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What is Augmented Reality (AR)? Here's everything you need to know

A new front in the ongoing smartphone wars has just been opened.

Augmented Reality, or AR, is set to be big news, after Google and Apple recently revealed plans to put it front and centre on their devices, using all–new software.

So, what is AR? And what do the world’s biggest tech players have in store? Read on and we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

Looking for a guide to virtual reality (VR) instead? Here's the inside line.

What is AR?

iphone apple augmented reality catepillar

Augmented Reality (AR) is the process of overlaying virtual projections onto a real life scene.

This could be anything from a piece of furniture in a shopping app, a character in a game or a business’s information, such as opening times and contact details, when being viewed through a phone’s camera.

Essentially, it’s a way of bringing out more information from the everyday, aiming to make users’ lives easier and offer a bit more entertainment.

Why is it such a big deal now?

Augmented reality AR phone

Because the technology has finally made it into mainstream products, with no need for fancy depth sensors or cameras in order to work well.

Apple’s Tim Cook has long claimed that AR would be the next big thing in smartphones, and has bet big on it by introducing ARKit, a software platform for Apple’s forthcoming iOS 11.

This allows developers to create more interesting, in–depth AR apps than ever before.

In response, Google has launched ARCore, a similar set of tools designed to work with top–end Android phones.

So what does it mean for me?

In the near future, it means a wealth of new ways of interacting with the world and using apps.

Apple launched ARKit back in June and has just shown off plans for a string of top–end apps that will use the software once iOS 11 becomes available in late September.

Ikea’s new Ikea Place app allows users to measure up a room, place furniture in it and get an up close view of how it looks, right down to the textiles and finish.

This is a major jump compared with clunky AR apps of the past.

Gamers will be able to see and move characters around the world in front of them, while food apps will be able to show you how meals should look and be presented once cooked. Essentially, AR makes apps more interactive.

What phones does it work on?

Samsung Galaxy S8 vs iPhone 7 Plus hero

ARKit will work on phones running Apple’s A9 chipset or higher. That means the iPhone 6s, iPhones 6sPlus, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as well as this year’s new Apple smartphones.

Google ARCore has only just launched, with developers able to create apps that will work on Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy S8.

However, the search giant says it wants ARCore apps to work on 100 million phones by the end of 2017 and has plans to offer it on LG, Huawei and Asus phones too.

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Who will win, Apple or Google?

It’s hard to say. However, first impressions suggest Apple will have an easier chance of making AR its calling card. Why? Because developers only have one phone to build apps for.

Android developers may have to create and test apps for up to 50 phones, making it harder to deliver a uniform experience across the platform.

In the market for a new phone? Take a look at our selection of the best deals on the latest phones.

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