The 12 Best Augmented Reality App Development Platforms

Robert McGrath/ February 10, 2017/ Augmented Reality

Factory worker using HoloLens to project Data

If you’re a CTO or software development manager tasked with spearheading an Augmented Reality (AR) app development initiative, it’s sometimes difficult knowing where to start. Understanding the AR landscape can be complex and occasionally confusing as key players will offer a range of services, products and options for publishing AR content across multiple devices. Today we’re focusing on the 12 best Augmented Reality app development platform companies. These AR app development platforms provide toolkits for experienced software engineers to create rich and immersive AR experiences that can be applied across a wide variety of industry sectors. In some instances, these companies will actively develop, launch and market their own AR technology products, and in some cases will offer bespoke AR app development services, but for the purposes of today’s blog piece we’re focusing entirely on the key market players that provide an AR platform or toolkit. These AR app development platforms enable developers to reduce time to market and accelerate through complex and challenging project milestones. We recently explored how to develop an AR app in 5 easy steps and the future of AR app development. We also explored recently the difference between AR, Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality, today we’re exploring the 12 best Augmented Reality app development platforms.

ARToolKit is a comprehensive software library for designing and developing Augmented Reality (AR) apps. Augmented Reality apps involve overlaying of virtual imagery on real world objects. Designing and developing high performance AR apps can be extremely challenging for a number of reasons. One of the main complexities in developing AR apps is the fact that there is a continuous requirement to accurately track the user’s precise viewpoint. High performance AR apps should intuitively know where the users are looking in relation to the real-world environment, in order to overlay the appropriate virtual imagery. This is where ARToolKit can provide a neat solution when it comes to planning, designing and developing your next AR initiative. ARToolKit uses intelligent computer vision algorithms to solve the problem of understanding the user’s precise point of view in relation to the real world.

The ARToolKit contains video tracking libraries that are capable of calculating the user’s camera position in real-time and orientation relative to specific physical markers. This means that if you’re a software development manager or CTO tasked with developing an AR app, the ARToolKit could be a great way to help get your app to market in the fastest possible time scale and will enable you to explore the possibilities of developing a wide range of apps. The ARToolKit is equipped with tonnes of features including single camera positioning and orientation tracking, tracking code that cleverly utilises single black squares, functionality to use any square marker pattern, simple calibration code and the ability to deploy real-time AR apps and services. The ARToolKit also contains SGI IRIX, Linux, MacOS and Windows OS distributions and is deployed with complete source code.

Kudan offers two distinct strands to it’s technology proposition: a 2D/3D recognition engine and an Augmented Reality SDK. With headquarters in Japan and the UK, Kudan develop Computer Vision Technology (CVT) that provides the connection between Artificial Intelligence (or Machine Learning) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Kudan utilises what’s also known as Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) tracking functionality for use in developing apps for both AR and Virtual Reality (VR), robotics and Machine Learning. SLAM fundamentally solves the issue of attempting to simultaneously map the precise structure of a 3D environment, whilst establishing the precise position/location of a particular sensor in the context of its surroundings. The Kudan SLAM system claims to be the only ‘hardware agnostic embedded computer vision technology’ that is sufficiently flexible to work across multiple end user platforms including mobile, the Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Robotics and HMD’s (head mounted displays).

In terms of the Augmented Reality SDK, Kudan appears to be the only AR SDK available that is equipped with markerless and marker operation and both 2D and 3D rendering all contained within a single platform. The platform itself is widely applauded by AR developers and agencies as it is highly configurable, provides flawless image recognition, a reasonably low memory footprint and fast development speed (with no finite limit to the number of markers available). Kudan is currently used by some of the biggest brands and businesses in the world including DIAGEO, Dyson, eBay, Audi and BP.

The Catchoom mission is to bridge the real and virtual worlds. The Catchoom team boast an impressive background, having been incubated and subsequently spun-out of Telefonica. Catchoom equips developers and the best Augmented Reality app development companies with a comprehensive toolkit to deliver ‘unique digital experiences’ for customers of brands and businesses in the real world. The company’s goal is to deliver an average of 10 billion transactions every year between now and 2025 and they have already performed 450 billion to date. From a technical point of view, Catchoom promises to be easy, flexible and reliable and provides image recognition services with a clear focus on the print industry, packaging and retail.

