As part of the Game Developers Conference currently being held in California, Google has been pushing the augmented reality (AR) capabilities of Android. New app features from eBay, Ikea, and others have been launched to show exactly why we should start caring about AR on mobile.

Basic augmented reality – where digital graphics get overlaid on top of the real world – has been around on phones for a while, but faster processing power and improved cameras mean the tech is now looking more polished than ever. The newly unveiled apps all make use of ARCore, the AR technology being developed alongside Android.

Google itself is leading the way with a new AR experiment, Just a Line: It lets you sketch out digital drawings in 3D space, through your phone's camera, which then stay in place as you move around. It's like a simplified version of the well-known VR painting app Tilt Brush.

Meanwhile eBay has added a new AR feature to its app for Android. You can place virtual boxes of varying sizes on top of items before you ship them, so you don't have to waste money on more cardboard and packing tape than you actually need. The AR box fitter appears automatically in the app once you've sold an item.

Then there's Ikea, which has already invested heavily in AR tech. Previous versions of the Ikea app have let you drop augmented reality versions of furniture into your real rooms to see how they fit, but now there's an improved edition of the tech in its very own app: Ikea Place. The app has been available on iOS for a while, using Apple's rival ARKit platform.

Another app making the leap from ARKit on iOS to ARCore on Android is the Wayfair app. As with Ikea, the idea is that you can see how furnishings are going to look in your home before you actually buy them – you can easily reposition them and view them from all angles, just by changing your position.

You can expect to see ARCore in many more apps and games in the coming months, according to Google, but you do need the underlying ARCore app installed as well. For now it only works on Pixel phones, recent Samsung phones, the LG V30, the Asus ZenFone AR, and the OnePlus 5, but Google says this list will grow over time.

After mapping apps, cloud services, mobile platforms, laptops, and everything else, AR is the latest battleground between Apple and Google. Apple was first out of the gate with ARKit last year, but Google is catching up fast.

Both ARKit and ARCore are developer tools: essentially they make the whole process easier for app makers who want to incorporate elements of augmented reality into their apps on iOS or Android. Now that these tools are maturing, we should see a lot more AR on the phones of 2018 and beyond.

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