Pokémon Go was one of the first widely available augmented reality apps. It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but augmented reality is closer than we think. So close in fact that almost all of us will be able to experience it, in one way or another, through one simple device: our mobile phone. Most Android and iOS phones now come with the necessary technology for augmented reality and there are plenty of app developers who provide services that are completely free to use. These are some of the most exciting ways that you can experience augmented reality through your mobile device.

Catch Yourself a Pokémon

Augmented reality has a surprisingly long history and no sector better understands it than the gaming market. Novelty and new technology have always been the driving force behind game development, so when virtual reality technology first came into being in 1968, in the form of a head-mounted device, the games market was quick to get a slice of the action.

One big player in the gaming market has always been the Pokémon franchise, so it came as no great surprise to see them blazing the trail for augmented reality mobile gaming. Pokémon GO is an adventure game, which encourages you to get outside and explore your surroundings, whilst keeping your eyes peeled for strange little creatures called Pokémon. Once you see a Pokémon you can choose to lure it closer with bait before throwing your Pokéball to catch it. The idea behind the game is to grow your collection and win battles with fellow Pokémon trainers. It’s a great fun game and a popular way of encouraging people to get some fresh air and exercise. In fact, since its release in 2016, the app has been downloaded more than one billion times, making it by far the most popular gaming app on this list.

Share and Discover Art, Messages and Even Treasure

One of the most brilliant applications of augmented reality is its use in connecting people with the community around them. There are a multitude of apps that clever developers have designed to achieve this but these two are particularly ingenious. WallaMe allows users to communicate with each other by taking a picture of a surface around them, perhaps a wall, a tree, or even just the road in front of them. Using this photo they can draw, write, or add stickers to the photo and then leave it for other users to find. Using geolocalization, other users that pass by the spot where the photo was taken will be able to see the doodles of the original artist on their own mobile phone screen.

Pokémon Go was one of the first widely available augmented reality apps

Another company that has successfully used geolocalization to create a brilliant game is Econet. Although Econet has been under fire recently for its decision to remove the option for buying airtime using Ecocash, it has to be applauded that the company isn’t shy of embracing new technologies. Econet launched a new browser-based augmented reality treasure hunt this February, which allows you to load up your web browser and search for real-life prizes. Choosing to use an in-browser game instead of an app was a wise choice when data can be prohibitively expensive. Playing in this way means you might win a prize and won’t have to take up valuable data and phone storage space to do it.

Unleash Your DIY Skills

So far the augmented reality apps that have been mentioned are great fun, but perhaps without very practical use. For those of us who enjoy practicality in our apps, it doesn’t get much more helpful than MeasureKit. This app allows you to turn your phone into a specialist measuring device, perfect for working out where a new piece of furniture might fit, or how many fence posts you’ll need for the back yard. The free version of this app includes a ruler that will let you measure the length of any surface using your phone camera, as well as a chaining tool for measuring jobs that are a little more complex. For $2.99USD a full unlock can be accessed which includes tools for measuring angles, checking that a surface is level and measuring trajectories.