Augmented reality (AR) is on the rise now as many industries recognize its advantages.
Such increased attention creates a higher demand for the development of augmented reality apps. On the other hand, brands manufacturing mobile devices and providers of operating systems encourage the creation of augmented reality apps compatible with their products or platforms.
In order to make the development of software for their products easier, hardware brands, operating system providers and software development companies release Software Development Kits or SDKs.
There is a whole range of SDKs specifically intended for building AR apps, and this is what we are going to talk about in this post.
What is an SDK?
Software Development Kits, or SDKs, are intended to ease the development of certain applications for particular devices or operating systems.
The core component of an SDK is the Integrated Development Environment, or IDE, that serves as a platform for all major operations related to software development.
The IDE contains a console for writing the code, a debugger tool, and a visual editor where the UI for the application is to be created.
In addition to the IDE, most SDKs also include code samples, tutorials, reusable graphic elements, etc.
Of course, since all SDKs are different, it may take some time to get used to working with them. Thus, most of them are trying to make their user interface as transparent and intuitive as possible.
Usually, an SDK is downloaded from the company’s website and can be used immediately.
The best SDKs for AR development
Let’s look at the most popular SDKs that we can find on the market of augmented reality development.
We tried to include SDKs for the largest mobile platforms and the most popular devices so that the market is represented as fully as possible.
ARKit is a framework for AR development offered by Apple. In the year since its initial release in June 2017, it has already earned certain popularity and attracted quite a lot of attention.
ARKit was released together with iOS 11 version, and its later version, ARKit 2.0, came out with iOS 12. The SDK runs on iPhone 6s devices as well as the later models. ARKit can also be used on all iPad Pro devices.
The framework leverages the improved built-in functions of the latest devices, such as cameras and motion sensors that make creating augmented reality easier.
Main features of ARKit:
- Space recognition – the ability to identify horizontal spaces to enable the virtual placement of objects. ARKit uses the SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) technology to recognize the scene from individual points
- Object detection – the recognition of certain objects, such as posters, signs or sculptures that can trigger the appearance of virtual objects on the screen
- Lighting estimation – the ability to detect the lighting of the scene with the help of the smartphone’s sensors. When lighting is estimated, ARKit uses it to light the virtual objects to make them look natural
- Multiplayer support – only in ARKit 2.0 – the option of sharing an augmented reality experience by multiple users each through their own Apple device
- Persistent AR experience – an AR experience continues through several sessions enabling the user to return to it after breaks.
Pricing: ARKit is available for downloading free of charge.
ARCore is a product of Google and is, quite logically, intended for use on the Android platform. However, the Google team went a bit further and included the support of iOS devices, too. The ARCore SDK was first released in March 2018.
ARCOre works with Android 7.0 and later versions and runs on a whole range of Android devices – Samsung Galaxy A and S families, Samsung Note, Samsung Tab, Sony Xperia, Xiaomi. The iOS support is included for iPhone 6s and later models.
The full list of devices compatible with ARCore can be found on the official page of the developer team.
ARCore works with such graphic design tools as Unreal Engine and Unity that are widely used in the production of AR and VR content.
Main features of ARCore:
- Motion tracking – the ability to identify the device position in relation to the points in the surrounding space
- Flat surface recognition – the feature allowing to find flat surfaces in the real world
- Lighting estimation – the ability to recognize the lighting condition and to apply it to the virtual objects.
Pricing: ARCore can be downloaded free of charge and is available on Google Play.
Wikitude is an SDK creating a cross-platform AR development environment. It is a product of Wikitude GmbH located in Austria and is focused on building augmented reality apps compatible with different mobile platforms and devices. The first version of Wikitude was released in October 2008.
The SDK can be integrated with the Unity tools to create powerful graphics. Moreover, Wikitude can work with ARKit and ARCore, depending on the device, to use their native features.
The supported device line includes iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices as well as a number of AR smart glasses, such as Epson Moverio, Vuzix M100, and ODG R-7.
Main features of Wikitude:
- Object and scene recognition – the ability to identify objects and scenes in the real world using the SLAM technology
- Instant tracking – the feature allowing immediate placement of a virtual object in real space without markers
- Image recognition – the ability to identify up to 1000 images
- Multiple image recognition – the ability to recognize more than one image at the same time and to overlay them or create interactive scenarios
- Cloud recognition – the feature allowing to recognize images stored in the cloud
- 3D model rendering – the feature allowing to import and render 3D models created in other tools, such as Autodesk® Maya® 3D.
Pricing: the Wikitude SDK has a free trial version intended solely for trying the SDK. The free trial version includes a watermark and does not allow any commercial use of the augmented reality products created in it.
Wikitude subscriptions start with €2490 and support different sets of features.
Image credit: https://www.wikitude.com/store/
EasyAR SDK was created by VisionStar Information Technology in Shanghai, China. Using this SDK, you are getting an AR platform for creating apps to run on Android and iOS devices. EasyAR supports integration with the Unity3D family of graphic design tools.
- Planar image tracking – the ability to recognize and track 2D images
- 3D object tracking – only in the paid version – the ability to recognize and track 3D objects of various size and texture in real time. Recognition of multiple 3D objects is supported as well
- SLAM – only in the paid version – the feature allowing instant identification and tracking of the device camera position
- Cloud recognition – the support of modules enabling communication with cloud services.
