Reality 2.0—Augment your world

Augmented reality apps raise the bar by putting a virtual layer of information over your real world

Shweta Taneja
Updated16 Apr 2013, 08:36 PM IST
Imaging: Raajan/Mint.<br />
Imaging: Raajan/Mint.

You see the Taj Mahal, point your phone at it, and facts about it come up on screen. Or, through the screen, virtual spaceships and robots can dance in your empty living room. You can also take pictures with them.

Augmented reality (AR) puts a virtual layer of information over your real world. It supplements your everyday life with information, images, sounds, and other sensory information from your device.

It’s been around for a while now, but we’re still figuring out how to use it. Google Glass has given us a glimpse of what could be possible with augmented reality when brought straight to your vision, without the need to hold up your phone. Microsoft has patented augmented reality glasses that will enhance sports and live events with streams of information directly beamed in front of the user’s eye (including action replays).

But till these devices are available, here are some of the AR apps you can use on your smartphone.

HP Live Photo

Send a postcard with an embedded video using this app—you can print a photograph that comes alive when someone holds their smartphone over it. To do this, you need an iPhone, a video and the HP Live Photo app, and an Airprint-enabled HP printer. Choose the video and then pick a frame to print, using the app. The app prints it with a marker, so that when the image is scanned by another iPhone with the app, the video will play.

Free, iPhone only.


Combining fitness with AR, BallStrike makes you kick and punch virtual balls, keeping you fit. Once the app is installed, stand in front of your device’s front camera and you’ll show up on screen, along with your surroundings. Just make sure the room’s well lit, there’s enough space for free movement, and you stand at a distance from the device.

The screen will fill with colourful balls, and you have to hit them—each hit is worth points, but you have to avoid obstacles like bombs, so you’re going to have to twist, turn and jump to hit every ball. The app detects motion using the camera, and uses that to calculate the calories burnt after each of the 12 rounds. It can also take pictures of the game that you can share online later.

Free, on iOS; Android and Windows Phone 8 versions are coming soon.

Reading Lens

Reading Lens is a simple AR app that helps people who need reading glasses. If you’ve forgotten your glasses at home just pull out your phone and point it at the text you want to read—the app will automatically enlarge the text, and can even use the phone’s flashlight as a lamp in case the lighting is poor.

$0.99 (around 55), on Windows Phone 8.

Nasa’s Spacecraft 3D

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa’s) Spacecraft 3D is amazing. First it lets us see live images sent by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Now, it takes AR a step further, letting you imagine you are the captain of one of the spacecraft Nasa operates across the solar system. Choose from Curiosity on Mars, Grail on the Moon, Cassini on Saturn, Juno cruising to Jupiter, Dawn cruising to Ceres, or Voyager, which plans to leave the solar system. Once you have decided which one, print an image of Nasa’s AR Target on a piece of paper and point your device camera at the target.

On your screen, the paper will turn into a spacecraft that you can control. See the robotic explorers, raise and lower one of their robotic arms, manoeuvre the high-gain antenna, and do other fun stuff. To add to the fun, the app has an option where you can take your photograph with the spacecraft by putting yourself in the picture.

Free, on Android and iOS.


A game created by Google, Ingress is about a war between two factions, the Enlightened and the Resistance. You have to choose your side at the beginning of the game. Once you have, your immediate environment and space (you could be anywhere in the world) becomes your gameplay. You have to physically reach a public space which is designated as a portal. The portal could be held by you or your enemy. If it’s an enemy spot, you hack into the portal and make it yours. As you play, your phone directs you to the portals through GPS and leads the way with pointers and maps.

The objective is to collect objects around you, tap sources of energy or capture enemy territory. As a player you can send photos of locations to Google to be included as a portal, but there’s no guarantee that it will be, so you might not have many currently in your city to start playing. But it’s an exciting new game nonetheless. Ingress is in closed beta right now. You can request an invite at It will be available for free on Google Play soon.

Free (limited availability for now), on Android.

Om Nom: Candy Flick

Released in January, this AR game is based on the popular green monster hero of Cut the Rope, Om Nom. It makes use of the fact that you might have more than one compatible device for your child to play on. The concept is simple and will delight tiny tots. You open the blue AR image in another device, press the play button on the app and point the camera at the image (on the other device’s screen). Om Nom will rise up from the screen as a 3D green monster. Now start feeding it virtual candy, which is what it loves.

Free, on iOS.

At the top of the world and want to know the name of the mountain in front of you? Made for mountaineers and hikers, uses your device’s camera to show you the names and details of the peaks surrounding you, all without obstructing the panoramic view. It extracts its database from OpenStreetMap and has about 140,000 peaks from around the world—though only 450 of India’s mountains. The reason is there aren’t enough Indians putting up mountain information on OpenStreetMap. The app downloads all the data it requires the first time you start it so it doesn’t need an active network connection when you are in the middle of hiking and facing the peak. But it does require a device to have a still camera as well as an accelerometer or magnetometer.

Free, on Android and iPhone.

AR Sudoku Solver

Suck at Sudoku? Don’t worry, download this app and it will solve your Sudoku for you. Developed as an experiment, the app is a simple concept and works well. All you have to do is point your phone’s camera on the Sudoku grid. The Solver reads the grids, solves them and projects the results back into your camera on to the screen of your phone. You need to take care that the grid is flat, hasn’t been filled manually, the camera is focused and the light, good.

Free, on Android.

■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Live-browse your world

Most of the existing AR apps have fun uses, or are very helpful in highly specific scenarios, but they don’t change your day-to-day life. Apps like Wikitude and Layar, which can change your life, are being developed, but not too many people know about them yet.

If you are in a new neighbourhood or exploring a new city, instead of using Google to find something to do, look through an AR browser and you will find restaurants, monuments, hotels and other places of interest. Apps like Wikitude, Layar, Junaio and Nokia City Lens throw live information on your device’s screen. All you need to do is to point your camera in a certain direction and everything, from a coffee shop to an ATM, will pop up on your screen.

Both Wikitude and Layar have been around since 2009, but it’s only now that they have enough content for it to be relevant for you. Wikitude, for example, can show you Wikipedia pages, and suggestions right within its visual browser. Layar and Junaio can read QR codes (a type of bar code) and show the content on your screen without opening the Internet browser. Layar offers the additional feature of making print pictures come alive through content, video and information.

Google Goggles searches the Web through pictures. Point the phone on an artwork, a wine, landmark or book, and it will give you information about it. Point it on written text and it will translate the word for you.

The Nokia City Lens comes free with the Nokia Lumia series ( Wikitude ( is available for free on Google Play, iTunes, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Layar ( and Junaio ( and Google Goggles ( are available for free on Google Play and iTunes.

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First Published:16 Apr 2013, 08:36 PM IST
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