The virtual reality sector continues to grow at an astounding pace. More and more VR titles are being released every week for various headsets and devices, including smartphones. iOS-driven iPhones remain extremely popular, alongside Android-based phones, and make up the majority of global smartphones in operation today. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that many of these new VR titles are being released in iPhone-compatible app format.
How Does VR Work on a Smartphone?
For those who are new to VR, it may be a bit confusing – how does your smartphone offer an immersive VR experience? With a mobile headset, the phone is used as the screen, processing power, and sound output, essentially being held in the headset itself. The headset blocks out light, allows for optical adjustments, and provides the physical means to wear it on your head, and adjust to different sizes and shapes of heads. It’s a cheap and effective way to enter the VR arena – and most of the apps, games, and experiences that are available are also quite compelling. They may not be the same quality experience that you can get on a $400 headset, of course, but you get what you pay for, after all.
What Kind of VR Content is Available for iPhone?
The titles that are available for iPhone, like the broader VR space in general, are diverse in their nature. Simple to more elaborate games are available, of course, along with news and infotainment-style content. Players for VR movies, meditation experiences, erotic content, and much more are available. And virtual reality hangout apps are also becoming quite popular. There are also utilities that are available for making new VR content using nothing more than your phone. Virtual tourism apps are a great equalizer in the accessibility and entertainment space, and dynamic new uses for the technology in sports, medicine, communication, and so on are popping up all the time.
In our report below, we’ve attempted to compile a good cross-section of what’s currently available, and most popular, on iPhone in terms of VR apps, games, and experiences. While it’s easy to just focus on games, we’ve tried to provide multiple examples of VR tech for the iPhone that goes beyond simply gaming, and shows different sides of VR’s potential and promise.
The apps and games featured on this list are all available for download or use on the iPhone, through the Apple App Store or third-party-site links that lead back to the Apple App Store. Many of them are also available for Android-based device in the Google Play Store, and may be functional on non-mobile VR headsets as well, but that is outside the scope of this article. In general, the newer your iPhone is, the more likely that these titles will be compatible with it. They all list any restrictions in their Apple App Store information – some require iOS 8 or later, while others must have iOS 10 or later. In general, VR titles can be somewhat demanding, and the higher processing power and graphics capabilities of later iPhones are often required for optimal performance (typically an iPhone 6 or later, though there may be some exceptions).
As with most smartphone app VR titles, the way in which you obtain VR headset functionality can be through a compatible basic mobile headset, or a premium mobile headset. Both act as holders for your smartphone, though premium mobile headsets offer additional functionality with onboard sensors and hardware. Be sure, if you are shopping for a mobile headset of any kind, that you purchase one that fits the size and model of phone that you have. Google Cardboard, a cardboard, fold-it-yourself DIY-style headset, is available as a phone holder that works with most modern smartphone sizes, and is very affordable for VR on a budget.
Q&A: Which Smart Phones are Compatible with the Samsung Gear VR?
10 Best VR Apps and Games for iPhone
Below, we highlight some of the top iPhone VR apps and games. They’re not listed in any particular order or ranking, and their inclusion is based on a number of factors, including the number of downloads, ratings, and price. Many are free or have only a modest one-time payment associated with them, while a few are freemium (free, ad-supported, and with in-game purchases available).
YouTube (360-degree videos) | (Free)
Our first entry doesn’t particularly require an app, though using the YouTube app on iOS is easier than navigating through your web browser on your phone. Imagine all of your favorite entertainment experiences you already know and love on YouTube were given a premium upgrade. Type in “virtual reality” on YouTube and you will discover experiences ranging from wild horse races to the GT World Cup. Travel experiences are being highlighted because of virtual reality and its ability to transport us to a different realm of human experience. Whatever your tastes may be, the library of 360-degree, VR-compatible YouTube videos is growing all the time, so there’s always something new for you to explore via your iPhone and a mobile VR headset.
Fractal Combat X | (Freemium)
Fractal Combat X brings the experience of jet-fighter combat to your iPhone. It can be played with a VR headset, or as a normal mobile game – your choice. Just toggle an option in the game’s settings menu to go between the two. This game is best with a controller – most higher-end basic mobile headsets come with a Bluetooth-enabled wireless controller that should do the trick. With pretty awesome graphics for a phone-based game, and lots of kit to upgrade and customize your jet, weapons, and systems, there’s a great deal of replayability, too. It’s totally free, and you earn credits by playing, but if you want to skip ahead and grab some upgrades without much work, in-game purchases to do just that are available.
