Although Google’s Project Glass augmented reality glasses offer a taste of the high-tech future, they’re not for sale yet. But that doesn’t mean augmented reality is out of reach–right now, you can get your hands on a bunch of apps for your iPhone or iPad that are just as cool as Google’s glasses. These apps use your device’s camera to overlay information on the viewfinder.
Here are 15 of the best augmented reality apps. They’ll do everything from showing you the nearest restaurant or movie theater to helping you redecorate your living room.
Acrossair Augmented Reality Browser
Acrossair is the Swiss Army knife of augmented reality. When you hold your phone horizontally, it shows your location on a map, and you can select the layer you’d like to see. You can view cinemas, hotels, and many other amenities, check out geotagged Wikipedia entries, or see local tweets–you can even pin a location to find your car later. Once you’ve chosen a layer, simply hold your phone upright, and the full-screen camera viewfinder appears with overlaid information that pops up in see-through balloons as you move around.
SnapShop lets you try out furniture in your home without actually moving anything around. You just pick a furniture item from the generous catalog of popular brands and then bring up the camera live view to resize and move the furniture around the screen. You can also try different colors and patterns of the same furniture. Once you’ve decided which piece of furniture looks best, the shopping cart button takes you to the retailer’s website.
Golfscape GPS Rangefinder
The next time you go for a round of golf, you might bring along Golfscape GPS Rangefinder. This app pinpoints your position on the golf course and lets you choose your desired landing area. The rangefinder also shows you the distances to the front, center, and back of the green, and it can display up to 40 mapped targets per hole.
Useful for outdoor types, Spyglass acts as an augmented reality compass. The app features tactical GPS, which lets you find and track your location with coordinates in both Geo and Military formats. The app also allows you to store locations you’ll need later on (such as where you parked your car), and it has advanced features such as star tracking, an optical rangefinder that measures the distance to objects, and a MIL-SPEC compass that updates in real time based on the azimuth circle.
What’s the name of that especially bright star overhead? Just point your phone at it, and the Star Chart app will tell you. You can also look around and tap anything in the sky to learn about what you’re gazing at; Star Chart will tell you the distance and brightness of that object. The app also works in daylight, as well as when it’s cloudy outside.
Theodolite is an electronic viewfinder for hikers and other active sportspeople. It serves as a compass, GPS tool, zoom camera, rangefinder, and two-axis inclinometer. For advanced users, the app also has an A-B calculator for height, distance, heading position, triangulation, and relative angles.
Peaks is a simple augmented reality app that lets you point to any mountain (major or minor) and get information about it. The app will tell you the peak’s altitude and how far away it is. When you go outside, the app also lets you take photos, both with and without the overlaid info.
Bored at your desk? ARBasketball brings basketball to any flat surface. You download the free app and print a paper marker to put on a table or desk, and then you point the phone’s camera at the marker to see the hoop. To play, you throw the ball by swiping up over the screen. It’s fun but difficult–mastering your throw while keeping your phone steady can be tricky
Junaio is another cool augmented reality browser with tons of options. It includes layers for Wikipedia, amenities, tweets, eBay classifieds, and Foursquare venues, and the app also has a handy built-in bar-code and QR scanner.
SpotCrime uses augmented reality to give you an idea of how dangerous the local area is. Using different icons and colors, SpotCrime shows you specific crimes that have occurred in your immediate region. This app is probably useful for house hunting. Other free AR apps also have crime layers, but SpotCrime offers a more comprehensive database and crime-area scouring system.
AR Invaders adds an augmented reality twist to the classic alien-invasion game. Your goal is to keep the aliens from attacking wherever you are currently standing by moving the phone around to aim and shoot the spaceships. For added fun, you can play with friends in multiplayer mode.
DishPointer reduces the hassle of setting up a satellite dish when you go camping. Basically an augmented reality satellite finder, this app shows you an overlay of available satellites through the camera viewfinder. Another cool thing: The app doesn’t need a 3G or Internet connection to work, as all of the data is self-contained.
A useful tool for photographers, gardeners, or house hunters, Sun Seeker shows you an augmented reality view (as well as a flat-view compass) of the solar path, the sun’s hourly intervals, and its rise and set times. In the AR view you can also see the sun’s current position and its path in the sky, while the map view shows solar direction arrows and elevations for each hour of the day.
ARSoccer is a fun augmented reality app. Simply point your phone at the ground, and use your own feet to kick the virtual ball. You’re limited to a virtual juggling game, which can be quite challenging.
In Stiktu, an augmented reality graffiti app, you scan objects around you, such as magazines, posters, or products, and then add text, stickers, and sketches to them. Later, when someone else scans the same product or item using Stiktu, they’ll see your virtual graffiti. You can share your creations on Facebook and Twitter, and the app has its own like/friend system as well. Stiktu is currently available only in France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the UK.