Augmented reality is all very well on paper but, if you really want to know what it's about, the best thing to do is see it with your own eyes. Fortunately, thanks to the advent of new technology, all you need is your own smartphone to check AR out for yourself now, this minute.
If you don't know what augmented reality is, you might want to have a quick read of our article explaining the differences between AR and VR and what it's all about.
We've collected some of the best AR experiences currently available for you to try out.
- 10 best ARKit apps: Our pick of iOS augmented reality apps
- What is the difference between VR and AR?
Wanna Kicks - Try shoes before you buy
Online shopping might be convenient, but if you can't try shoes on before you buy you might end up with a pair that look awful on your feet. Now one company is making steps towards using the power of augmented reality to let you try before you buy.
Wanna Kicks uses your phone's camera to show you want a variety of trainers will look like on your feet. It's surprisingly nifty and even works if you turn your feet, so you can see the shoes from all sides before you place your order.
Google Maps Live View AR navigation
Google Maps is slowly being enhanced with various improvements that make the experience even more useful and convenient.
One of these is the addition of a Live View with AR to walking navigation. This uses augmented reality to show large arrows pointing you in the right direction as well as floating virtual road signs so you know which street to take.
This system uses Google's Street View to give you the most accurate and useful directions as you go from A to B. Your phone needs to support ARCore or have Apple ARKit support and if you're not sure whether it does there's a useful list here but otherwise it's a cracking AR experience that's well worth trying.
Google search results with AR animals
Google is adding augmented reality in more than one of its apps. One of these is the inclusion of AR animals in search results.
If you have an AR-enabled phone, all you need to do is search for an animal, then you'll see a card within the results that says "Meet a life-sized [creature] up close." From there you just need to click the "view in 3D" button to launch the experience and see the animals within your phone. A great educational tool, but also a taste of the future as Google is also working on bringing AR visions of products into the search in the near future.
Augmented reality furniture
Much like shopping for shoes, trying to buy furniture online can be a bit of a minefield. You don't want to blow all your hard-earned money on a sofa only to have it delivered and find it clashes with the curtains or just doesn't look right where you wanted to put it.
IKEA is solving that problem by using AR to let you virtually drop furniture into any space in your home to see if it'll fit. With the IKEA Place app, you can essentially try before you by. Though obviously you can't sit down on them.
Another highlight of this app is the ability to use the camera on your phone to find IKEA furniture similar to bits you already have.
Augmented reality wallpaper
The Graham & Brown Decorating app is the answer to your prayers if you're thinking about changing the colours or patterns on your walls but don't know what will suit.
This app uses Apple's ARKit tech to not only virtually display the selected wallpaper on your walls but also to measure the area and help you buy the right amount of wall covering as well.
This app is sadly only available for iPhone users, but is a nifty way to get some inspiration for a redesign without even needing to buy physical samples.
Augmented reality art
If you want to see something more visually impressive, then Apple's AR[T] Walk sessions might be for you. These are art tours but in the real world with a dose of augmented reality thrown in via an Apple iPhone.
These free tours start in Apple Stores in London, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, then involve you seeing art via your phone as you walk the streets.
Google Live Translate
The augmented reality technology packed into our phones isn't just used to put new images in our vision. It's also used to change what's already there in the world.
In the case of the Google Translate app, that involves doing a live translation of text in front of your camera into another language.
This can be used for simple things like translating street signs when you're in a foreign country or translating blocks of text on the fly.
Getting a tattoo is a big commitment. There's no easy way to go back so you want to make sure it's going to look right and you're getting what you pay for. Again, that's where AR can come in to save the day. Inkhunter is an AR-powered app that lets you see what a tattoo might look like on any part of your body.
You just need to draw some lines on your arm, leg or another body part with a non-permanent pen, then hover your smartphone over it so the app can work its magic. We like that this app's tagline is "think before you ink" - wise words.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
From Niantic Labs, the same team behind the popular Ingress and Pokemon Go mobile games, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is another game with AR elements.
This game involves exploration, discovery, collection, battling and teamwork, all in the real world. While you're adventuring with a bit of Harry Potter magic, you'll see various weird and creatures from the Potter universe appearing in our world. Cast spells, battle beasts but most of all, have fun.
If you've ever been interested in the skies above us, then download Star Chart and get ready to point your phone at the sky. This app helps you locate everything from celestial bodies to other planets.
It seemingly has the ability to display around 120,000 stars and planets. You can use it to locate particular stars or just learn about what you're seeing up there in the night's sky. It's a brilliant educational app and thoroughly interesting too. Plus it's free (with some in-app purchases) and available for both Android and iPhone.
Smash Tanks! is less educational and more just having a smashing time with AR. It places tiny cartoon tanks into the real world via your phone that then battle it out for victory with explosions, destruction and no real mess you'd have to clean up afterwards.
This game is also multiplayer so you can battle it out with friends as well. It's not free, but costs less than a bottle of pop, so a worthy investment for some fun times in AR.
Lego AR Studio
Lego AR-Studio lets Lego builders place, move and interact with various virtual Lego sets on a table or workspace. Using this app you can mix real-world Lego with virtual pieces that don't really exist and make brilliant creations as you do so. You can even record what you're doing in a video as well.
If you're a bit of a geek and are always getting asked by less tech-savvy family members for help fixing or using household items, smart home products or computers then this app may be of interest.
Chalk is an AR app that lets you provide remote assistance to your loved ones.
Using a simple system you can remotely view the problem area and draw arrows, circles and highlights on the screen for the recipient of your support to view. This one should make life a lot easier.
World Brush AR art
Another augmented reality experience that allows users to enjoy AR artwork in the real world. World Brush lets iPhone users paint images in real-world locations that can then be found and enjoyed by others.
Paintings are anonymous and can only be seen where they were created, but other users can like, dislike or report paintings if they're inappropriate. We like the idea of colourful paintings floating around nearby that are completely invisible to most of the populace. Though there's no doubt some people would abuse it with inappropriate drawings.
If you can't get enough of gifs and stickers then you'll be happy to hear that you can get your fill of even more by using your phone (or VR headset) to drop animated images and stickers in the real world.
Giphy, everyone's favourite place to acquire gifs has a dedicated app known as Giphy World that lets you have even more fun with gifs on your phone. Use the app to create spectacles, record your creations and share for everyone to enjoy.
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs takes all the fun of Angry Birds and uses AR to make it even more magical. Now the pigs are invading our world and it's your job to use the riled up birds to stop them.
40 levels of gaming goodness are available with the characters and sets appearing in your personal environment, whether in your bedroom, living room or kitchen. You can then use the catapults to destroy the pig's buildings and put an end to their chaos. Because it's in augmented reality, you're free to move around and find new angles to tackle the problems and beat the game.
Civilisations AR is an augmented reality app by the BBC. This app gives access to over 40 artefacts from various museums and galleries around the world that have been 3D scanned to let you see them closer up without even travelling.