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Augment the reality of holiday shopping with these Android apps

by Kristen Nicole

The holiday season is a joyous time of year, but also the most stressful. Between travel, coordinating family and friends, and shopping for gifts, the holidays can feel like more trouble than they’re worth. And while technology can’t always save you from awkward moments at the family dinner, it can help you stay on track while shopping for gifts (or for yourself) this year. Augmented reality is one technology that’s particularly promising for the retail sector, especially as local search becomes a heavily contextualized way for businesses to cater to their customers.

Flow Powered by Amazon (Free)

An extension of Amazon’s mobile retail efforts, Flow for Android is an augmented reality app that lets you research products without the hassle of snapping a photo. With Flow you can identify “tens of millions of products,” from DVDs to books, food and packaged household items. Just aim your smartphone camera at the item and Amazon will recognize it (if it’s available on, overlaying product information on your screen. This product information is interactive, so you can click on it to pull up the website details, or access any available audio or video clips (think movie trailers for a DVD).

IKEA Catalogue (Free)

A day trip to the IKEA store requires plenty of planning, extra caffeine and a really big trunk. But maybe you can avoid the store altogether with IKEA Catalogue app for Android. Bridging the physical magazine and their online retail site, IKEA’s app leverages augmented reality tech to make catalog pages come alive. Use your Android camera to scan catalog pages, gaining access to additional content like images, films and 3D models. It’s a nifty way to explore products in greater detail, looking inside cabinets and seeing items from different angles, without having to trek to the store. Saving you time (and gas money), IKEA Catalogue makes great use of AR capabilities.

Layar (Free)

Navigating your way around downtown’s shopping district? Layar’s Android app creates a layer of augmented reality to enhance your surroundings, displaying links, videos and other interactive features to learn more about nearby objects and venues. While Layar has a bevy of real-world applications, shoppers will find the navigation features useful for tracking down banks and ATMs, retailers and good restaurants where you can rest your weary feet and re-up on carbs and caffeine. You’ll also be able to pull up local ads to see what promotions nearby venues are running, helping you save money in the end.

VouchAR (Free)

While Layar provides a range of AR features, VouchAR is specific for local deals. Use your phone as a “magic window” to a world of deals, vouchers, coupons and other specials for retailers in your vicinity. Pulling from several deal providers including Groupon, VouchAR is a personalized app that learns your taste over time and displays deals accordingly. Deals are also social, so you can share them on Facebook, Twitter and Google. If you’re a social shopper and a savvy spender, this app could help you find the right gifts for friends and family, and save money this holiday season.

Car Finder AR ($1.99)

There’s nothing worse than wandering the rows of a parking lot, arms laden with shopping bags, in search of your car. So while you’re using all these AR apps to help you shop, why not use AR to keep track of your car? Save your parking location automatically and use an augmented reality map to find your way back with either driving or walking directions. Car Finder AR supports up to three cars, and you can even send a car’s parked location to other phones. The app has a few other helpful features too, like a parking meter timer, alarm and location history.