The Catchoom technology facilitates powerful image recognition as the starting point for new AR driven experiences. Catchoom possesses an AR Creator tool, an AR SDK and a cloud based image recognition powered AR feature. The AR Creator provides slick and intuitive drag and drop experiences whereby videos, 3D models and drag buttons can directly be injected into the AR environment (apparently with zero coding or development skills). The Catchoom AR SDK enables brands to quickly spin-up ‘teaser’ AR apps with a focus on usability and content and the cloud based image recognition functionality enables developers to create thousands of AR experiences that can be dynamically loaded via an integrated cloud-driven image recognition database. This enables developers and agencies to update content in real-time without the requirement to resubmit a particular app and have to go through the associated approval process.

What’s really interesting about Catchoom, is the fact they’re specifically calling out AR agencies as prospective customers, which demonstrates they have a clear understanding of how the AR market will unfold and evolve in years to come.

Augment enables brands to provide a physical presence for online shopping. The platform enables retailers and manufacturers to display their products across different ecommerce technologies, presenting them as realistic 3D models in order to boost engagement and drive sales revenue. This enables consumers and end users to experience products from the comfort of their own homes via a mobile device, before making an informed purchase decision. This helps retailers and brands to boost sales by reducing shopping cart abandonment rates whilst increasing customer satisfaction. The company’s overall mission and manifesto is to seamlessly merge our physical world and virtual experiences together through Augmented Reality.

Augment has an interesting backstory. The original idea was developed by CEO and Co-Founder Jean-Francois Chianetta after an online shopping experience. Mr Chianetta had been browsing reviews that described a large product. Frustrated with this approach, the Augment CEO felt that 2D images simply weren’t enough to accurately convey the features and benefits of the product. As a mechanical engineer, the entrepreneur developed a solution that enabled prospective shoppers to visualise products in 3D in the real world.

Augment now boasts over 200 clients spread across 36 different countries and is now recognised as a global leader in the rapidly emerging and highly lucrative AR space. From a technical perspective, Augment acts as a SaaS platform and enables retailers and manufacturers to cut back on the cost of prototyping 3D models and accelerate the overall design approval process.

Aurasma provides Augmented Reality for educational purposes within a classroom context. The Aurasma app is free to download and available on both iOS and Android. The technology utilises advanced image recognition in order to merge the real-world with rich and immersive content that provides an interactive experience for school children. The platform uses interactive content in the form of videos and animations which are referred to as ‘Auras’. Aurasma is widely acknowledged as being one of the most innovative technology platforms being used in schools on a global basis. The technology enables teachers to connect rich digital content via books and the walls of each classroom which provides an immersive, holistic and inventive learning technique for pupils.

Teachers and learning practitioners can use Aurasma to make content available across multiple devices (this content can be accessed by parents and pupils). Teachers can use Aurasma Studio via an online portal in order to create Auras . The technology does not operate through use of barcodes of NFC technology but purely through visual recognition. The long-term vision for Aurasma is to build up a large bank of images that the platform can immediately recognise in order to trigger a specific piece of content in terms of playing a video or an animation. The technology works with images, but it also works in conjunction with buildings, landscapes and eventually (when the feature is developed and rolled out) people.

There are two specific technological advancements that make platforms like Aurasma a possibility in today’s world. The first advancement relates to the evolution of mobile devices in terms of their computational power, the second factor being the development of new algorithms that provide clever mathematical shortcuts in order to lighten the computational overhead.

Blippar is an Augmented Reality focused advertising platform and mobile app that provides a highly targeted method of connecting brands and businesses with a specific consumer audience. The Blippar platform works by using ordinary, everyday products and transforming them into consumer focused, immersive 3D experiences. The technology was originally developed as an antidote to the outdated and tired application of QR codes. Blippar uses intelligent image recognition technology that enhances the consumer mobile experience when interacting with brands and retailers. Using a visual search engine, the Blippar mobile app can dynamically identify specific products simply by looking at them directly.

