There’s no question that a certain app has stirred up a lot of attention about augmented reality (AR) in the past few weeks. Pokemon Go’s success is unprecedented, and marketers are still trying to figure out how the game became so popular so quickly and what role AR played in its mass appeal. While AR is certainly trending at the moment thanks to this latest gaming phenomenon, the technology has in fact been in development since Harvard associate professor Ivan Sutherland developed the first AR display system in 1968. But it’s only now, nearly 50 years later, that AR technology stands poised on the verge of commercial breakthrough.
According to Digi-Capital, the AR market will be worth $120 billion by 2020. Talk about explosive growth. While the Microsoft Hololens and AR startup Magic Leap will likely dominate this market, there will still be room for numerous AR apps for mobile devices as well. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that Pokémon Go’s success is a sure sign that AR apps on mobile devices will be the first place AR becomes mainstream. While Pokémon Go is undoubtedly a huge success, there are numerous other AR games and apps out that are pushing the boundaries of AR further than this most recent phenomenon.
If you’re curious about exploring the landscape of AR on mobile devices right now, here are the 5 best augmented reality apps and games in 2016:
Modiface itself is simple enough: it allows users to try different hair color, makeup, and skin-care products virtually. It may not be what you first think of when you picture an AR app, but Modiface embodies the simplicity and niche market targeting that will make AR so successful. Not only does the app drastically reduce the difficulty of makeup shopping (trying on one makeup, washing it off, then trying another), but it creates opportunities to partner with all kinds of product companies. If you’re in the business of lipsticks, for example, it’s in your best interest to work with Modiface, so that customers can try your product on the app. Ecommerce is huge in today’s world, and your product needs to be as easily accessible digitally as it can be. This business partnership strategy is an effective way to monetize an app that provides further convenience for customers.
It sounds like the name of a fairy in a Disney movie, but Aurasma is cool even if you don’t like auras, or Disney. Aurasma lets users create AR content called “auras” for any object in the real world. For example, you could pair an AR video with a painting to give more context on the painter and the creation of this specific portrait. Aurasma allows users to tag that video to that specific object, so anyone can then interact with it. The applications are nearly limitless, but right now Aurasma’s bread and butter is in the education and marketing sectors. Imagine teachers creating interactive AR content, such as 3D graphs or multimedia content, to breathe new life into dated textbooks. Or instead, picture any advertisement offering AR content within reach of your mobile device’s camera that would reveal things like price, size, color options, and delivery dates. This could create a new evolution in mobile marketing, one in which more information and control than ever is put in the customer’s hands. Aurasma does all of this and more, all by placing “auras” (their term for interactive AR content) on objects in the real world.
3. Elements 4D
Speaking of education, everyone remembers the chemistry class cliche of the teacher creating a fireball to wow the students. While that’s all well and good for a teacher to do, it’s not entirely safe, and it also necessarily excludes students from the experiment. Elements 4D lets students experiment with chemical reactions through AR-enhanced blocks. By pressing two blocks together, users can see what happens to those chemicals through their phone’s camera. Elements 4D includes lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school, so teachers can easily integrate the app into their calendars. This app shows the possibilities of how AR can revamp the same core educational and wow factor classroom experience in a safer, more interactive way.
Of course, with AR technology come AR games that target the entertainment industry. Created by Niantic, the makers of Pokémon Go, Ingress is, in essence, the parent game that paved the way for Pokémon Go’s success. The game splits players into two teams, and users then compete for control of “portals,” similar to bases, against the other team, using a variety of items for both defense and offense. Ingress is very much a game, utilizing puzzles to gain items and the strategy to use those items to successfully take over or defend a portal. The format makes for a surprisingly deep tactical experience. Ingress tracks your location via Google’s GPS locator, and the game takes place in the world around you, most often around landmarks, museums, and public gathering places, encouraging people to get out and explore even as they play the game. With over 7 million users, Ingress is a huge success and is still quite popular today because it made an AR app for the gaming community.
5. Google Translate
For a purely practical purpose, Google Translate is pretty hard to beat. Most people are already familiar with the tool, having typed in many a query over the years, but the newly introduced AR capabilities of the app are increasingly handy. Rather than typing up the foreign language you don’t understand, you can frame the text with your camera, and Google Translate will automatically translate it for you. The convenience factor here is high, but the app becomes considerably more useful now that it can translate street signs for you, allowing users to orient themselves on the go. With its recent addition of 20 new languages, Google Translate is a must-have app for travelers everywhere and is proof that existing apps can find ways to integrate AR into their platform in a way that is intuitive and useful.
These five apps exemplify clean execution of AR technology that targets a specific audience or purpose. Since Pokemon Go’s debut, people have been talking about AR as a revolution that will change everything, but in reality, AR is meant to tackle specific functions, whether it helps you try a new lipgloss or provides a fun interactive gaming experience. AR is pushing traditional apps into new realms of practical utility and entertainment, and it will be here for many years to come. What other AR apps are you using? Leave a comment below!
By Ellie Martin
Ellie Martin is co-founder of Startup Change group. Her works have been featured on Yahoo! , Wisebread, AOL, among others. She currently splits her time between her home office in New York and Israel.