Building Augmented Reality Apps: Types, SDKs and the Best Tools Available

12 Feb. 20
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Though implementation of Augmented Reality technology can be seen in popular AR games such as Pokémon Go, Beat Saber (VR), Wizards Unite, and Minecraft Earth, it is rapidly expanding beyond mobile gaming to other industries too. According to Digi-Capital, the virtual reality and augmented reality market is expected to reach $108 billion by next year and stands to enter into the education, healthcare, and eCommerce markets. This is why you are seeing large companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple investing heavily into the development of augmented reality applications and the technology (SDKs) that power them.

As an ISO Certified AR App Development Company in Australia, Let’s Nurture has developed a number of AR applications from small to large organisations. We have delivered many projects throughout Australia including Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat in Victoria with full guarantee for the quality of our AR apps.

If you are interested in this technology and want to create an augmented reality application to boost-up your business in Australia, you will need to understand the two types of AR, how these apps are developed with SDKs, and which software tools are the best on the market for AR mobile app creation.

What Are The Different Types of Augmented Reality Apps?

There are only two types of augmented reality applications, one which is marker-based and the other which is location-based. Knowing which one you are going to build is critical, as the development kit you use to build it will be decidedly for one of these augmented reality types.

  • A marker-based augmented reality application for mobile devices is based on image recognition. The camera within the smartphone or tablet is used to detect specific markers or patterns such as images or codes (think QR for example). When the pattern is picked up and recognized, the application will overlay the digital information onto this marker. The position of the marker determines how the augmented reality object is oriented. An example of this would be using augmented reality to showcase how a tattoo is going to look on someone’s arm or leg, as the digital information of the tattoo can be overlaid on top of the marker and presented in a specific orientation.

  • A location-based augmented reality application does not use markers at all. Instead, a position detector, such as a GPS, accelerometer, or digital compass, will be used to establish one’s location and create an augmented reality object within that location. This is what the Pokémon Go AR mobile game uses.

How Do You Choose the Right Development Kit?

There are plenty of augmented reality development kits for both marker-based and location-based mobile applications, so the choice comes down to the kit that is going to best suit the functionality of your application. To determine which one is appropriate, there is a set of criteria that you should pay attention to when selecting the SDK.

  • Take a look at the type of licensing available. Many augmented reality developmental kits will offer free and commercial licenses; however, free licenses are often very limited in their feature sets. If you want to build a feature-rich mobile application, it is better to go with a commercial license. Now, there is open-source augmented reality software kits available, which are good for developers who want to add in functions and contribute to the source.
  • Make sure to look at which platform the augmented reality SDK works with. The majority of kits will work with both Android and IOS devices as these are the most widely used mobile operating systems. But if you want to create an application for Windows mobile devices or computers, you will need to specifically look for a kit that is compatible with the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). There are also some platforms available for macOS, but you will need to specifically look for these.
  • Consider smart glasses support. While almost all AR mobile applications function through smartphones and sometimes tablets, AR objects may be overlaid right into the real world with smart glasses in the future. The reason for this is because smart glasses provide a hands-free experience, which may become more popular as more smart glasses are built and accepted into the mainstream. Having a development kit that works with smart glasses is a good consideration to make.
  • Consider having Unity support: While this is one of the most advanced game engines in the world, used to create video games for computers and console systems, it can also power augmented reality applications. If you want your augmented reality application to have fantastic graphics, having Unity support is an excellent idea. Keep in mind though that Unity is a resource-intensive engine, so make sure that your SDK is compatible with it.
  • Lots of markers mean cloud recognition: If your mobile application is going to be capable of recognizing numerous markers, the development kit that you choose should have cloud recognition as a feature. Why? The markers would be stored in the cloud so that your mobile application doesn’t take up that much space on mobile devices. Keep in mind that the more markers your application can recognize, the more advanced your augmented reality experience will be for users.
  • What about local recognition? If you are making a small augmented reality application, you can use a development kit that has on-device (or local) recognition. The markers that the application uses will be stored on their mobile device, which means that the user does not have to go online to use the application.
  • Expand opportunity with 3D tracking. Almost all top augmented reality applications support 3D image tracking, as this allows these applications to recognize 3D objects in the real world such as boxes, toys, and more. This expands what your augmented application can be used for, such as ecommerce or mobile games.
  • Geo-location is required for location-based AR. If you are planning on making a location-based augmented reality application, and you want to add in virtual points of interest for real physical places in the world, then you will need geo-location support. This is what will allow restaurants, cafes, and landmarks to show up in your mobile application (think Pokémon Go).
  • You may need a kit with SLAM. This acronym stands for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, which allows applications to map out their environment, track their own movements, and remember the position of items in a room. This is important for augmented reality applications that require virtual objects to stay in one place while the user moves around them. SLAM works with indoor navigation, unlike GPS, giving it huge potential for re-creating indoor environments and maps.