Essentially, Blippar works by transforming mobile devices into Augmented Reality driven machines. Blippar use ‘Blips’ which are described as being: “”the action of instantaneously converting anything in the real world into an interactive wow experience” and can be used in conjunction with specific branded products or 2D print advertisements. Blipps can be presented in the form of mobile coupons or vouchers, mobile commerce actions, both 2D and 3D overlay, location services, games, videos and much more in terms of image recognition functionality. The technology itself, in principle, is relatively straightforward. Blippar uses a markerless image recognition feature to identify specific products, images and graphics which can then be triggered directly to appear on the consumer’s mobile device. As an example, let’s imagine Blippar is being used by Pepsi as part of a wider integrated AR marketing campaign or sales promotion. In this specific context, the mobile user would simply open the Blippar app and place the mobile device in front of a can of Pepsi. The Blippar technology then recognises visual cues to confirm the fact that the product is a real can of Pepsi and not a similar product or competitive variant. The mobile app then triggers a pre-programmed AR asset onto the device. This AR asset could be a competition, or game, whereby users have to interact with the bottle in order to receive a prize, as if to suggest that the game actually becomes part of the physical product itself.

EON Reality
EON9 Studio is the EON Reality flagship 3D authoring software platform for developing fully interactive 3D apps. EON Studio is designed for users of all experience levels in order to design and develop highly interactive, complex 3D content with virtually no programming expertise or skills. The EON Studio 3D apps can be applied across a wide variety of industry sectors from marketing and sales to architecture, education and training. Some of the key features include a fully integrated VR and AR app development platform, Direct 3DS Max export, royalty free publishing, the ability to import pre-existing 3D and CAD data, visual effects, realistic physics, shader editing, fully integrated SDK and premium customer support.

EON Mobile AR is the company’s dedicated Augmented Reality technology offering. The platform works in conjunction with all mobile devices, wearables and most HMD’s (head mounted displays) and smart glasses. The EON AR platform gathers data in real-time from custom designed orientation sensors and GPS nodes in order to superimpose applicable data in the form of interactive 3D models and 2D information. This information can then be displayed in a contextually meaningful way, relative to the surrounding real world environment.

The InfinityAR platform enables brands and businesses to transform any mobile device into a content augmentation platform. InfinityAR boasts a highly innovative and unique Augmented Reality engine that utilises computer vision algorithms that enable agencies and developers to get new AR apps to market in the shortest possible timeframe. If you’re looking to develop Augmented Reality apps for mobile devices or wearables then the InfinityAR engine could be a great fit. The platform promises to offer a comprehensive range of development capabilities that deliver results quickly.

The InfinityAR technology engine uses simple and affordable hardware components (2D stereoscopic cameras and an inertial measurement unit) in order to provide an accurate 3D representation of any real-world environment. This enables the platform to gain an understanding of the 3D mapped scene by creating a full 3D reconstruction and depth map. The InfinityAR platform also provides crucial information about a range of attributes that influence the physical environment and are crucial in the design and development of immersive AR apps. This information includes things like reflections, transparency, shadows and sources of light.

Layar SDK
Layar AR SDK originally founded in 2009, the company garnered widespread international attention early on, uniquely positioned as one of the original mobile-first Augmented Reality platforms available on the market to brands and retailers. Their open development environment
Quickly attracted thousands of AR developers from all over the world and to date the Layar SDK has driven more than 46 million downloads across iOS and Android, cementing the company’s position as global market leader in Augmented Reality platform technologies. Layar SDK now sits as part of the Blippar group and the platform has attracted blue-chip brands from across the world including Coca-Cola, Proctor and Gamble, BMW, Honda and Pepsi.

The Layar Augmented Reality SDK offers a great platform for developing mobile focused AR apps. The SDK enables retailers and brands to develop bespoke AR experiences with both location and vision based Augmented Reality content. The platform caters for all types of content, custom designs, easy workflows and flexible pricing. Layar SDK enables brands to create their own custom app that can be downloaded from the major app stores including iOS and Android. This means that AR content can be viewed exclusively via mobile devices on a branded app. The platform also offers plenty of scope for utilising custom design assets so that apps can be branded accordingly. Brands and retailers can get started quickly with an SDK that’s easy to integrate into an existing mobile app development workflow using a PhoneGap framework plugin. There are also a bunch of different options in terms of price so if you’re developing an AR app and worried about budget, Layar SDK offers plenty of flexibility.

