Augmented reality apps: The very best ARKit apps and games

Some people say virtual reality is a hollow techno-gimmick. Others say it’s a slow-burn game changer, gradually passing from the novel to the everyday. Both groups will tell you one thing: the initial excitement around virtual reality is very much pivoting to augmented reality, and while Apple has been notably absent from the VR-headset fray, the iPhone maker is leading the way when it comes to AR.

READ NEXT: AR, VR and MR: What’s the difference? 

If you don’t know your ARs from your elbow, we’ve got a handy primer here. The short version is that virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and Google Daydream View involve strapping a screen to your face, while Apple’s take on augmented reality involves mixing real and virtual elements via iPads and iPhones held in hands.

At the core of Apple’s AR efforts is ARKit, a platform that forms a major part of iOS 11. Given the sheer scale of Apple’s audience, it’s no wonder developers are excited about bringing AR apps to market. Throw in Google’s attempt to hone its AR chops via the rival ARCore platform, and there are plenty of reasons to predict AR is about to go mainstream.

READ NEXT: iOS 11’s best new features

Now that iOS 11 is out, a number of interesting ARKit projects and experiments have begun to surface. And, following the launch of the new 9.7in iPad, even more joined the ranks. There have also been a handful of exciting experiments that have yet to lead into a proper app. Here’s our pick of the best so far. 

Augmented reality apps: The best ARKit apps

Best AR apps: Arise (£2.99)

It’s early days for AR-based games, but new ways of thinking about puzzles are already beginning to surface. Arise by Climax Studios is one of the best so far, presenting the player with floating islands that their character must navigate. Cleverly, the game hinges on the player’s perspective, meaning they’ll need to physically walk around the island and line-up gaps to erase them. Think of it like an immersive take on Monument Valley


Best AR apps: ViewRanger (Free, with in-app purchases)

A great app for navigating yourself during outdoor hikes, Augmentra’s ViewRanger now integrates an augmented-reality mode that’ll help you identify surrounding landmarks. Simply swivel around in, say, the Lake District, and the names of nearby peaks, lakes and towns will be overlaid on your camera screen. For those nervous about orientating themselves with a traditional map, this app could become an essential tool. 

Best AR apps: Boulevard VR (coming soon)

Boulevard AR is a little niche, but is aimed at history buffs and history students. It was on display at the recent 9.7in iPad launch in Chicago. The app has been designed to bring one of the most celebrated paintings from the Tudor collection at London’s National Portrait Gallery to life; the Portrait of Sir Henry Unton. Boulevard AR uses ARKit 1.5 to show the work on the wall in front of you. 

Best AR apps: IKEA Place (Free)

Apple has partnered with the Swedish furniture chain to make an app that lets users virtually place IKEA items within the arrangement of their actual home. Called IKEA Place, it could revolutionise the way we buy chairs and beds… or it could turn our homes into a living embodiment of The Sims. Download the app and point your phone camera at the area of the room you want to virtually decorate.  

The app will superimpose an accurately scaled image of the item of IKEA furniture you’ve selected, meaning you can browse the IKEA website before braving the crowds. 

Best AR apps: Night Sky (Free)

Night Sky has been a staple for Apple devices, and a new update brings an augmented-reality solar system into your living room. Focus the app on a flat surface, and you’ll be able to plonk the sun and planets in front of you. Perhaps most impressive is the addition of human missions from SpaceX and NASA, which you’ll be able to chart as they journey between planets. 


Best AR apps: My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR (£2.99)

ARKit brings this hugely popular children’s book to life. Pointing the camera at items in the real-world lets parents and children interact with the character in the book. Featured in the app are also ladybirds, trees and other extras to “captivate young minds.”

Best AR apps: Face Maker (£1.99)

An AR app specifically made for the iPhone X, Face Maker uses the top-range iPhone’s TrueDepth camera technology to create custom AR masks. You can either draw a doodle on the screen, or import a photograph, and giggle as it is projected onto your face. Record a video and scare your friends.

Best AR apps: WWF Free Rivers (Free)

WWF Free Rivers uses ARKit to project a table-top model of a river on any flat surface. You can interact with the river to learn how it changes when it rains, and what would happen if you built a dam across it. Its aim is to provide an “immersive, visceral experience” to teach people about nature, climate change and renewable energy. 

Best AR apps: Giphy World (Free)

GIF-hawkers Giphy looks to be working on an ARKit app that’ll let you overlay short animations over real-world objects. Not much is known yet about the app, but this short video shows it being used to label food.


Best AR apps: shARk (Free)

Curiscope has created an app that turns any room into shark-infested waters. The predators swim around your environment, reacting to the surroundings and food that you can ‘throw’ to them.

Best AR apps: Froggipedia (coming soon)

Froggipedia uses the latest ARKit build to let students – and keen biologists – study a virtual frog in front of them. The app even allows you to dissect the frog by replacing the scalpel with Apple Pencil, “providing a more ethical and cost-efficient alternative to traditional lab dissection.” 

Augmented reality: The best ARKit experiments


This proof-of-concept from a pair of developers takes a Final Fantasy-esque roleplaying game and overlays it onto the streets of a real city. It looks fantastic, although we’re not sure how other people would feel about us talking to invisible characters and running away from invisible trolls. 

Parking a car in AR

We’re not entirely sure on the end-goal here, but this experiment gives users the opportunity to play at parking a virtual car in a real-life car park. Think of it as a niche, legally abiding take on Grand Theft Auto.


A-Ha’s iconic music video has been transformed into an AR demo, with the help of a drawing filter and dancing characters.

Rainforest in a garage

There’s an interesting trend in using AR to undermine the reality of everyday settings, from living rooms to workplaces. This demo shows how a lush rainforest can be hidden behind a grim garage door.

Overwatch in your home

This demo transposes Overwatch’s Widowmaker into a developer’s bedroom. She mainly stands there looking uncomfortable, but it offers a glimpse of how AR could be used to offer a new perspective on videogames that lends itself to a more intimate take on interactive storytelling.

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