10 ways augmented reality could change the way you use your phone

The AR revolution is beginning

With the news that iOS 11 is going to have a significant dose of augmented reality added - the tech that overlays digital graphics seamlessly on the real world - AR is back on the agenda, and this year has its best chance yet of breaking through into the mainstream.

Apple and other companies have been working on this technology for a while now, but modern day phones and phone cameras are just getting powerful enough to make it a reality. Here's what you can look forward to, whatever make or model of phone you prefer.

1. Placing furniture

We know for a fact that Ikea is working with Apple on something AR-related, specifically an app that can place furniture in your living room down to the nearest millimetre. Imagine walking around an Ikea store and being able to see what a couch or a bed looks like in your own home rather than a warehouse - and the same would go for pot plants or paintings or doorways, or really anything else that you might be planning that improves your home.

2. Playing games

We've already seen the phenomenal impact that Pokémon GO has had on the mobile gaming world but it's really only the tip of the iceberg as far as AR and gaming goes. As well as colourful, cartoony characters jumping around in front of you on the street, you could also have enemy tanks coming around the corner or aliens dropping down from outer space - it's just a question of where the developers want to take AR tech in the future.

3. Navigating around

Whether you're looking for the nearest coffee shop or trying to find your way around a theme park, augmented reality can take your navigation apps to the next level - no longer will you have to peer down at a screen to find your way, because you'll be able to lift your handset up in front of you and overlay a map on the real world, letting you know exactly where you need to turn left or right, or where the entrance to a well-hidden restaurant is.

4. Sharing photos

We're already seeing the first uses of AR in apps like Instagram and Snapchat, and the trend's only going to go one way - soon you'll be finding some kind of augmented reality element in every social media app you pick up. Being able to drop 3D objects and stickers on a photo or a video might seem gimmicky at first, but you only need to look at the popularity of Snapchat's filters and lenses to know that sharing is a lot more fun with AR.

5. Getting creative

You might have already seen the Tilt Brush app that lets you paint in three dimensions in virtual reality, and the same sort of technology is inevitably going to make its way to augmented reality too - instead of painting and sketching in a black, empty void, you will be able to paint and sketch on the real world instead... think elaborate graffiti designs on a wall of your choice that can then be wiped from existence with a couple of finger taps.

6. Tackling jobs

From the fun to the practical - one of the demos we've already seen using Apple's upcoming ARKit technology shows a virtual measuring tape being stretched across a desk, enabling you to measure everything from windows to wardrobes using nothing but your phone. Whatever type of DIY task you're planning, an AR-equipped phone is going to be able to help, whether you're putting up shelving or building a shed in the back garden.

7. Boosting knowledge

Reading about the Solar System on Wikipedia is all well and good, but what about actually being able to see it in motion in real time, shrunk down to the size of your kitchen table? From museum exhibits that actually move and react to your presence, to scaled down models of famous cities you can look at in your home, AR is set to make a big difference in apps for education. Even if you're not excited about the potential, your kids should be.

8. Scanning objects

AR isn't all about fun and games - it's going to make scanning documents much easier as well, so you can get on with turning your office into a paperless one. The advanced physical detection technologies in AR will mean you can pick up documents from a greater number of angles in a better level of detail than ever before, and it won't stop at documents either: all kinds of real world 3D objects could be scanned in and digitised.

9. Watching movies

There's a very strong chance that the development of AR technology means that we'll see whole new forms of entertainment produced, types of content that sit somewhere between a video game and a traditional movie. Imagine seeing a murder mystery scene or a high-speed action chase play out in the physical world in front of you rather than being stuck on a 2D screen - the possibilities offered by augmented reality are almost endless.

10. Getting help

There's no doubt that the digital assistants that are now so prevalent on every smartphone are going to be getting a big AR upgrade in the not-too-distant future. Imagine Cortana reminding you that you're out of milk when you point your phone at the fridge, for example, or Google Assistant showing you the best spot on to take a photo from, or Siri giving you a visual guide to how far the tide's going to come in along the beach.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.