The two apps I can’t live without

The two apps I can’t live without

Most smartphone applications have the tendency to draw your attention within rather than outside, if there is one thing they all have in common. However, two of my favorite mobile applications make use of the camera on your phone to help you take in more of the environment.

These applications enable you to use the camera on your phone to point at various items and learn more about them via augmented reality.

A lot of this functionality is being built into more modern Android devices and iPhones — for example, the iPhone’s camera app can now identify dog breeds as well as plants, and both Visual Look up and Google Lens also provide a lot more context about what you’re seeing through your smartphone’s camera.

But there are still some things that phones can’t currently perform on their own. This is where the applications are useful. They are nonetheless worth a look even though they weren’t included in our list of the top AR applications. Best of all, both apps are available for Android and iOS phones, so you can use them regardless of the device you own.


There always appears to be an aircraft flying over my house because it is close to the flight paths of both Teterboro and Newark Liberty International airports. As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, I frequently ponder the plane’s whereabouts.

I can view every last detail of every plane that flies by thanks to Flightradar24, including its location, speed, altitude, arrival and departure timings, and even pictures of the aircraft. But the AR function on Flightradar24 is what I truly appreciate about it.

When AR is enabled, all of that information is visible at a look when I merely point my phone at any airplane in the sky. It’s entertaining to watch a jet take off and then picture myself on board, say, a journey to Milan or Frankfurt. Unfortunately, because it only monitors civil aircraft, you cannot observe when Air Force One is passing.

Despite being free, Flightradar24 provides two upgrades: A $34.99/year membership adds aeronautical charts, weather layers, and more, while a $9.98/year subscription removes adverts and offers additional aircraft information and flight history. However, you’ll benefit much from the free version.

Star Chart

I often scan the skies when the Sun sets to see if I can detect any celestial bodies. Although there is a lot of light pollution in the New York City region, the Star Chart app is fantastic when you travel outside of the city. There are billions and billions of stars, and I don’t know the first thing about any of them, as Carl Sagan famously stated.

Like Flightradar24, once you open the Star Chart app, you simply point it at the sky to see what’s out there. The app uses your location data to fix your point on the Earth, so that when you look at the app, you’re seeing the stars in front of you. 

Click on any celestial body, and you can get more information about it, such as its name, distance, and the data to find it if you have a telescope. In addition to stars, it also can identify planets, satellites, and meteor showers. 

The app is free, but add-ons for meteor showers, satellites, and the extended solar system are each one-time $4.99 purchases.

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