Augmented Reality, AR. It means your smartphone uses visual input, and combines it with online data and overlays that onto what you see; this can mean extra geographic information, or a visual representation that adjusts depending on how you move your phone.
Smartphones have only recently developed into devices with enough power to deal with augmented reality apps, and combining camera input with streaming data will still sap your battery pretty quickly. But you'll find some of the most innovative, jaw-dropping apps use augmented reality to some extent, and it's only start.
Qualcomm, amongst others, look set to ensure that future smartphones will be even more capable when it comes to the next generation of AR apps. Here are some of our current favourites.
Created by the Museum of London this iPhone app will ,depending on your location, overlay images of the same place, in a different time. historic images over what you're looking at.
It uses input from the camera to line up images from the past and plonk them onto your phone’ screen. You’ll also get some historical blurb about what you’re looking at.
Whilst certainly not for everyone, DanKam is an inspired use of your smartphone camera, allow people that are colour-blind to differentiate between similar colours by adjusting them on-screen.
Since we first wrote about this app, we’ve had several people tell us it really does the job - perfect for choosing clothes or ensuring you’re seeing the right stuff in brightly colour HUDs in computer games. DanKam’s available on both the iPhone and Android devices.
Nearest Tube/ Where’s the Tube?
Different apps, same outcome, these apps pair your camera and GPS system to give you a real-world view of where the tube is, as the crow flies, and how far away it is. Great for deciding which way to head when stuck between two seemingly equidistant stops.
Winner of a recent augmented reality game competition, you will need to print out the special marker, though this can be substituted with a $1 bill. Point your phone at it, and your ‘target’ will generate - a rag-doll celebrity.
The idea is to pry into your patchwork celebs’ private life, getting the best exclusive photos. The better, and more diverse the photoset, the better your score. But if he catches you, he’ll rush at you, and attack the camera; take care. If he damages the camera, your photos will be worth nothing.
WordLens is an ingenious iPhone app that translates to and from Spanish and English. Even better, it ‘switches’ the words in real-time on the iPhone’s screen. Check out the video below. The app itself is free but the Spanish file will set you back £6.99.
Mixing up data from the likes of Instagram, Twitter, Wikipedia, Layar is pretty self-explanatory, added said layers atop your camera viewfinder.
The great thing about layer is there’s a lot of third party ‘layers’. StreetARt - already inside favourites, offers up a selection of user-submitted street art. Some layers work better than others; ‘augmented reality weather' really adds nothing - but at least they're all free.
A game that’s free to play as it is, it really comes intop its own when paired with the AppBlaster, an pasltic gun accessory with space for your phone to fit in as ‘viewfinder’. It uses the iPhone’s built-in gyroscope, so you’ll have to swing around the two-handed gun to spot the aliens and blast them away.
Reloading is done by tilting the gun upwards. There are plenty of similar UFO shooter games out there. But, well, they don’t have a gun.
Similar to Layar, Wikitude offers a simpler interface, with the likes of YouTube, FourSquare and Twitter all in attendance.
Wikitude is available across devices, with the BlackBerry version added some extra BlackBerry Messenger functionality hopefully enabling you to locate friends in a crowd - or see whether your significant other’s got home yet - and other privacy flouting functions.
Google continue to expand their visual search offerings- instead of a search box, Goggles uses your camera to search the environment. Sounds very Google, but there’s plenty of extra functionality here worth playing with.
There’s the Sudoku solver - point your phone at the puzzle, and it should scan, detect, then solve it - in under half a minute. (And even less if you’re using WiFi.)
There’s also a QR code reader that’s pretty capable, and even standard product barcodes can be scanned and searched for, linking to shops that stock the product nearby.
There’s also an impressive foreign language translator here that will automatically detect the language in question and a business card scanner that will glean all the data and prep it for entry into your contact book. Goggles is currently available on BlackBerry, Android and iPhone.