If you generally only download totally free apps for your iPhone or iPad, you may want to reconsider: For $1.99, Smash Tanks might be the single best way to show friends and family how fun a little augmented reality can be.
It turns your floor into a tiny, cartoony battlefield where you fling teams of cute little tanks at each other (a bit like Angry Birds) with big, booming powerups you can pick up. You can play two-player with a single iPhone -- but if you've got two, you won't have to pass a device around.
If you own any Lego sets, the Lego Studio app is a must. You can mix actual Lego sets with augmented reality versions that don't actually exist! You can play games, stage scenes and record them as videos.
The animations look great and there are always clever details to find if you look close. The Police Station set, for example: there's a Lego corrections officer accidentally handcuffing his own wrists while another officer finds his pants caught on the parking lot gate arm and gets hoisted into the air!
Perhaps you've heard of GIFs, the ubiquitous animated image files that have provided a source of LOLs since the early days of the web? Giphy World lets you create entire miniature worlds full of GIFs -- any GIF from Giphy's catalog -- and share them with friends.
(I call this one "Infinite Sadness.")
You can share them as a video, but if you send to another Giphy World user they can remix it, then pass it along or send it back.
If you've always wanted a tiny remote-control car you could take anywhere, PowARdup is for you -- it's uncanny how spot-on the little jetcar feels drifting around the floor.
There's not much to it yet, just a couple of Asteroids-ish game modes where you dodge spiky urchin-like aliens and exploding bombs for as long as you can, but it's a quick, impressive ARKit demo you can pull out again and again. Here's what it looks like in the CNET offices.
See the girl in the red hoodie and blue jeans? She wasn't walking down this street -- she's a hologram of a real person I placed there just so I could take a cool photo. And she's just one of the many animated people (and animals) you'll find in the Holo app to put in funny videos and pictures of your own.
You actually don't need an ARKit-compatible phone -- but if you have one, you won't have as much trouble making the characters appear to be life-size people who fit in their surroundings.
A pool table, anywhere. That's Kings of Pool for you -- one of the most impressive AR demos we've seen despite just being a new mode for an existing game. You can resize the table to be any height you like, and take turns with a friend.
(The mode's a little buried: Start the game, quit the first match, then swipe right on the list of games to find it.)
Measuring apps are one of the most popular uses of ARKit right out of the gate. The tech lets you just point your phone at two different spots to instantly eyeball the distance between them. So far, we like MeasureKit best.
That's not because it's particularly accurate -- no ARKit ruler we've tried is accurate enough for serious work -- but because it's got the most intuitive UI, the best tutorials and the most features we've seen yet.
I actually used MeasureKit when I installed a new dishwasher this weekend. It was accurate enough to tell me how tall the space was underneath my countertop, so I could adjust the dishwasher's feet to match.
Want something a little more accurate, particularly for measurements that aren't strictly horizontal or vertical? Maybe try AirMeasure, which has you measure twice for greater accuracy. You pick any two points in 3D space, then walk a short distance so the software can triangulate based on your new perspective.
The Patrón Experience is designed to work on a flat surface like a bar top. It starts with a blue agave plant that grows into the full Patrón Hacienda amid rows of agave. A charming miniature bartender guides you through the tasting notes of various kinds of tequila.
The app is simple in how it uses AR to entertain and educate you. You tap on a bottle and the bartender explains how it is made and suggests tasting notes to be aware of if you drink it. It's easy to envision this being used at a bar over a round of tequila shots.
AR tequila won't give you a hangover, but you might get a craving for tequila.
The iOS version is all about learning how your whiskey is made. To start the app, you aim your phone at a bottle -- preferably Macallan, though it also worked with a bottle of water.
And while it doesn't have a charming miniature bartender like the Patrón app, it is more interactive. It lets you tap and move ingredients and flavor profiles for two of Macallan's 12-year whiskeys: Double Cask 12 and Sherry Oak 12. This app is definitely aimed at helping whiskey drinkers take their palate to the next level.
Care to dance? Don't know how? Dance Reality will literally show you the steps. Put your feet on top of the outlines, and follow them over and over to -- hopefully -- drill them into your muscle memory. Free to try, pay to learn more complex dances.
Practice by yourself, or invite a partner to join you.
What if you could see the stars, and identify planets and constellations, in broad daylight? That's what Sky Guide is for -- it's an app that tracks your exact position to show you the actual celestial objects that you'd see if it was a clear dark night.
Ever wanted to know how a toaster, a lock or a manual transmission works -- and I mean works, not just how they look inside? Jigspace gives you animated, exploded 3D step-by-step walkthroughs ("Jigs") where you can watch the moving parts. ARKit means you can plop one right down on a table and lean in to see little details.
There aren't a lot of Jigs yet, but perhaps users will be inspired to create their own when the company rolls out its Jig Workshop tool.
And while it's currently pretty buggy, we'd also highly recommend checking out Sketchfab's new AR mode, which lets you choose from literally millions of highly detailed user-generated 3D models you can see (and blow up to life-size) in your living room.
The bugs just mean the models won't properly stick to your floor.
Have you heard of Tilt Brush, the VR app that let you paint with light, and create 3D paintings you can actually walk through? Apple's ARKit is attracting several apps with a similar idea, and Paint Space AR is the furthest along. Just draw in the air, "annotate the real world," then take a screenshot or video to share with others.
It's a shame you can't just leave your creations in the real world for others to discover, but maybe that's a feature for a later version.
