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Best augmented reality apps

Theodolite (iOS) — $4

Theodolite (iOS)

Theodolite (iOS)

Although knowing your exact latitude, longitude, and elevation when trekking through the wilderness is by no means necessary, one can’t help but be curious from time to time. Theodolite is essentially an electronic viewfinder primarily designed for hikers, golfers, hunters, boaters, and other active people, one which turns your tablet or smartphone into an informative lens of topographic information and data overlays. Once downloaded, the app serves a GPS tool, rangefinder, tracker, geo-tag camera, compass, two-axis inclinometer, and a zoom camera, and even has an A-B calculator for measuring distance, height, heading positions, relative angles, and triangulation. It’s a jack of all trades when it comes to surveying the landscape, so much so Apple highlighted Theodolite’s built-in features during one of its iconic keynote addresses in late 2013.

Augmented Car Finder (iOS) — Free

Augmented Car Finder (iOS)

Augmented Car Finder (iOS)

We’ve all done it before — you finish up your grocery shopping and head out into the parking lot to make your way home, but unfortunately have no idea where you parked. Fortunately, Augmented Car Finder is an app specifically designed to help guide you to your hiding vehicle. Once the car’s location is set, the app creates a visible marker showing the car, the distance you are from it, and the direction you should walk to find it. We’ve found that it’s most useful for places like stadiums, convention centers, outdoor concert venues, and other crowded areas or those lined with massive parking lots. Users can also utilize the app to find their seats in large theaters and concert halls. The freemium version of the software should suffice for most users, but the premium version thereof does remove the ads and include additional tools for marking your favorite parking spot or specifying the arrow color. Augmented Car Finder may be an iOS exclusive, but Android users can always purchase the similarly-equipped Car Finder AR ($2.75).

Sun Seeker (Android/iOS) — $7

Sun Seeker (Android/iOS)

Sun Seeker (Android/iOS)

As the name might suggest, Sun Seeker is an app obsessively designed with one thing in mind: the enormous star position in the center of our solar system. The app provides both a flat view compass and a 3D, AR view, each detailing the sun’s solar path, maximum elevation, its hourly intervals, and its rise and set times, among other noteworthy data. Furthermore, the app presents the sun’s winter and summer solstice paths, and allows users to quickly view the sun’s current position in the sky, complete with marked hour points. Though users can choose from nearly any location on earth, the app also taps into your mobile device’s GPS and magnetometer, providing useful information for gardeners, photographer, architects, real estate buyers, and anyone else looking to discover optimal lighting conditions and relative solar angles for a given location. Plus, users can even view the solar path for a chosen date. Needless to say, the Aztecs would be a wee bit envious.

Acrossair Augmented Reality Browser (iOS) — Free

Acrossair Augmented Reality Browser (iOS)

Acrossair Augmented Reality Browser (iOS)

Apps that do it all are often a double-edged sword when it comes to mobile software. Sure, they may be able to get the job done, but they often do so rather poorly. Acrossair Augmented Reality Browser doesn’t suffer from the same crippling limitations as its peers though, providing a robust means of viewing the quickest route to the nearby cinema, hotel, restaurant, bar, or other similar establishment. Users can also check out geotagged Wikipedia entrees on historical landmarks, view local tweets in real-time, or even pin their respective car location for later. Whereas holding your camera upright akin to similarly-equipped browsers will bring hovering balloons to which you can follow, holding the device horizontally will showcase your location on a map and present you with a list of available layers from which you can chose to navigate. It’s a worthy alternative to the aforementioned Wikitude World Browser, one allowing photo access to Flickr and Panaromia, and equipped with a slew of sharing options.

Google SkyMap (Android)

Google SkyMap (Android)

Google SkyMap (Android)

It’s tough to argue with a mobile app touting nearly 115,000 recommendations on Google+ considering, well, the service isn’t exactly burgeoning with activity. However, Google Sky Map will magically instill you with Carl Sagan-like powers and give you the ability to identify everything in the night sky. Once installed, just point your phone upward when it’s reasonably dark and clear outside, and Google will point out all the different stars, constellations, and planets that are visible to your phone’s camera. As you’d expect from Google, the app is super smooth and does all its identifications in real time, and even allows users to search for specific stars and planets not presently visible on your screen. Once found, the on-screen interface and directional compass will then directly guide you to said star or planet — even if hidden behind a veil of cloud cover or obscured by the horizon.

Next Page: Five More Augmented Reality Apps