Best tools for augmented reality application development

Augmented reality software development may seem complicated and difficult. Although it is to some extent, there exists a certain number of kits and services which simplify the task and make developers’ lives easier. Today we will guide you through the most popular tools which are used on AR development.

Engines

Augmented reality development is based on using game engines. This is quite logical – AR aims to provide the user with a bright and quality digital image overlaid on top of the real-world objects, which is very often interactive. Developers try to convince the user that what they see, no matter how impossible it is, is real. So what but a game engine will fit the best to achieve such results. 

Augmented reality software for development | VR Tigers

Currently, there are two game engines which are commonly used: Unity and Unreal Engine. Both set the standards which define how interactive visualizing systems should be developed and designed in the gaming industry and, in particular, augmented reality development. Each of the engines has its advantages and disadvantages so in the developers’ community, there is an ongoing discussion which engine fulfills its functions the best. 

In AR field Unity is more popular as it started supporting this technology earlier than Unreal and it is more common for mobile development, where AR is usually applied to.

It is stated that 60% of all VR/AR content is produced on Unity. 

However, Unreal Engine is also successfully applied in augmented reality development and gains more and more popularity in the course of time. For example, in 2018 they modified their AR development tools to match the best Apple ARKit and show high performance in augmented reality applications.

Another way, although less common, is to avoid using the engine and develop the application using a programming language like Swift, Java or C. This brings more custom solutions and flexibility to the development process, however, is more time-consuming than using engines with ready-made solutions.

Development tools

After the developer chooses the foundation, whether it is an engine or a language they want to base their application on, there is a need to choose a specific tool, platform or SDK. There are several criteria: the tool needs to work properly on the chosen engine, have necessary features and support various device platforms.

Augmented reality tools comparison | VR Tigers

As augmented reality market grows and expands, more and more companies contribute to the pool of development tools. By now, there are about 20 platforms, SDKs and libraries which can be used. We will focus on the four most popular augmented reality development tools.

Wikitude

Wikitude is one of the most popular solutions is AR development: in 2017 it was reported to have 1 billion app installs achievement. The company offers a series of tools and services such as Wikitude AR SDK, Wikitude studio and Wikitude cloud recognition. The range of functions in this SDK is very wide: 2D/3D recognition, tracking, geolocation, etc. 

Best used: Wikitude is a good choice when there is a need to implement quality geolocation with a display of places around the user. It is also chosen when multiplatform support is essential.

Platforms supported: Android, iOS, Windows, Smart Glasses.

Case: One of the solutions developed with Wikitude technologies is an application created for The Washington Post. It is provided by the Wikitude SDK to make the AR experiences come to life. Experiences include a demonstration of objects from Thomas Jefferson’s residence and a real-size bison from Yellowstone. The application gives an opportunity to walk around the objects to explore them fully. 

Vuforia

Vuforia is another leading platform which provides an AR SDK. It is stated to have about 350,000 registered developers. The company regularly updates their products providing developers with top-notch solutions for augmented reality apps development. Its functions include efficient computer vision-based 2D and 3D objects recognition, text recognition, own barcode markers and others.

Best-used: Vuforia is preferred for marker-based applications and when it is necessary to implement cloud recognition function.

Platforms supported: Android, iOS, UWP, and Smart Glasses.

Case: In 2017 on the basis of Vuforia platform there was developed a virtual assistant application for Mercedes owners. The application uses image targets and Model Targets which can identify the objects camera catches. As the application recognizes tools on the dashboard, it provides the driver with information about their functions.

Apple ARKit

Although introduced only in 2017, AppleARKit has already become one of the biggest mobile platforms for AR development. According to the survey conducted in 2018, 31% of VR/AR developers currently develop for ARKit among other choices. Features provided by this platform also numerous, including 2D/3D objects recognition, plane estimation, light estimation using iPhone’s camera sensor, and face recognition and augmentation.

Best-used: ARKit is used to create mostly markless applications for iPhone users.

Platforms supported: iOS.

Case: In 2017 IKEA introduced their new AR application build with AppleARKit. This application uses the technology to scan the environment and estimate its size. With the virtual catalog built in the app, the user can choose a piece of furniture and see if it fits their flat. 

Google ARCore

This mobile platform was introduced in February 2018 as an answer to ARKit. With 2 billion monthly active devices ARCore has the potential to make its impact in AR development. The functions are more or less the same as in ARKit, featuring large areas mapping, markerless tracking, and cloud synchronization. 

Best-used: Serves to develop applications for Android devices. 

Platforms supported: Android.

Case: eBay presented their customers with an AR option in their application. This feature recognizes an object and environment caught by the camera and suggests a corresponding size box to use for shipping. 

The recap

Here is a little summary of the four mentioned AR development tools.

ToolMain featuresPlatforms
Wikitude2D/3D object tracking
Multi-target tracking
Markerless tracking
SLAM – Simultaneous Localization and Mapping
SMART – integration with ARkit and ARcore
Geo DataCloud Recognition
Android
iOS
Windows
Smart Glasses
Vuforia2D/3D trackingMulti-target tracking
Automatic detection of horizontal surfaces from the camera
SLAM – Simultaneous Localization and Mapping
Smart Terrain Technology – allows scan real world, reconstruct image/object
Cloud databases
Android
iOS
UWP
Smart Glasses
Apple ARKit2D/3D tracking
Markless tracking
SLAM – Simultaneous Localization and Mapping
Light estimation image/object
Face recognition
iOS
Google ARCoreMarkerless tracking
SLAM – Simultaneous Localization and Mapping
Large areas mapping
Light estimation
Cloud Anchors – collaborative AR experience image/object
Android

Augmented reality field offers developers a wide range of tools to create successful solutions. Each of them has its advantages and sphere of application. The choice depends mostly on the platform you want your application to run on and the tasks you set.

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