Augmented reality adds a little extra something to our lives, a je ne sais quoi that makes the world, well, way cooler. Here's what you need to know about AR and how iOS 11 is going to bring you even closer to an enhanced, superior reality - whenever you want (on your iPhone).

Huzzah! It’s confirmed Augmented reality is built into the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and their bigger, swankier brother the iPhone XWhenever we want to banish our boredom or make our afternoon more interesting, we have an easy solution at our fingertips: we reach for our iPhone.

But what if that phone had super powers? And could make our whole world more entertaining, more fun, more impressive, more eye-popping? Cue augmented reality (AR).

Before you panic that this sounds too scientific to handle, it’s worth considering how AR really can make all the good stuff even better. And realising that it’s here: everyone who’s ever chased a Pokémon around London has experienced AR in action.



Imagine trying out a tattoo on your arm before you actually commit to the pain (cheers Ink Hunter), or fighting aliens in your own back garden, courtesy of AR Invaders?

Or how about going keepie-uppie crazy in the office with a virtual football at your feet with ARSoccer, or releasing your inner Bear Grylls with Spyglass – an app that turns your iPhone into a compass, GPS tool and anything else you might need in the wild.

Or, if you’re after some motivation for those morning runs, why not choose to train with the Zombies, Run! app? The possibilities are endless, and whether you like the idea of being chased by zombies or not, now is the perfect time to get in on the AR action.


AR in a nutshell

It’s not about being transported to another dimension, or travelling through time. It’s simply about enhancing the world around us and our everyday experiences.

Artificial Reality is basically a technology that adds an overlay of computer-generated ‘things’ to the world we see around us, so we can interact with it differently and explore it in new and exciting ways. AR tech is an integral part of many apps that you’re already using and there’s plenty more to discover.


A quick reality check: what’s the difference between AR and VR?

Virtual reality, augmented reality, yada yada, yada… You certainly don’t have to be a complete technophobe to be baffled by the jargon. So first things first, what’s the difference between AR and VR, and how will it affect your life?

Artificial Reality is different to virtual reality because doesn’t take you out of the real world. VR is a fake reality where you hear, see, and even smell things that aren’t actually there. You could be swimming in the Red Sea while in your living room (nice), or running from buffalo in the American plains, while killing time before the school run (not so pleasant). It’s all about taking yourself out of the real world.

Augmented reality just enhances what you’re currently experiencing by adding digital images, graphics, or sensations as a new layer of interaction with the real world.

You usually experience virtual reality with a headset and controller which allows you to navigate around a pretend environment and situation. Augmented reality is inherently part of apps and mobile devices (like your laptop, smartphone, and tablet) to help distort or add to the real world and change how we see it or interact with it. Still with us?

The main benefits of AR

Unlike the pretence and expense of virtual reality, you can be right in the here and now with AR, with so much more to experience and interact with. Whenever you’re gaming, using apps, or finding your way around the world, it’s a richer, more immersive place to be and the benefits are endless.



Your own AR encounters can be as trivial and entertaining as you like (think Snapchat and Pokémon Go), or as meaningful and life-changing as you need them to be.

One of our fave apps to truly transform people’s lives is Color Blind Pal (it’s American, obvs), which allows colour blind people to use their smartphone camera to see colour. It uses filters and a slider tool to help calibrate the colours, so they’re easily distinguishable from each other. Impressive stuff, hey?

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A brief history of AR

Since the launch of Google Glass in 2012 the term augmented reality has been bandied around more and more. But did you know that the idea of AR is older than the first Android phone?

The term ‘augmented reality’ sprang to life in 1990 when researcher Tom Caudell and his colleague David were employed to help workers in the Boeing airplane factory. They found a new way to help people on the factory floor see the assembly diagrams for wiring using a see-through HMD (head-mounted display).

The actual definition of AR then came in 1997 from Ronald Azuma:

“It connects real and virtual worlds. It’s interactive in real time. It allows movement in 3D.”

But we reckon you could go back even earlier to see AR in action. In the Terminator movie of 1984, Arnie (total ledge) could use his vision to map the area and display info about objects or people. Surely an early example of AR?

The future of AR

Last year’s Pokémon Go craze may seem like a distant memory but this mega-popular mobile game barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of AR.

Apple has made AR part of its upcoming iOS 11 release, with ARKit developer tools that make it super easy for developers to create AR-friendly apps, so there’s masses of exciting stuff to come.

Let’s face it, it was only a matter of time before someone created a specialised platform to make AR technology mainstream, so let’s hope the much-revered tech giant can deliver. And we’re waiting with bated breath to see how AR makes our iPhone experience even better in future (yes, we’re referring to *that* phone launch we’re hoping is coming in September).

But you don’t even need to wait until then if you want to suss it all out. AR technology is already integrated into apps and games on your smartphone, so it’s sitting in the pocket of your jeans whenever you’re ready for it.

We’re kind of obsessed with AR. How can you not be – it’s like adding a funkier, more magical filter to any and every aspect of your life. Now we just need to remember we can’t augment everything, like our ordinary jobs and not-so-exciting relationships. At least we have our phones for that element of fantasy. Sigh.


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