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Love Pokémon Go? Here are 5 more cool AR apps

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 25-07-2016 Marc Saltzman

Ayato, 19, plays the Pokemon Go game on his smartphone on July 22, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan.© Getty Images Ayato, 19, plays the Pokemon Go game on his smartphone on July 22, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. In case you’ve been living under an old Nintendo 3DS, you no doubt know about the Pokémon Go phenomenon. The just-launched smartphone game has already eclipsed Twitter’s daily users and is now “stickier” than Facebook, according to various reports from tracking firms.

Talk about the viral hit of the summer.

Along with utilizing a smartphone’s GPS chip, which encourages players to go outside and catch Pokémon characters around you, it also leverages augmented reality (AR) technology, so it looks like those fictional cartoon characters are really in the world around you when seen through the phone’s camera lens.

While Pokémon Go is the most popular app to use AR, the technology isn’t new, and there are many mobile applications for it. And so the following are five recommended free apps – for both iOS and Android -- that use augmented reality in a clever way.


While it doesn’t get the credit it deserves, Yelp became the first iPhone app to use AR seven years ago (followed by the Android version a year later). Called “Monocle,” this handy feature allows you to view businesses around you, such as restaurants and bars, by using the camera on your device, by simply pointing it at your surroundings. You’ll see the name of the establishment, average user rating, type of cuisine, how much you can expect to spend, links to contact info, and more. With Yelp’s Monocle, you can also see which businesses your friends have checked in to, as well as display a new map that will move with you – all superimposed on the real world. 


Designed primarily for education, the Blippar app lets you discover an exciting world around you by “blipping” everyday objects. Simply hold up the phone and let it recognize objects like a pair of scissors, plant, skateboard or laptop – and then you can access info about it all. For example, once it sees a smartphone lying on your desk, you can then swipe to learn about Alexander Graham Bell, how the mobile phone was invented, must-have apps to install on your phone, and so on. Even more magical for users is pointing your phone at Blippar-supported publications (like Brainspace Magazine), where you might see a photo in an article come to life with video or an animated dinosaur seemingly lifting out of the page.

Google Translate

You likely know Google Translate can translate text or speech from one language into another. But did you know you can use your smartphone’s camera to translate text instantly -- in 29 languages, no less? Simply select the language you want to scan, such as a road sign in German, and the language you want to read it in, say English, and when you hover your phone over the text it’ll look like it was written in English when you look at your smartphone screen. It’s a super cool effect, with obvious practical applications. Translation isn’t 100% accurate, mind you, but you get the gist of the words or phrase, and it could also help travelers in deciphering posters, menus, brochures, and more.

Crayola Color Alive

A screenshot of AR coloring app Crayola Color Alive.© Crayola A screenshot of AR coloring app Crayola Color Alive. What can be possibly be more fun for kids than a coloring book and a pack of markers? How about when your colored-in creations come alive on the page and then escape into your room? This is the idea behind Crayola Color Alive, an AR app that lets you print free coloring pages or order special “4D” coloring books ($5.99 each). Essentially, kids color in a picture as they normally would – including some branded characters like Iron Man from Marvel’s Avengers or Elsa from Disney’s Frozen – and when you’re done, hold up your phone with the app loaded and the character appears to emerge out of the paper and into your room. Music will play, special effects can be layered on top, and you can tap to save or snap (screen grab) your creation, including selfie mode.

Star Walk 2

Whether you use Star Walk 2 Free (for Android only) or go with the full Star Walk 2 on iOS or Android (for $2.99), armchair astronomers will appreciate this comprehensive app for spotting stars, planets, comets, ISS, satellites, and more. Simply point your phone’s camera to the sky and let it do the rest. Not only does Star Walk 2 follow your motions using your phone’s built-in sensors, but it offers impressive 3D models of celestial bodies like planetary nebulae and constellations, as well as an augmented reality feature that kicks in when you tap the camera icon in the corner of your screen, which allows you to see the image from your camera overlaid with words and images.

Surf Report readers, what are your favorite augmented reality-based apps for smartphones? Tell us in the Comments section.

Columnist Marc Saltzman writes on tech devices and trends for USA TODAY. Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. E-mail him at


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