End Space VR | $0.99
Another flight/combat-style action game, End Space VR is set in outer space, challenging players to eliminate endless waves of alien attackers. Like our previous entry, the graphics for this game are also superb, especially for a phone game. Also like our previous entry, this is much better if you use a Bluetooth controller or gamepad to fire your weapons. It’s action-packed and fast-paced, and though not free, it’s definitely worth the sub-$1 price tag.
NYT VR | (Free)
The New York Times has evolved from a newspaper to a digital publication. As part of that transition, they’ve made efforts to leverage their vast array of resources and credible journalism to create new, dynamic content for users. NYT VR is one of these ventures. Offering immersive VR experiences that are topical, and augment stories and traditional reporting around world events, NYT VR can make you really feel and understand what’s going on in the world, and allows you to experience it nearly first-hand. New and relevant experiences covering all of the various topics found in the traditional print edition of the NY Times – from news to science to fashion and entertainment – are being added all the time. What’s more, the service is free.
Orbulus | (Free)
The award-winning Orbulus app, which first debuted on Android devices, is now available on iOS through the Apple App Store. This app features amazing VR views of everything from the surface of Mars to the depths of caverns on Earth. It’s virtual tourism, with a twist, featuring curated views from locales and events all around the world and beyond. And, it’s optimized for Google Cardboard, and surprisingly works on relatively older smartphones, too, as the graphics requirements are somewhat lower than various games that we’ve featured on the list. Like many of our other top picks, it’s free, and that, in and of itself, makes it worth giving Orbulus a try.
Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue | ($0.99)
Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue is a sequel of sorts to the earlier Lamper VR title, and is definitely a child of the same parent. The game features the same kind of endless-running game experience, suitable for all ages. You play as a firefly within the game, and no game controller is needed – head tracking (via gyros and accelerometers in your phone) allow your head to do all the steering of your firefly character. The graphics are pretty amazing too, and definitely worth the $1 price. Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue, sequel to the classic Lamper VR, offers more of the same: an endless-runner gaming experience notable for great graphics and a decidedly kid-friendly motif. (You’re a firefly, after all.) There’s no game controller necessary: your head does all the steering.
Jaunt VR | (Free)
Jaunt VR seeks to become for VR kind of what Netflix is for traditional streaming entertainment content. Released in 2014, with continuous improvement and new content added since, Jaunt offers up fully immersive VR content, including original titles from major studios, producers, and directors. This includes film and narratives, along with sports and other entertainment. The company doesn’t stop at just VR, either – AR, mixed reality, and other content, most of which is perfectly suited for iPhone, is also offered through the platform.
Incell VR | (Free)
Action game fanatics will adore this VR app. A combination of action/adventure gaming and ensuring the safety of you as the player is pivotal as you navigate macro and micro levels of biological cells. It’s a definitely new and exciting take on traditional action/adventure games, and works great both in VR, or as a standalone phone game. It’s also got a bit of bioscience in the mix, and could be said to be educational – but kids and adults alike enjoy it for the fun and unique experience, and it serves as a great entry point to the world of VR gaming on iPhone or any platform.
RYOT VR (Free)
RYOT VR produces its own content, in addition to partnering with the aforementioned Jaunt VR and other content platforms. They focus on providing VR content that transports you into remote locations, other cultures, or unique situations from all around the world. It’s not a replacement for real travel, mind you, but is starting to show the promise of what VR can do to both engage people and make the world more accessible to everyone. This is especially true for those who are sick, have limited mobility, or limited financial means. You can see and enjoy places you otherwise would never get to see, from the comfort of your own home, and in a way that no standard 2D pictures or video can portray.
Sisters: A Virtual Reality Ghost Story | (Free)
No list of games and apps for iPhone would be complete without a bit of a scare. And while this title is by no means as scary as some of the horror movies that have come out in recent years, it represents a new genre within the VR space – thrills and horror within dynamic, immersive storytelling. It’s also optimized and designed specifically as a phone-based VR experience (rather than being designed for tethered headsets), so you’ll get an ideal playthrough on your iPhone. Join the titular sisters as they travel through their surroundings and explore, but use caution, as something or someone doesn’t want them there…