Augmented reality has now become an important part of our lives. We are already shopping for furniture, clothes and cosmetics with AR apps. AR games keep both children and adults engaged and entertained, and AR business and tech apps help professionals in various fields work more efficiently. All of these apps are built with specific development tools, called augmented reality SDKs (software development kits).
The Key Features of Popular Augmented Reality SDKs
Just like software and web development platforms, augmented reality SDKs have already undergone a selection process by professional developers. They have a set of expectations in terms of functionalities, ease of use and, of course, cost.
The main features used in the evaluation of an AR SDK are:
- License type: open source, free, or commercial
- Supported platforms: Android and iOS
- Supported smart glasses
- Unity support: one of the most powerful engines for building games and most game developers use it;
- 3D tracking
- Geolocation: an essential functionality for creating location-based apps and games
- SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping): allows an application to map environments and track its own movements in that environment
The Most Frequently Used Augmented Reality SDKs
The following list does not ennumerate the best SDKs per se. The order we used in presenting these AR SDKs does not represent a ranking, but is purely for convenience.
Vuforia is extremely popular among augmented reality app developers because it offers a wide range of functions, such as:
- Text recognition for over 100,000 words in the English vocabulary
- 2D and 3D object recognition (geometric shapes and consumer products)
- On-device and cloud recognition
- Video playback
- Virtual buttons which turn various surfaces into touch screens
The basic functions are available for free, but with the Vuforia watermark applied on each developed app. The Classic license has a one-time fee of $499, and the Cloud license costs $99 per month.
Apple has shown a huge interest in augmented reality and it is not surprising that the company wanted to make its own contribution to augmented reality SDKs. Apple ARKit is completely free and comes as a part of iOS 11+.
Some of the most important features it offers developers are:
- Stable and fast motion tracking
- SLAM tracking
- Support for Unity, Unreal and SceneKit
- Plane estimation with basic boundaries
- Scene understanding, such as placing virtual objects on vertical surfaces with the newest iOS 11.3 update, and light estimation
As a free, open-source AR SDK, Apple ARKit already has an active community of developers who contribute to make the platform more stable, efficient and useful.
Google came up with its own AR SDK when it launched Android SDK 7.0. Thus, their augmented reality app development platform is open-source and free to use, and is currently compatible with approximately 100 million devices running on Android.
The top features of this augmented reality SDK are:
- Support for Unity, Unreal, and Java/OpenGL
- Environmental understanding
- Motion tracking
- Light estimation
And, of course, developers can find an added benefit in the support of the thriving community growing around Google ARCore.
MAXST is one of the most comprehensive augmented reality SDKs, offering different tools for image and object recognition. The top features developers appreciate in this software development kit are:
- Multi-platform support: Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS
- Visual SLAM
- Object Tracker
- QR/Barcode scanner
- Easy implementation of various visual effects
- Support for various brands of smart glasses
MAXST is free to try for an unlimited period, but with the watermark applied on each project. The Pro One Time license costs $499 and the Pro Subscription license costs $599 per year.
EasyAR SDK is a commercial augmented reality SDK that offers lots of useful functionalities in its free version, without a watermark. Some of these features are:
- Support for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac OS
- QR code scanning
- Support for Unity
- Planar image tracking
- 3D engine plugin ready
- Multi-target simultaneous detection and tracking
The Pro version, which has a one-time fee of $499, offers the following extra features:
- 3D object tracking
- Multi type of target simultaneous detection and tracking
- Screen recording
Wikitude Slam SDK
Winner of the Auggie Award for the best AR development tool, Wikitude SDK is a cross-platform augmented reality SDK, capable of developing complex apps for Android and iOS. It also includes support for smart glasses.
Some of its top features include:
- object recognition (SLAM based)
- markerless instant tracking
- simultaneous recognition of multiple images
- extended tracking beyond the target
- location based services with geo tracking
- 3D augmentations
Slam SDK is compatible with multiple app development platforms:
- Unity 3D
- Cordova/ Phonegap
- Appcelerator Titanium
Wikitude SDK can be used both on-premise and in the cloud. It does not come cheap, but cutting edge quality has its price. Annual subscription starts from $2,490; you can also choose to pay a one-time fee of $1,990 for a single product, which does not include future updates and other online services. You can try Wikitude SDK before you buy: the trial version has all the core functionalities and does not expire, but it places a watermark over the projects you are working on.