Augmented reality iPhone apps to change your world–literally

Dec 14, 2009
Tech

With the digital age and the Internet’s ascendancy came the phrase “virtual reality” to describe, of course, cyber worlds that simulated real ones. Now as a new decade rears its head, you can add a new phrase to the reality lexicon: “augmented reality,” where a cyber portal gives you new ways to perceive, and even […]

With the digital age and the Internet’s ascendancy came the phrase “virtual reality” to describe, of course, cyber worlds that simulated real ones. Now as a new decade rears its head, you can add a new phrase to the reality lexicon: “augmented reality,” where a cyber portal gives you new ways to perceive, and even alter, the world outside your smartphone.

Augmented reality programs may mark a mini-revolution for the iPhone along the lines of killer iPhone apps such as Bump, Facebook, Tweetie 2 and Dictionary.com. At the very least, augmented reality promises in theory to do what many of the best apps do—that is, combine some serious utility with a whole lot of fun and wonder. Here’s my look at five augmented reality iPhone apps and whether they succeed in wrapping the world around your fingertips:

Serious astronomers and amateur stargazers alike should delight in the Pocket Universe iPhone app ($2.99), which uses your current location to help you analyze the skies above you. You can “flick the sky” and make it spin, telescope in and out, and learn the names of the stars on your phone. I also like the fact that the Craic Design folks haven’t given up on Pluto as a planet, unlike those astrono-snobs who recently stripped the heavenly body of its title (like you or I had any say in the matter).

Fully operational for American bars only, Stella ArtoisLe Bar Guide (free) claims to navigate you to your favorite bars—directional arrows appear on your iPhone screen—while also supplying bar reviews. I wonder how biased those reviews are given that a beer maker is behind this app, and the augmented reality aspect seemed “drunk,” as my iPhone told me a bar due east of me was actually due west. For locating bars, use the superior and deadly accurate BeerCompass (99 cents) instead.

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How many times have you wished you could whip out a spray can, tag a wall in your neighborhood, and not get arrested? Now you can do it thanks to the Virtual Graffiti iPhone app (free). Snap a picture, then drag your finger across the screen like a stylus, scrawling anything you like in 10 colors. Check out what other virtual taggers in your ’hood are up to with a handy pin-drop map. This app is so cool, it made me want to stop writing this review and start spraying some chill artwork.

Mark your car’s parking spot, shop your brains out, then use Car Finder (99 cents) to help you remember where you parked your vehicle — sort of. The long-winded disclaimer says this GPS-powered iPhone app “can be off as much as 100 meters and gets even worse when used indoors. Car Finder is meant to be helpful—not to replace your common sense.” Hmmmm. “Common sense” says any iPhone app designed to find your car should not make excuses. Lose this iPhone app and record the pole letter and number in your “Notes” app. I hear that’s 100 percent accurate.  

The makers of the Bionic Eye iPhone app (99 cents) have a junk food fixation—maybe “Bionic Gut” would be a better name—as it helps you locate more than a dozen fast food joints, plus Domino’s and Pizza Huts locations, the nearest Starbucks, and the local Krispy Kreme. Bionic Eye also locates subway stops through an in-app purchase ($1.99) that covers Chicago, Washington and New York. It’s cool that four Starbucks popped up on my iPhone, all within 2 miles of my location. Then again, do you really need a Bionic Eye to spy a Starbucks in a major American city?

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Lou Carlozo

Former Chicago Tribune DVD columnist, current music critic at Christian Century, paid blogger/columnist for AOL's WalletPop and True/Slant ... but most important, a proud owner of an iPhone 3Gs and one of the first in Chicago to own a duo-core MacBook Pro laptop. Flash back 30 years; my first computer ever in 1979: an Apple II.

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