SmartCam3D View
SmartCam3D is an Augmented Reality app that works with small drones. Apps that are powered using SmartCam3D are capable of blending world map data and other information onto video. The actual video content itself can be easily captured in a variety of sensors including DJI drones, security cameras and ISR systems. Traditionally, when video is recorded by a drone, the footage can be accessed by the drone/camera operator. SmartCam3D intuitively enables video content to be distributed across a network, which means that multiple users can experienced the AR enriched drone footage in real-time. The technology has multiple industry use cases, from public safety organisations and emergency services, who can use the technology to facilitate enhanced decision making, to hobbyist drone operators who can enhance flight safety and use an AR overlay purely for entertainment purposes. The SmartCam3D platform is also being used in disaster relief, insurance, construction, journalism and movie making.

In terms of integration, there are numerous ways to get started and the platform can be deployed via iOS, Windows and Linux based systems. There are a whole bunch of options when it comes to AR overlay features including a world map option whereby users can view virtual data over roads, popular landmarks, streets, waterways and boundaries, all in real-time across a network. The SmartCam3D system can also provide IoT (Internet of Things) data for temperatures, vehicles, biometrics, fuel emissions and much more.

TryLive Retail
TryLive Retail is positioned as a transformational AR business toolkit that enables brands and retailers to digitally showcase products in an in-store environment. The platform is specifically designed for field sales purposes and can be used to include sales collateral, promotional offers and an AR component to visualise products in a live environment, all via a tablet based app. This technology works perfectly for retailers as an enablement tool for field sales staff who can use TryLive to visit a particular store, point the tablet camera to a specific marker, identify a space where a product might fit in terms of positioning in the store and actually visualise how the product might look in a specific location in the store. This actually helps field sales staff to close deals faster as retail managers can easily and intuitively visualise how a product will fit into their existing retail environment in a low risk way whilst minimising disruption in the store.

From a technical perspective, TryLive Retail is a cloud based Augmented Reality platform that’s available across both Android and iOS. The interface of the software enables custom design so brands and retailers can utilise corporate colours and brand ID and the production of 3D models can be supplied by the client or created to order on a bespoke basis. TryLive Retail ensures that objects can be viewed in true to scale size which ensures that products can be accurately positioned within each new retail outlet. Photos can be captured easily and shared on-the-fly with key decision makers and app owners can intelligently manage and update new products and materials to enable the field sales team.

ViewAR was originally founded back in 2010 when the company founders were working on a project for IT5 that utilised an Augmented Reality feature set. It was at this point, the founders became convinced that the capabilities of AR were not solely for use in games and that the technology could be leveraged across a wide variety of business use cases. In 2010 there were very few companies focusing on the development of AR toolkits and platforms, and the products that were available were rudimentary and heavily constrained due to poor design and limited feature sets. The company founders then set out to develop the ViewAR platform in order to combine a visual front-end that could utilise powerful 3D designs and polished AR experiences. Having integrated the front end elements with a cloud based backend and a comprehensive database, the ViewARE SDK was officially launched. The primary target market for the ViewAR platform was European furniture manufacturers who could immediately understand the benefits of applying Augmented Reality apps in a consumer focused retail setting. Having gained traction in the furniture/retail space, the company successfully pivoted across multiple industry sectors including construction, architecture, interior design and many more.

The platform can create powerful 3D visualisations through AR and can be used across a wide range of mobile ready business contexts. The platform is packed with features including app customisation, off-the-shelf modules and templates, model manipulation, tracking systems, support across multiple platforms and devices, upgrades and hosting.

If you’re a software development manager or CTO looking to get to grips with the AR landscape, hopefully the above information has provided a laser like insight into the top AR platforms and key players in the market. Here at Augnite, we believe in helping large companies and brands to innovate faster through the deployment of Augmented Reality apps, agile and data driven development. We believe in rapid innovation and always starting with the end in mind. If you’re a brand or business looking to develop an Augmented Reality app, why not contact Augnite today to start the conversation.