8 cool ways to use LiDAR on your iPhone and iPad

The LiDAR scanner on your Apple device not only helps you take sharper pictures but lets you enjoy useful augmented reality apps and fun games.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Use augmented reality on your iPhone or iPad
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

The last few generations of the iPhone Pro and iPad Pro offer a helpful and powerful feature that you may not even be aware of. Built directly into the device, the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scanner emits a laser to more accurately measure distances of surrounding objects, a benefit that plays out in a couple of different ways.

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First, LiDAR helps the camera take sharper photos, especially in dark conditions. Second, the scanner taps into AR, or augmented reality, to combine the real world and the virtual world. With AR, your phone or tablet can act as a virtual tape measure, show you how new furniture would look in your home, scan and recreate 3D models, and place you into AR games.

Introduced in 2020, the LiDAR scanner is available on the Pro and Pro Max models of the iPhone 12, 13, 14, and 15, as well as the third-generation 11-inch and fifth-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro models from 2020 and later. Nestled among the rear cameras, the scanner can detect objects up to 5 meters, or 16.5 inches.

1. Take a photo in the dark

Snapping a sharp photo with your iPhone can be challenging, especially in low-light situations. Under those conditions, the LiDAR scanner detects the distance of your subject, allowing your camera to more quickly power up the autofocus. 

Also: How to take better iPhone photos

Apple claims that the LiDAR sensor helps the camera autofocus as much as six times faster, an advantage when you have to take the shot before it's too late. No need to do anything special for this. Just aim your phone's camera, and the LiDAR automatically kicks in if necessary.

Take a photo in the dark
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

2. Measure distances

You need to measure a physical distance but don't have a ruler or tape measure. No need to worry when you can use a virtual measure. Included with iOS/iPadOS and downloadable from the App Store, Apple's free Measure app can determine the distance between any two points, display the dimensions of an object, and tell you if a surface is straight.

Also: The 4 best iPad models right now

Open the Measure app on your device. To measure the distance between two points, position your phone so that the starting point is at the dot within the circle. Tap the plus icon, move your phone along the area you want to measure, and then tap the plus icon again. The distance appears on the screen.

Measure a line
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

To measure an object such as a square, position your phone the same way. Tap the plus icon and move your phone along the first area to measure it. Then double tap the plus icon. Move your phone to capture the next area and again double-tap the plus icon. Continue this way until you've captured the entire object. Double-tap the plus icon at the end point, and the distance appears for all four sides.

Measure a square
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

To determine if an area is level, tap the Level icon in the app's toolbar. Tilt your device horizontally or vertically along a surface until the screen turns to 0 and flashes green to indicate that you're level.

Check a level area
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Beyond using Apple's Measure app, check out other free AR measuring apps from the App Store, including Tape Measure and AR Measure.

3. Try out furniture in your home

Looking for a new desk, chair, table, or other piece of furniture and wondering how it would look and fit in your home? Let the IKEA app give you a helping hand.

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Start by browsing or searching for a specific piece of furniture or other item, including chairs, beds, desks, sofas, lamps, mirrors, clocks, dressers, or bookcases. When you find an item that interests you, select it and tap the View in room button. Choose an area in your home where you'd like to see the item. You can then move the item around the room by dragging and dropping it. When it's in the right spot, tap the shutter button to snap a picture of it.

Try out furniture in your home
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

A few other apps that let you virtually position and view furniture in your home are Wayfair, Housecraft, and Bob's Discount Furniture.

4. Scan a room

Maybe you're redecorating an entire room and want to measure it to help with your home improvement efforts. One app up to the task is Canvas: LiDAR 3D Measurements.

After signing up for a free account, start a new home project, give it a name, and then kick off your scan. Move your phone to capture every nook and cranny of the room you want to measure. When done scanning, tap the checkmark and you can view the scanned area and save or share the scan itself.

Scan a room
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

5. Try on glasses

Need a new pair of prescription glasses or sunglasses but want to check out some options before you head to the store? The Warby Parker app will let you try on virtual glasses to see how they look. Browse the different glasses on display in the app. Spot one you like and swipe down from the top of the screen for the Virtual Try-On feature. The glasses then automatically appear on your face where you can check out your appearance.

Try on glasses
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

6. Hear your environment described

Designed for people who are blind or sight-impaired, Microsoft's Seeing AI acts as a talking camera able to analyze and describe nearby people and objects. After launching the app, tap one of the icons at the bottom for the item you want described, choosing among short text, a document, a product, a person, currency, or a scene. Tap the shutter button, and the app displays and speaks a description of the item.

Also: The best iPhone models you can buy right now (including the iPhone 15)

Hear your environment described
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

7. Scan a 3D model

If you want to capture a 3D image of an object in the real world, Scaniverse - 3D Scanner is an effective tool. Fire up the app, tap the shutter button, and then select the size of the object you want to scan -- small, medium, or large. Move your phone around the object to capture as much of it as possible. Tap the shutter button when done and then choose how you want to process the scan. You can view the scan of the object by moving it around the screen and then edit and share the scan.

Scan a 3D model
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Other 3D AR scanner apps worth trying include 3D Scanner App, Polycam - LiDAR & 3D Scanner, and ARama!

8. Play a game

Finally, a variety of AR games are available for the iPhone and iPad. Here are just a few you may want to check out.

Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs offers a twist on the usual Angry Birds gameplay by letting you overlay a virtual island of piggies in the real world and then aim your slingshot to take down their buildings.

Play Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

ARia's Legacy - AR Escape Room plays around with the usual escape room scenario by overlaying a virtual room in a real room. Your objective is to discover and use the right virtual objects to solve the underlying mystery.

Play ARia's Legacy - AR Escape Room
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET  

Who doesn't like to watch robots duking it out? With AR Robot, your virtual robots fight to the death in your own home. Choose the room, pick your mechanical champion, and let the match begin. Strive toward victory by building and customizing your bot and tapping into the right abilities in the heat of the battle.

Also: Meet Apple's Vision Pro: Price, features, hands-on insights, and everything you need to know

Play AR Robot
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

In Defend It! AR, you have to shoot a horde of robots before they take over your living room. But the AR element here is that the robots are bursting through your wall as you struggle to get them before they steal your magic crystal of power.

Play Defend It! AR
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET  

A fun game for adults and kids alike is Alice in Wonderland AR quest. In this one, a portal is opened in your room that takes you to Wonderland where you meet the White Rabbit, throw a tea party, and solve puzzles.

Play Alice in Wonderland AR quest

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET  

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