Augmented Reality: What Is It, How Does It Actually Work?

Here’s a complete guide to AR, including how it’s different from VR, and how you can start playing with augmented reality today with the best iPhone and iPad AR apps.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality, or AR, is a type of technology that overlays computer graphics onto the real world around you.

For instance, Microsoft’s HoloLens is an AR headset that lets you see things that aren’t really there.

So it can create a virtual game of Minecraft on a real-world table in front of you, simply through computer-generated visuals.

And some iPhone or iPad apps work using AR too, like the cute creatures you see in the popular Pokémon Go mobile game.

It’s simply “augmenting” the world – adding to it, without shutting it out.


Augmented reality is about adding computer-generated items to the your field of view.

Virtual reality is about replacing your field of view with a computer-generated world.

So with AR, you can still see the world around you. But with VR, you can only see computer-generated images.

Does augmented reality exist now? Where can I try it?

Yes, augmented reality is already very widespread, and you can use it for free today.

The easiest ways to use AR are with mobile apps. Try the following on your iPhone or iPad:

Pokémon Go – an AR app that lets you capture virtual Pokémon while exploring the real world around you

IKEA Place – this app lets you virtually “place” IKEA products in your home or office, to see what they’d look like if you bought them

AR MeasureKit – this app uses Apple’s AR technology to measure objects in the real world using your iPhone or iPad camera

Giphy World – use this app to place huge 3D animated gifs in the world around you

Euclidean Lands – an amazing 3D puzzle game that takes place through the lens of your camera in your own living room

Apple lets you cheaply access AR tech using iPhone or iPad apps

But there are also more advanced tools that let you enjoy augmented reality.

For instance, committed gadgeteers can buy the HP Mixed Reality Headset, which is designed to plug into an available USB port on your PC laptop or desktop.

It comes with integrated motion tracking and offers sharp, colourful augmented reality visuals. All you need to do is download some apps or games, and away you go.


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