How Augmented Reality Works

Augmented Reality on Smartphones

Pokemon Go Pokemon Go
A tourist plays Nintendo Co.'s Pokemon Go augmented-reality game at the Trocadero in front of the Eiffel tower on Sept. 8, 2016 in Paris. The Pokemon GO game allows players to hunt on their smartphone or tablet virtual creatures scattered in public spaces Chesnot/Getty Images

In the Netherlands, cell phone owners can download an application called Layar that uses the phone's camera and GPS capabilities to gather information about the surrounding area. Layar then shows information about restaurants or other sites in the area, overlaying this information on the phone's screen. You can even point the phone at a building, and Layar will tell you if any companies in that building are hiring, or it might be able to find photos of the building on Flickr or to locate its history on Wikipedia [source: Ensha]

Layar isn't the only application of its type. In October 2018, an organization called Mural Arts Philadelphia created a gigantic interactive outdoors mural. Viewers pointed their smartphones at parts of the mural and then viewed various holograms and listened to matching music for a fully immersive art experience. And in a science-fiction dream come true, fans of the movies can now play "Star Wars" Holochess right on their phones, complete with futuristic graphics and sound [sources: Dickinson, Matney].

Health care professionals may soon rely on smartphone-enabled AR. A company called Tissue Analytics is honing an app that helps doctors and nurses use their phones to quickly identify specific types of wounds for faster diagnosis and more efficient care [source: Comstock].

An app that's simply called Augment will project just about any new product into a real-world environment. Whether it's a new recliner or a lamp, potential buyers can "see" the product in their own homes and read all information and reviews before making a purchase. AR Compass Map 3D is like a mapping app on steroids. It combines compass and map overlays with your camera to create a fully-immersive 3D map that guides you wherever you want to go [source: NewGenApps].

Similarly, a company called Total Immersion makes a wide variety of applications for business and fun. Want to know what those new glasses frames will look like perched on your face before you buy them online? Use the app to slide those frames onto your virtual face and you'll instantly know that horned rims really are not your style [source: Total Immersion].

Then there are apps like the previously mentioned Pokemon Go, a game that was insanely popular in 2016, and allowed players to hunt on their smartphone or tablet virtual creatures scattered in public spaces.