If you're a regular reader of Next Reality, you're more likely to spread the joy of augmented reality than most others. But it can be difficult to introduce newbies into the AR fold if you don't give them exactly the right starting point in terms ease-of-use and affordability. But fear not, oh gift-giving AR pioneer, we're here to help!
We scoured the current AR landscape and came up with 12 options for AR gifts that won't scare off your non-techie friends, covering a wide range of price points. Whether you want to help a child learn through AR, impress a jaded teenager, or wow a significant other, there's an AR option for you this holiday season.
Let's start shopping!
Augmented reality gives kids (and childish adults) interactive avenues for learning and more immersive content for entertainment. The big surprise with AR is that, for an emerging technology category, there are already plenty of options out there. Here are our best bets, listed in order based on age appropriateness. Keep in mind that all of the gift ideas in this category require a smartphone or tablet to display the AR experience.
- Play Shifu Orboot: In a world of Google Maps and Google Earth, the traditional desktop globe has fallen out of favor. Play Shifu offers an opportunity to bring this classic tool into the digital age. Children can scan the globe with the company's corresponding iOS or Android app. The company also offers AR flash cards at a lower price point, but Orboot is available for $49.99 on Amazon.
- Augie: This spherical cousin to the Roomba might not keep your house clean, but it can help tutor your kids in computer programming. Combined with a tablet, this adorable piece of kit is controlled by commands that your kid codes through the app, where kids can also guide Augie through augmented reality obstacle courses. If Augie leads your littler tinkerer to a career at GE, then that's a huge return on your investment. Available directly from Pai Technology, Augie usually retails for $199, but it's on sale now for $149.
- Lightseekers: Like Skylanders with an AR twist, Lightseekers consists of a mobile game, scannable trading cards that transport characters into the game, and connected action figures that interact with the game action. Starter kits are available for $69.99 through Toys'R'Us, with additional figures, card packs, and accessories starting at $9.99. There's a starter kit on sale on Amazon for only $47.57 right now, and Amazon also has more Lightseekers merch.
- MekaMon: While Augie is adorable, MekaMon leans a little more toward the creepy end of the toy spectrum. The four-legged robot is made for battle against AR enemies in the companion iPhone/iPad app or against other MekaMon. While MekaMon differs from Augie Plus, like Augie, MekaMon teaches players basic coding skills. MekaMon is available exclusively through Apple for $299.95.
- The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual: For the science-fiction fan on your list, this AR-enhanced book not only presents lore from the Alien film franchise but also brings it to life with companion iOS and Android apps. Among its visual treats is the ability to make a virtual alien burst from someone's chest. The book has a list price on Amazon for $40 but it's selling at around $25 currently.
- Masters of the Sun: Marvel and The Black-Eyed Peas have assembled an all-star cast of thespians and hip-hop artists to provide the voices for this AR-powered graphic novel. The companion iOS and Android apps bring the panels to life, complete with narration from Stan Lee. This one dropped on Nov. 24 (aka Black Friday) and lists for $24.99, but you can order it for around $14 now on Amazon, as well as other retailers where comics are sold.
This year, smartphones are the most accessible path to AR. Yes, headsets like HoloLens and Meta 2 are available as developer editions, but for the mainstream public, smartphones is where most of the action is. We've listed the best options in order based on the quality and accessibility of the AR experience each offers.
- iPhone X: With its TrueDepth camera system, the iPhone X is offering an AR experience that no other device can emulate at the moment, with Animojis and Star Wars holograms representing the tip of the iceberg. Of course, it also supports ARKit apps. The iPhone X is available starting at $999 through Apple as well as through major carriers including Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T. There aren't many sales on the iPhone X, but there are usually some great deals on iPhone X accessories.
- Pixel 2: The Pixel phones are among the few devices to support Google's ARCore, its answer to Apple's ARKit. However, like the iPhone X, the Pixel 2 also packs an AR experience that no other device offers, with its ARCore-powered AR Stickers. The Pixel 2 is available starting at $649 through Google, but you can expect a few deals here and there as we get closer to Christmas.
- Samsung Galaxy S8: Sure, it's a little long in the tooth compared to other options, but the Galaxy S8 is also the only non-Google device to officially support ARCore right now. And some people still prefer to get their phones from carriers or brick-and-mortar retailers, so the Galaxy S8 is more ubiquitous than the Pixel. While it's available directly from Samsung starting at $724.99, there are sometimes deals from stores such as Target, Best Buy, New Egg, Walmart, and T-Mobile.
Next year, we hope that we're able to recommend the first generation of consumer-focused smartglasses. In the meantime, here are a few hardware options available for friends and family who aren't necessarily developers, but aren't complete tech novices, either.
- Star Wars: Jedi Challenges: The first mainstream AR headset is ideal for Star Wars fans, but it's also an intriguing option for those with a serious interest in AR, as our own Jason Odom attests. It looks like the denizens of social media are having a blast with it as well. It's available for $199 through Best Buy and Lenovo.
- Occipital Bridge: If an Apple AR headset sounds like the right gift for the techie on your list, the Occipital Bridge serves to bridge the gap (heh) until the product wizards in Cupertino ship an Apple AR headset. Combine this with an iPhone, and you get HoloLens-style AR capabilities. The Occipital Bridge, which is bundled with the company's Structure Sensor, is available through Occipital for $399 or for $279 by itself for those who already have the sensor.
- Epson Moverio BT FPV Drone Edition: If you have a DJI drone enthusiast on your list, this device is perfect for them. The drone edition of the Moverio lets pilots see through their drone's point of view and displays vital flight data through its head-mounted display. Epson lists the smartglasses at $799, but they're currently available for $699.