t the only way to take on AR tech. And, while the video above is focussed on the future of reality augmentation, there are dozens of smartphone-ready apps designed to do everything from entertaining, scaring or distracting you, to making your work day run a whole lot smoother.
Because augmented reality is such an exciting emerging field, it’s often the showier, more entertainment-driven apps that get all the airtime. With this in mind, we’ve collected the five most useful AR apps for those who prefer practicality to chasing cartoon monsters.
#1: Measure anything with an augmented reality ruler
With the advent of AR, developers have finally been able to make an accurate and reliable smartphone tape measure. While the app hasn’t yet been released, it is ready to go any day now and you can sign up to get an email as soon as its downloadable.
#2: 3D scan complex environments on your smartphone
Google’s constructor tool is pretty amazing. It turns your smartphone into a 3D scanner capable of capturing your surroundings in incredible detail and building a 3D model useful in a variety of industries and applications.
To capture the scene, you simply follow the instructions and wave your smartphone throughout the space. At this stage in its development, the app doesn’t handle moving objects that well, getting confused by humans or animals and creating awkward, jagged lines as it tries to incorporate them into its rendering. However, considering the vast array of applications a 3D scanner can be put to, this smartphone integration is still phenomenally useful.
The first step to getting access to the scanner is to download Tango on your phone. Tango gives you access to the latest AR apps from Google’s top developers and is the platform you need to be able to operate the constructor tool.
#3: Know the path of the sun wherever you are in the world
The practicality of the Sunseeker app isn’t immediately obvious to all. But if you’re planning the design of a new building or working out where best to place solar panels or sunlights, it is a valuable resource.
#4: Never have to worry about where you parked your car
Whether you’re heading to a new job site for the first time, meeting with a new client, attending a crowded expo or field day, or you just have better things to think about than where you parked your car, this app is for you. If you have a Bluetooth connection in your car, it’ll automatically save your parking spot when you turn off the engine and then direct you back when you’re ready to go.
If you’re thinking this sounds like the kind of thing that encourages people’s brains to get lazy, slow your critical roll for a second. The app can also be used to track your car if it gets stolen, inform you of vacant parking spaces in your vicinity, manage up to three different cars, and track how long you have left on the meter so you never have to face a parking fine again.
While it sounds great in theory, the early reviews were quite mixed. One unhappy customer described the app as:
“Hopeless. Directed me to an empty field.”Steve Phillips, disgruntled car seeker
However, years of upgrades have got the Car Finder AR app up to a respectable average of 4.4 in the Google Play store.
#5: Watch language transform before your eyes
If you ever come across something in a foreign language—whether it be a sign, a menu item, or instruction book for an item ordered online—rather than having to type it into an online translator, the latest AR apps allow you to hover your phone over the words in question and watch them transform before your eyes into your native language.
This tech has actually been around for a while, formerly known as ‘Word Lens’. With a knack for knowing a good thing when they see it, Google acquired the old brand, closed it on down and sucked the technology into its own Google Translate app. Whatever you think of Google, Shakespeare’s old adage holds true: a rose will smell sweet regardless of what you call it and an app that transforms your reality from illegible to understandable is magic, whatever brand you slap on it.