Unlike Virtual Reality (VR) which makes you submerge yourself in a virtual environment, Augmented Reality (AR) is all about augmenting the present perceivable reality with technology.
Take the HoloLens 2 headset for example, which Microsoft just announced and opened pre-orders for. HoloLens 2 still uses an overlay glasses system, but rather than isolating the real world entirely, the HoloLens 2 glasses provide an addition to your existing reality.
But don't expect to have to wear a headset in order to take advantage of augmented reality. There is a lot of AR coming to mobile applications.
This year will be a definitive year for framework development and other tools that can help developers to create great AR experiences. Companies like NexTech AR are taking a massive leap in bringing augmented reality experiences to digital (retail) shopping. Imagine looking into your living room through your phone and seeing a new leather suite where in reality there is empty space. Mobile AR applications are being developed tha give you a real feel for the aesthetics of potential purchases. Imagine selecting your next pair of glasses using an app that takes selfie video and superimposes different glasses on your face.
If you are working on joining the hype, we have prepared an overview of the best tools for augmented reality development.
- Universal Windows Platform, and
- Unity Editor.
Of course, we are going to start with perhaps the most popular SDK for AR app development. Even though you can use it for free, this option is good only for hobbyists, because it comes with limited functionality and watermarks. The main features that Vuforia offers developers include:
- Vuforia Object Scanner: recognizing 2D and 3D objects;
- Text recognition with in-built 100,000-word English vocabulary and the option to create your own custom one;
- VuMarks: barcodes that can contain data or act as markers;
- Video playback when a certain condition is met (for instance, when the target surface or image is detected);
- Virtual buttons that can turn any surface into a touchscreen;
- Smart glasses support;
- Storing data on the device or in the cloud.
Pricing: free + paid subscription plans (Classic - 9 per time, Cloud - per month, Pro for commercial use, the pricing is individual)
- Windows for tablets
The list of the top augmented reality SDKs wouldn't be objective without Wikitude. This SDK is constantly improved upon and updated – the latest Wikitude SDK 8 was released in July 2018. If you use Wikitude to develop your application, you can:
- import and render 3D objects with SLAM technology;
- build apps for smart glasses;
- store data in the cloud or on the device;
- employ location-based services;
- employ object, scene, and image recognition features;
- use Wikitude Studio to add, manage and manipulate virtual objects without any coding necessary.
Pricing: free trial with watermarks + paid subscription plans (starting from €1,990 per one app)
- iOS 11 or newer.
This toolkit for augmented reality development was created and launched specifically for creating mobile software for the iOS platform by Apple. This means you can create apps only for iPhones and iPads with this SDK, so it may be your best augmented reality SDK if you aim to make an AR exclusively for these devices. Let's take a look at its main features:
- 2D image detection and tracking;
- space and 3D objects recognition;
- sharing the AR experience with other users which allows creating multiplayer AR games;
- horizontal planes detection;
- lighting estimation for making virtual objects look more realistic;
- facial tracking.
- Android 7.0+, and
- iOS 11+
Basically, ARCore is Google's response to Apple's ARKit. Unlike Apple, Google doesn't mind supporting developing AR apps for both Android and iOS. Using this SDK allows:
- tracking the phone's motion and its position relative to the surrounding objects;
- estimating the lighting to adjust it on the virtual objects;
- understanding the environment by detecting the surfaces, their size and location;
- placing texts or virtual objects in a certain spot and sharing them with other app users;
- working with Java/OpenGL, Unreal and Unity;
- creating 3D objects with Tilt Brush and Blocks VR building tools.
- Windows, and
- Mac OS.
This is the last but definitely not the least SDK on our list of the best tools for AR development. Actually, MaxST comes in two different SDKs: one is the 2D toolkit used for tracking images, and the other one is the 3D toolkit created for scanning and recognizing the surrounding environment. The latter one is more interesting for us in terms of the topic, so let's take a look at its key features:
- tracking the surroundings and mapping the environment;
- scanning QR codes and barcodes;
- tracking multiple targets at the same time (up to 3 items)
- physics engine effect to create more realistic experiences;
- occlusion effect – screening the virtual object by a real one fully or partially;
- integration with Unity (although MaxST works only with the 32-bit Unity Editor version).
- Pricing: free (with watermarks) + paid subscription