What Are The Best Tools for Building AR Apps?

Now that you know what to look out for in a development kit, you may be wondering which tools are the best for building augmented reality applications. Please see the list below for the best eight currently available!

  • Vuforia. The Vuforia platform is one of the best for building augmented reality applications as it offers up a ton of features that other platforms do not.
    1.1 It comes with over 100,000 words of the English language and therefore has text recognition. You can add in your own custom vocabulary to it though.
    1.2 It can recognize both 2D and 3D objects.
    1.3 It has the ability to play back videos when targeted surfaces are clicked on or detected.
    1.4 It comes with built-in encoding for data and comes with its own barcodes that can act as their own markers.
    1.5 It has local or on-device recognition. But it also has cloud recognition too.
    1.6 It comes with built-in virtual buttons which expands the surfaces you can use within the application via your touch screen.

    It comes with a free license which has limited functionality and includes watermarks, but it also has several commercial licenses available, if you want the full range of features.

  • Kudan : This SDK is available for IOS and Android augmented reality development and comes with Unity support. It is able to recognize both 2D and 3D images, has a low memory footprint due to its high-performance engine KudanCV, and it supports SLAM for mapping out indoor environments. The free licensing comes with watermarks, but there are several commercial licenses to choose from as well.
  • EasyAR: The free version of EasyAR comes with unlimited recognition queries and cloud recognition, but it can also store up to 1,000 markers for augmented reality applications that use local recognition. If you want SLAM, 3D tracking, or on-screen recording though, you will need to purchase a paid license.
  • Wikitude: Whether you want to build a location-based or marker-based augmented reality application, Wikitude works for both. It provides developers with geolocation support for location-based services within augmented reality applications, has cloud recognition and on-device recognition available, and has extended tracking of virtual objects. This means that when the camera of your smartphone loses a marker, the marker will be tracked regardless. Wikitude also comes with instant tracking for displaying virtual items that do not have markers or for mapping out indoor environments with SLAM. This SDK has a free trial, but commercial licenses are what you will need to buy. It works with other development frameworks, like Cordova and Xamarin, which is a bonus.
  • Xzimg: The Xzimg is more of a tool set than it is a development package. They have three augmented reality products, one which is a facial tracking technology that is powered by Unity (Xzimg Augmented Face), one which recognizes black-and-white markers and images (Xzimg Augmented Vision), and another which provides solutions for face replacement and makeup-based augmented reality applications (Xzimg Magic Face). These tools can be used with Android, IOS, Windows, Flash, and HTML
  • ARToolKit: This is an open source augmented reality SDK which can run on Android, IOS, Windows, MacOS, and Linux and is free to use. It allows you to tailor the source code to your liking and has integration with GPS and compasses for location-based augmented reality development. It supports both single and dual camera devices, has automatic camera calibration utilities, and can simultaneously track several objects within AR. It also comes with Unity and OpenSceneGraph support but does require time to configure.
  • Maxst: The Maxst augmented reality development SDK comes with a free version that has watermarks or a commercial license option and has two tools available. The first is Maxst AR SDK 2D and the second is Maxst AR SDK 3D, which as the names suggest, one recognizes 2D images only while the second has 3D tracking. As with other SDKs, the 2D option has less features than the 3D one, with features like video augmentation and image recognition. The 3D option from Maxst has access to SLAM, occlusion effects, and a physics engine.
  • Apple ARKit: The Apple ARKit was developed back in 2017, specifically for the brand new IOS 11 smartphones. This SDK kit gives IOS devices plane detection, so that they can detect horizontal surfaces like floors. It also comes with the ability to scan the environment, uses visual inertial odometry to track the environment, and has lighting estimation for lighting adjustments. The kit only works with IOS smartphones and iPads that utilize A9/A10 chipsets.

The main thing to determine first, before choosing one of the above SDK tools for your augmented reality application, is what type of functionality do you want built into your app? Aspects like geolocation, local or on-device recognition, SLAM, and 3D tracking are all imperative features to look at. In order to create a top-notch and exceptional augmented reality application, consider price and licensing as a factor, as all paid SDKS will come with rich features that are future-ready.

To fetch more information for the Augmented Reality App development, please get in touch with us or mail to info@letsnurture.com.au

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Lets Nurture
Posted by Lets Nurture

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