The best Virtual Reality apps

Published on Apr 03, 2017 in App Development
Samsung Virtual Reality Experience

It seems that it was only yesterday when the term Virtual Reality was associated with nothing more than science fiction. Fast forward to today and it is being discussed in board rooms, news conferences and has gained a cult following amongst those who would like to further blur the line between the real world and the digital one. For what seemed like decades Virtual Reality, or VR for short, looked like a pipe dream. There were a couple of companies and movements that tried to make a viable product to bring to market, but alas it was not meant to be. The sad truth was that the technology just wasn’t there yet, that is until now.

These days Virtual Reality and its cousin AR (Augmented Reality) are being talked about as the next big thing in the tech world by both industry insiders and consumers alike. Yes, standalone purpose-built Virtual Reality devices and headsets currently exist in the marketplace, however many of these devices are still on baby legs and tend to cost a pretty penny. The mobile app world, one the other hand, has come up with a more elegant solution. Take the smartphones, that most people are inseparable from, and use them to deliver a VR experience.

It took a couple of big names and some brave pioneers to wade into the uncharted waters of VR on mobile devices, but the end result was what everyone hoped for. Seeing the viability of VR apps on smart and mobile devices, publishers and mobile app developers began creating new VR apps and have even begun tweaking their current apps to determine ways that they can also tie them in with VR.

One cannot in earnest discuss the topic of VR apps without first addressing Google. Ever the innovator, the Silicon Valley tech giant sought to democratize VR by providing users with a quick, efficient and affordable means of accessing the technology. Enter Cardboard. Google released the cardboard “headset” which allowed users to don them then place their phone into a slot, basically turning their phone into a handsfree VR device. This not only allowed users to play around with VR apps, but also gave mobile app developers a quick avenue to make a pivot with their existing apps.

Once a couple of publishers and mobile app developers got on board, the flood gates were opened and a deluge of VR apps started hitting the market. Many of them, it can be argued, are one dimensional. However, as technology and methodologies advance so too will the mobile apps. But for now we have what we have, and some of them are really good. Starting with the familiar, good old YouTube. It is not surprising that Google’s media arm quickly adopted VR technology. Users can now post and access both 360 degree and VR videos on the YouTube's mobile app. But YouTube is not the only media mogul to provide VR content through their app. RYOT VR and NYT VR both provide videos, news streams and mini documentaries. If these apps are not household names then their publishers surely are: The Huffington Post and The New Yok Times, respectively.

Apps like Within and Jaunt have decided to take an approach to immerse users in the various fields of art, from music all the way to movies. These mobile apps are placing the user right in the middle of the action, whether it is taking a spot on the stage during a bands concert or allowing them to become part of a movie. Virtual Reality apps like these not only allow users to view or listen to events, but actually makes them feel the experience. On the extreme eye candy end of the spectrum there are apps like Apollo 15 Moon Landing VR, which as its name states virtually transports the user to the momentous and historic landing. The downside is that since this is a graphic intensive experience, it does require a modern and powerful smartphone to deliver the goods in full.

VR is not just about visual experiences, eye popping documentaries or nifty 360’s. There are VR based tool apps as well. Take Seene for example. This mild mannered pic sharing tool deals exclusively with 360 degree pictures. Glitcher VR is an app with an AR feel as it allows the user to overlay their existing view through the app with a multitude of colors and effect which includes selective color, edge detection and infrared-like Predator vision (the awesome Schwarzenegger movie, not the killer drone). Then there’s Fulldrive VR whose makers describe it as a VR Navigation Platform. It is basically the YouTube, but strictly for media meant for VR consumption. Through Fulldrive, users can search for games, videos, images which include 360 degree videos of which over a million reside within Fulldrive.

Those looking to be transported to far away places should focus on apps like Orbulus and Expeditions. Both mobile apps help the user escape to travel destinations, albeit through radically different approached. Orbulus utilizes Google’s Photo Spehere technology to give users the ability to visit and view well known travel spots as well as some that are under most people’s radar.

Expeditions, on the other hand, was originally meant to be a teaching aid of sorts. The app has all sorts of things going for it, not the least of which is that it is free of charge. Students (because this was meant to be used in a classroom) can learn all about different cultures, regions, geographies and destinations throughout the world. Without ever having to leave their desk students can walk through the temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and even to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

VR can also be used to produce highly immersive games, and it seems that the horror-genre has taken a particular liking to this storytelling device. Games like Sisters: A VR Ghost Story and Chair In A Room, do away with the gamer being a casual observer, but by focusing on consumer experience, the developers of this app ensured to include them in the horror as well. From the outside, these games, just seem to be that… games. However, bring in the scare element and it’s a totally different beast.

Thankfully not all VR apps lead to sleepless nights. There’s Titans of Space which allows the user to learn about the Solar System through the use of rich graphics and voice narration. InCell VR combines education with entertainment as the user flies through a virtual bloodstream, wading through human cells and watching out for a virus wave. VR Cave allows users to go spelunking sans dirt, random bat guano and claustrophobia. VR Crossy Road is a fun, intuitive game that is the virtual rendition of the arcade classic Frogger. Finally, VR Noir injects the users into a mystery thriller, which Hidden Temple is more of a puzzle solving game.

Space seems to fully occupy the VR mind and apps like Minos Starfighter and End Space allows the user to engage in intergalactic paddle while driving their virtual planes. Even Star Wars got in on the action. This sees the user as a Resistance Agent in Jakku from the popular The Force Awakens franchise. These games are capped off by the likes of Hidden Temple, Proton Pulse, Spirit Runner and Fractal Combat X.

The truth is that much like VR technology itself, VR apps are growing and getting better. For mobile app development companies, they will represent a new and exciting way to make a connection with their employees, their talent and their audience. However, if the apps mentioned above are of any indication then the future is bright for this industry and section, indeed.

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