If you don't say it with GIFs or paint, maybe you'll say it with plain ol' words? As far as we can tell, #wordup is currently the single easiest way to make words float in midair. Why would you want to do that? Well, that's really up to you, but the low-hanging fruit is giving people video tours where you use #wordup to highlight and describe objects in the scene.
Want to know whether a new car will fit in your garage or parking space? No need to look up the dimensions online -- the new "Can it fit?" feature in the updated Edmunds car-buying app can quickly measure your garage and check it against a 3D model of the car. You'll easily be able to see if the car is too long, too wide or too tall.
What if your phone or tablet could instantly solve a Sudoku puzzle just by looking at it? That would be a heck of a tech demo, right?
Magic Sudoku can do that. But, in our testing, it didn't do it all the time. We printed out a bunch of puzzles, pointed it at others on our computer screen, and got way more missed scans than right answers. Try it, but maybe don't count on it to impress friends quite yet.
ZG: Revenant AR is a tower defense game, but not quite like any you've played before. Your phone is a helicopter gunship, blasting away at attacking zombies from the sky. To get closer to the action, you actually swoop down with your phone, while the game's sound and vibrations reflect your real-world motions.
We figured this simple stacking game wouldn't be any better in AR. We were totally wrong: Stack AR is probably the most addictive ARKit game we've tried so far. You tap to drop each block onto the tower, and any accidental overhang gets automatically shaved off.
When you inevitably miss, the tower rises out of the ground so you can see just how high you built it -- which is quite the sight when it's rising out of your coffee table. You may want to pay $1.99, £1.99 or AU$2.99 to get rid of the ads, though.
Following in the footsteps of perspective-puzzle platformers such as Monument Valley and Echochrome, the new ARise is a similarly artsy game where you have to look at the environment from the right perspective to see the path forward. The difference here: You'll get that new perspective by literally moving your body and phone up close to, and around, the floating islands.
It costs $2.99, £2.99 or AU$4.49 for just three levels right now, but the developers promise more will be added each month for free.
Could you beat an athletic world record without ever leaving your hometown? That's the aim of AR Runner, a game where you have to run through checkpoints superimposed on the real world and compete for the fastest times -- courses that stay the same even if you used them in a different country or on different terrain. It works reasonably well, though it feels weird to run while holding a phone.
We'll have to see how long it takes for cheaters to pop up.
Previously known as Crayola Color Blaster and exclusive to Google Tango phones, the new Color BlastAR has made the leap to Apple's ARKit -- and it works just fine! Dodge zombies by walking around your real-world room or park, pick up buckets of paint, and fire different color paintballs at zombies to bring them back to life. A little repetitive for adults, maybe, but it sure looks like a kid's idea of a good time.
The setup up to Math Ninja AR is simple: You solve math problems. OK that doesn't sound too exciting, but it's the way you solve them that makes this manic yet educational game so much fun.
On a flat surface, the AR version of Ninja Town is projected. A math problem hangs over the town and to solve it you have to find the creature with the correct answer. As soon as you solve one problem another replaces it. Music from a shamisen builds the tension in a way that reminds me of playing Tetris on the original GameBoy.
Math Ninja AR is aimed at kids, but it is definitely entertaining and challenging for adults, too.
Remember the app Paper Toss? There was an onscreen trash can and you would flick the screen to toss paper wads into the can. It was the perfect solo game for wasting time. The NBA AR app has the same vibe and that's a good thing.
You install an AR basketball court and hoop in a flat area. Then, you have 30 seconds to toss as many AR basketballs as you can into the AR hoop. To toss the ball, you flick the wrist of your phone-holding hand. You tap the screen to grab another ball.
It's addictive, and challenging enough that I wanted to keep playing. You can even record your game and share it.
The Machines is Apple's premier ARKit demo, and for good reason -- it's graphically one of the most impressive titles so far, turning your living room into a craggy battlefield where robot soldiers duke it out with sizzling weaponry as they push to victory. In our brief time with it so far, it's not quite as deep as your average MOBA, but it's a great example of what developers can do with diorama-like AR titles.
You'll need to shell out $4.99, £4.99 or $7.99 to try it, though.
So now you've got a nice little catalog of AR apps to show off. What about the rest? We thought we'd highlight a few more apps that demonstrate how AR isn't always a great addition.
Egg Inc, for instance, is a fun little clicker game where you build a great big farm by raising chickens and selling eggs, but its AR feature ("Farm to Table") consists entirely of being able to see your farm look like this. It doesn't make the game better, even if it's neat for a few minutes.
When Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade announced ARKit support, I hope you weren't expecting to play the game that way. It's just a photo mode so you can take photos of your hero in various poses, like an action figure.
Expect to see a lot more token AR modes like this.
We were pretty excited about Airway EX, which bills itself as "the first professional video game for practicing anesthesiologists, CRNAs and medical professionals who perform airway procedures."
Unfortunately, the AR mode feels like a glorified advertisement for a particular brand of video laryngoscope, and consists entirely of holding your phone perfectly still while pointed down the guy's throat.
Last and most decidedly least, Shoot Shoot Bomb AR crams in as many terrible gaming tropes as it can -- including a scantily clad dancing woman, the demon who grabs her, the endless waves of spiders and zombies that crawl out of the woodwork to eat you, the guns you shoot them with, and the fact that it barely uses augmented reality at all -- you'll be looking at game graphics pretty much the entire time.