Pricing: the EasyAR SDK has a free trial version allowing up to 100 uses per day. Besides, the free trial functionality is limited as compared to the paid license. The license costs $499 and includes unlimited use and the full set of features.
For more details, refer to the EasyAR pricing page.
ARmedia is one of the solutions offered by Inglobe Technologies, a company working in the field of augmented reality development with offices in the European Union.
The ARmedia SDK currently supports the iOS and Android platforms with Windows and OS X support to follow soon.
The available plugins enable integrations with such design tools as Unity3D and Open Scene Graph.
- 3D object recognition and tracking – the ability to recognize 3D objects and track them in real time
- Planar image recognition – the ability to identify up to several hundred 2D images in the same application. However, ARmedia supports tracking of only one image at the same time.
- Geolocation – an integrated geolocation API allowing to include the geolocation information in the app
- Motion tracking – the feature using the motion sensor and gyroscope functions of the smartphone to manipulate the 3D content
- Rendering engine – the function enabling quick visualization of AR content.
Pricing: ARmedia has no free version. The subscription starts with €1000 per month with higher options varying in the number of available 3D targets and the support level.
Image credit: http://dev.inglobetechnologies.com/buy/
Vuforia belongs to the PTC family of software products. It provides a powerful platform for the development of augmented reality apps for iOS and Android mobile devices.
This AR SDK is also compatible with mixed reality hardware, such as Microsoft Hololens.
Vuforia provides an extension to the Unity3D engine allowing building AR apps for both Android and iOS platforms.
- Markerless object recognition – the ability to identify an object by its shape rather than by a special marker
- Flat surface recognition – the so-called Vuforia Ground Plane feature detecting flat surfaces for object placement
- Image targets – the feature allowing to trigger augmented reality content by recognizing certain images, both single and multiple
- Object targets – the feature triggering AR content upon scanning a real 3D object.
Pricing: Vuforia AR SDK can be tried free of charge.
The paid subscriptions include the Classic, Cloud and Pro options. The Classic ($499 one-time charge) and Cloud ($99 per month) are intended to build augmented reality apps for enterprises with the yearly revenue under $10 million. The Pro version with the price upon request has no revenue limitation.
The feature sets also differ between the subscription plans, with the Pro version including the full functionality and the direct support option.
Image credit: https://developer.vuforia.com/vui/pricing
MAXST, a product of a South Korean company with the same name is an AR platform for building applications on iOS and Android mobile devices as well as on Mac OS and Windows workstations. The latest version of this AR SDK was released in August 2018 containing a full set of features of a comprehensive AR platform.
- 2D image tracker – the feature allowing to track up to 3 flat images at the same time
- Instant tracker – the feature of instant detection of a flat surface for placing 3D objects
- Visual SLAM – the feature allowing to add 3D objects to a real space
- 3D object tracker – the ability to track and place 3D objects using the SLAM feature
- Cloud recognition – the integration with a cloud service storing thousands of images.
Pricing: the MAXST AR SDK has a free version where you can create watermarked augmented reality scenarios, not for commercial use.
The Pro version can be purchased either at a one-time fee of $499 or as a subscription of $599 per year. Both versions limit the number of app downloads to 100 thousand, with the subscription plan including the Cloud Recognition feature.
The Enterprise version is available upon request and supports unrestricted functionality.
DeepAR is a US-based startup offering an augmented reality platform for creating face lenses and other effects similar to what you can find in SnapChat. This AR SDK works with both iOS and Android devices as well as with desktop applications.
- Face recognition – the ability to detect facial features, including multiple face recognition
- Face tracking – the ability to follow the movements of the facial features in real time
- Emotion detection – the recognition of a number of emotions using deep learning mechanisms.
Pricing: currently, DeepAR offers its products upon request with no pricing plan available.
ARToolKit was first released as far back as in 1999, and after being acquired by DAQRI in 2015 became an open-source product for augmented reality development. The supported platforms include iOS, Android, Mac OS, Linux. The AR SDK contains a Unity3D plugin to enable integration with this design tool.
- Natural feature tracking – the ability to track 2D images with no defined outer edge
- Camera calibration – the feature enabling the setup of the intrinsic camera parameters
- Marker recognition – the ability to detect special markers triggering AR content.
Pricing: ARToolKit can be downloaded from GitHub free of charge.
XZIMG line of AR development products consists of three platforms – Augmented Face (face tracking), Augmented Vision (image tracking), and Magic Face (deformable face tracking). All three tools are used to create AR experiences and work on iOS, Android and Windows platforms.
- Face recognition – the ability to identify facial features on an image
- Face tracking – the ability to detect and follow the facial feature movements
- Image tracking -the feature allowing to detect 2D images.
Pricing: the XZIMG AR SDK is available as a free trial version for non-commercial use. Each of the three products can be purchased in the Professional version at the following prices:
- Augmented Face – €2200
- Augmented Vision – €1600
- Magic Face – €10000.
AR SDK feature comparison
Let’s summarize the features of AR SDKs for easier reference.
We hope our analysis helps you find the best tools and set up the environment for augmented reality development.
If you are interested in how to develop augmented reality applications, our list can help you get started, as most AR SDKs are intuitive and user-friendly.