iPhone 12 users: Impress your friends with this cool lidar trick we discovered

Your new iPhone has a fancy lidar scanner built into it, unlocking some impressive and fun capabilities.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

The Measure app makes it easy to measure how tall someone is, as long as you have the right device. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Apple not only included three cameras in the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but the company also added a lidar sensor. The new feature, a first on iPhones, helps improve portrait mode photos and even makes it possible to take those blurry-background shots in night mode. The lidar sensor, however, has another trick it can do -- and it's sure to impress your friends at your next party (when it's safe again, of course).

Lidar stands for "light detection and ranging" and it works by bouncing lasers off of objects to measure their distance, based on how long it takes for the light to get back to the sensor. The sensor itself isn't new tech -- in fact, the 2020 iPad Pro has lidar, too -- and the same tech is often used in self-driving cars

Read more: ProRaw: See how Apple's new iOS 14.3 trick transformed my iPhone 12 photos

Here's one party trick I discovered, with the help of MacRumors, and I lay out a few more below.

For my first trick, here's how to use the iPhone 12 Pro's camera to measure a person's height in just a couple of seconds (I did this with my kids and they loved it).


Pretty cool stuff, right? 


1. Open the Measure app on your iPhone. 

2. Point the rear camera at a person who is either standing or sitting and make sure you get their entire body -- from head to toe -- in the frame. 

3. After a second or two, a line will appear above their head with an estimate of their height, including items like their hair or a hat. 

4. You can take a picture of the measurement with a tap on the shutter button, saving it to your camera roll. 

In my testing, the measurement was accurate within half an inch. My son's curly hair caused his first measurement to be just slightly too high, but after he combed it down, it was spot on at 4 feet, 7.5 inches. 

I also tested it on myself, and small things like the angle of my head or wearing a hat resulted in the same slightly short 5 foot, 9 inch reading. When I stood straight up, however, looking directly at the camera without a hat on, it was more accurate, with a 5 foot, 10 inch reading. 

You can get a rough estimate of more than just a person's height with the Measure app. You can use it to get the dimensions of a piece of furniture, for example, to see if it will fit through a door. I recently measured a TV to settle a debate on whether it was 55 or 65 inches (it was 65). 

When the Measure app first launched with iOS 12 , I explained how to use it to measure random household objects or figure square footage. With the addition of lidar on Apple devices, the app is getting more accurate. So if you've upgraded your iPhone, it's worth giving the Measure tool another shot. 


Using a third-party app, you can scan an entire room and create a 3D map. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Want to try more fun lidar features?

The lidar sensor isn't limited to just measuring different objects. You can use it to create 3D maps of a room (as shown above), or a 3D recreation of a single object, which you can then print out on a 3D printer when you use an app like Polycam

According to CNET's Scott Stein, the Apple Arcade game Hot Lava uses the lidar sensor to scan a room, after which he could hide virtual stuff behind real items in the room, like a chair. 

As more apps are updated to improve the augmented reality experience thanks to the lidar sensor, there's no telling what else we'll be able to do with compatible iPhone and iPad models. 

After impressing your friends and family with your iPhone 12's fun trick, make sure to check out these hidden features in iOS 14. If you're still learning your way around the iPhone 12, here are some settings worth taking a look at. Like, if you don't live in an area with 5G coverage, you can turn it off.