When it comes to phone-powered VR, the iPhone is scarcely mentioned. Google’sand get most of the attention, though is in the mix as well. But Apple? It’ll be June’s WWDC event at the earliest before we learn of any plans to jump into VR, but don’t hold your breath: Tim Cook thinks AR (augmented reality) is cooler than VR.
Fortunately for iPhone owners, you don’t need to switch to Android if you want to enjoy virtual experiences. In fact, you can dive into VR right now; all you need is a headset and some apps.
The headset is easy: Hit up Amazon and search for “VR headset.” You’ll quickly see that most models are compatible with iPhones as well as Android phones. And lots of them range in price from $20-$30 or £15-£25, so this is not an expensive investment. (You can find them in Australia for as little as AU$30.)
As for the apps, look no further than the App Store. Mostly you’ll find games in there (here are seven of the best), but that’s not everybody’s jam. If you’d rather explore the world, take center stage in a documentary or travel to the moon, check out these amazing iPhone VR apps.
Google Street View
Want to take a virtual tour of Stonehenge? How about downtown Chicago? Or your very own town? It’s possible thanks to Google’s Street View app.
Street View is the mobile version of Google’s ground-level Maps feature. Put the two together and presto: Now you get a virtual-reality view of anywhere you can visit in Street View.
And Street View has visited just about everywhere: the app showcases not only Google’s own mapping efforts, but also users’. In fact, you can use Street View to create your own 360-degree “photo spheres” and add them to the collection.
Music, sports, travel, film — the Jaunt VR app aggregates a wide variety of 360-degree and virtual reality videos, all housed in an attractive gaze-based interface (meaning you can navigate just by looking at various buttons and menu options). If you have kids, be sure to let them check out the adorable animated short, “The Invasion.”
Some of the most interesting virtual reality experiences are coming from the New York Times. The newspaper’s eponymous app is home to a number of exclusive cinematic experiences, including a dizzying climb to the top of 1 World Trade Center, a virtual visit to Pluto and a short documentary chronicling children displaced by war. There’s currently no better source for original VR-enhanced stories.
Orbulus Special Edition
Orbulus is all about 360-degree photo spheres, in this case a collection of user-supplied destinations enhanced with sound or music. To choose a sphere from the gallery, you simply focus on it for a few seconds. Once you’re “inside,” you can zoom in or out by tilting your head right or left. It’s an interesting way to travel the globe, with destinations ranging from Hong Kong to San Francisco.
Stressed out? Your phone can transport you far away (virtually speaking) from reality. For example, Relax VR: Rest & Meditation plops you into various serene, photo-realistic locales, where it’s just you and a guided meditation or meditative music. Headphones are definitely recommended. The app costs $1.99, £1.99 or AU$2.99.
Star Chart VR
Based on the wildly popular augmented-reality astronomy app of the same name, this self-proclaimed “VR planetarium” lets you explore our solar system in a way that’s totally unique. You simply look around at the stars and focus on any planet, moon or constellation. After a moment, the app displays information about what you’re seeing. Cool stuff, and admirably educational. The app sells for $4.99, £4.99 or AU$7.99.
USA Today VR Stories
True to its name, the newspaper’s VR app brings you a wide variety of news and features stories in glorious 360 degrees. The videos range in length from under a minute to as long as 9 minutes, and you can either stream or download them. At this writing, the app offered 27 clips, including a “lap at Indy with Mario Andretti,” a mule ride into the Grand Canyon and a Ken Burns-guided visit to Yosemite.
Virtual Reality Moon
Sad to say you’re not likely to ever visit the moon for real. The next best thing, at least for now: Virtual Reality Moon. On this free (but heavily ad-supported) trip, you’re instantly transported to the moon’s surface, where you can see both Earth and the International Space Station in the distance. You can also walk around, though this requires either a gamepad or a viewer that has an action button.
Finally, we come to YouTube, which is home to an exploding number of 360-degree and VR videos. Just search the app for anything with “360” or “VR” in the name, or head straight to YouTube’s 360 Channel. But that’s not all: You can actually watch any YouTube video in VR mode. The experience isn’t always great, but it’s still a lot of fun to play around with.
Which VR apps would you consider essential for iPhone users?