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Best augmented-reality apps

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Other AR apps

Layar (free)

Layar (Android/iOS/Blackberry)

Print only goes so far in a world bursting with digital, interactive multimedia. Clad in a baby blue interface and bundled with a commendable help function, the Layar app is designed to bring print content into the digital realm, allowing users to quickly scan and pull data from a variety of commonplace content using their smartphone or tablet. Once a print source has been scanned, the app can retrieve direct shopping links to particular products in a matter of seconds, or bring up videos encapsulating the latest cover shoot for a particular magazine. Furthermore, the app includes tools for sharing retrieved content via the typical social media avenues and touts features akin to the aforementioned Wikitude World Browser, providing a simple means for browsing and setting directions to nearby restaurants, ATMs, historical sites, and other notable places of interest. The ability to scan QR codes, magazines, and other print content may be more of a novelty than anything else, but it does make purchasing that designer tie that much easier.

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Android iOS Blackberry

Sun Seeker ($10)

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.

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Android iOS

Google SkyMap (free)

Google SkyMap (Android)

It’s tough to argue with a mobile app touting nearly half a million recommendations in the Play Store. 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.

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iOnRoad ($1)

iOnRoad (Android)

There were more than 34,000 motor vehicle deaths in the United States in 2012. It’s a staggering number, but also one that could be curbed with AR apps like iOnRoad. Using your smartphone’s camera, the simple apps strives to help prevent collisions while providing robust navigation once situated on your car windshield or dash. The app automatically starts when your vehicle begins moving and saves your parking location once stopped, while additionally alerting you when you’re speeding, warning you when you’re crossing a solid marking line, and taking snapshots of drivers that dangerously cut you off while switching lanes. Moreover, the app offers statistics covering gas consumption, routes, safety, velocity, and acceleration, providing users with a general overview of their driving habits. Plus, who doesn’t like an integrated music player and quick access to their favorite contacts?

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SpotCrime (free)

SpotCrime (Android/iOS)

Sometimes obliviousness is a terrific thing, but that’s rarely the case when it comes to safety. With SpotCrime, users can gather a wealth of real-time crime information and alerts for nearly any location in the United States, United Kingdom, and selected parts of Canada. SpotCrime pinpoints your location via your smartphone’s GPS, pulling crime data from police departments, sheriff agencies, news media, and other sources. Crimes range from robberies and shootings to arrests and assaults, and the app pinpoints each occurrence with its respective icon on a map. Moreover, users can set up automated alerts and search for crimes surrounding a specific address or view them as a list accompanied with links to additional information. The app may not prevent crimes, but it will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the more dangerous avenues and times to be out and about in your neighborhood or park block. As the official SpotCrime description says, “don’t let anyone take your mojo.”

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Android iOS

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