While we’re waiting for the Oculus Rift to hit the mass market, devices like Google Cardboard are allowing us to experience virtual reality (VR) with the help of our smartphones. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of VR apps for iPhone and Android pop up. Other developers are using VR technology to create “augmented reality” apps. Augmented reality, or AR, is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, providing a composite view. AR apps don’t require headgear, so they’re an inexpensive way to get a taste of the the VR experience. Here are some of the best virtual reality and augmented reality apps out right now:
Anatomy 4D (Android, iOS), Free
This app gives you a virtual tour of the human body with AR technology. Once you print out the target image, you can zoom in and out to explore bodily systems - skeletal, lymphatic, respiratory, etc. This app could be especially useful for medical school students, but is also a fun experience for anyone who’s curious about the workings of the human body.
Augment (Android, iOS), Free
Augment allows marketers and designers to upload 3D models, in order to visualize them in physical space. You can contemplate new product packaging, demo the appearance of new appliances, or create your own interactive display.
GeoTravel (iOS), $0.99
This app allows you to explore foreign cities by showing you how to get to attractions, monuments, and points of interest within the city you want to visit. If you plan your trip at home, you won’t need an internet connection to operate the app, making it really easy to use when you’re traveling abroad.
Glitcher VR (Android), Free
Glitcher VR applies filters to your phone’s camera output to render your environment in an interesting way. The app employs speech recognition for voice control, and it applies a barrel distortion effect to all filters for accurate image reproduction and comfortable VR viewing.
Google Goggles (Android), Free
This visual search app uses your phone or tablet’s camera to look up famous landmarks, scan bar and QR codes for information, translate text in foreign languages, and more. Point your device’s camera at a painting, landmark, product, or a popular image. If Goggles finds it in its database, it will provide you with historical facts, related products, reviews, and any other useful information it can find.
Ingress (Android and iOS), Free
This multi-player augmented reality game has players take on roles as members of rival secret societies, fighting for control of a mysterious energy source. Players take their devices to real-world locations to gain control of portals around buildings and landmarks. Ingress is one of the first AR games to use the real world as a playing field.
InMind (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, STEAM), Free
This educational game by Nival VR puts you in the cockpit of a miniaturized submarine-like vehicle that travels through the brain of a depressed patient. Your job is to look for the red-colored neurons, and focus in on them long enough to shoot them down. While it’s designed for Google Cardboard and other VR viewing devices, you can play without any special viewers.
iOnRoad Augmented Driving (Android, iOS) , $4.99
iOnRoad improves driving in real-time using your smartphone camera. The app provides a range of personal driving assistance functions, including augmented driving, collision warning, and “black-box”-like video recording. The app's "Visual Radar" uses your device's sensors and camera to track your speed, as well as your distance from the cars in front of you. It then provides audio and visual collision warnings, lane departure, and speeding alerts.
Jack White: THIRD-D (Android), Free
This app provides a VR concert experience through Google Cardboard, offering three tracks shot in different locations, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado and Fenway Park in Boston. THIRD-D provides a look at what VR concert experiences could look like in the future. So even if you’re not familiar with Jack White’s music, it’s worth checking out.
Lookator (Android), Free
Lookator is an Augmented Reality app for finding better WiFi signals. Open it, hold up your phone, and you'll see hotspots around you with their relative strength and direction.
Orbulus (Android), Free
Travel the world, stand on Mars, experience the magic of King Arthur’s Glastonbury Tor, visit the Salt Flats, experience New Year’s Fireworks on Hong Kong Harbour, or check out the Northern Lights. Orbulus lets you travel among “orbs” to explore all over the universe.
Proton Pulse (Android), $1.99
Proton Pulse puts a 3D spin on what is essentially the old classic, Pong. Players move their heads to shift the paddle in front of them, which hits a bouncing ball and clears the blocks floating around the play field. While the concept is simple, the vibrant graphics provide a fun VR gaming experience. Proton Pulse will soon be available on Oculus Rift, but you can play it with Google Cardboard now.
Roller Coaster VR (Android, iOS), Free
This app allows you to ride a deserted roller-coaster amidst a tropical island. Enjoy pleasant scenery, an ambient soundtrack, and a thrilling ride.
Snapshop (iOS), Free
Snapshop lets you visualize how furniture might appear within your home. The app uses your iPhone or iPad’s camera to display overlays of a variety of furniture from brands such as IKEA, Crate & Barrel, Pier 1, and more. Users can also browse products, view dimensions, and save the previews generated by the app.
Star Walk (Android, iOS, Windows Phone), $2.99
Star Walk uses your device’s sensors and location data to present you with an augmented view of the night sky. When you point your device at the sky, the app will display a view of constellations, planets, and other celestial bodies. Users can tap to view more details, or use the Time Machine feature to view the sky at a past or future date.
Theodolite (iOS), $3.99
With Theodolite, you can take geo-tagged camera images, screenshots, and videos directly from the app. You can view your current position on the built-in map view, with standard, satellite, and hybrid modes, compass rose, and bearings. The app is great for hiking, boating, hunting, golf, outdoor sports, sightseeing, and navigation.
These apps are some of our favorites, but there are hundreds of other VR and AR apps available for download. If you’re looking for a taste of the VR experience, the possibilities are “virtually” at your fingertips.