In my current job as a Technology Facilitator, one of my roles (among many) is to research on technologies that can help SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). This past week I have been researching about AR (augmented reality) software. I decided to post my research on my blog as it may benefit anyone who is looking into AR.
But before I start talking about the software, let me just quickly state what AR is. AR is a live view of a real-world environment where elements are augmented by a processor. You might have seen this on television broadcasts of Football where the “first down” line is augmented on the screen. According to Juniper Research, mobile augmented apps will generate $300 million in revenues in 2013 and reach $5.2 billion in 2017. This is because customers are more likely to buy when viewing an AR version of a product versus looking at a product image. Because of this, I believe right now is a good time for SMEs to get involved with creating augmented content for their customers.
For my research, I looked at different software that helps in the creation of AR content. From that list I narrowed it down to three. They were D’Fusion Studio (Total Immersion), Vuforia (Qualcomm) and Wikitude. Below I am going to state all the positives and negatives of each software. I will then state which software I believe would be most the useful for SMEs and individuals.
Version tested: 3.26
D’Fusion studio is a cross platform tool to create AR content, which can be viewed on several different formats. This includes web, iOS and Android. A good feature is that the AR content will not have to be created twice just to make it work on both Android and iOS. The AR content can also be viewed on all major PC OS, which includes Windows, Mac and Linux. Another good feature of D’Fusion is that it allows to export 3D animated scenes from Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max and Blender by using a plugin. There is also support for Unity. This makes it easy to create content for animators.
However, D’Fusion does have its negatives. One of them is that the software is only available on Windows (if there is a Mac version, it is well hidden on their website). To create intelligent scenarios, such as one where users could click and interact with the augmented content, it will have to be programmed using Lua. This might not be difficult for programmers but for designers it could provide troublesome. There are also many features available which mean it could take some time to master D’Fusion Studio.
Overall, I was very impressed with D’Fusion as it looks very promising. The software looks it has the most potential compared to all the other AR software available. In the documentation there is a mention of using the software with Kinect, which I believe could lead to some creative uses. One of the biggest benefits of this software is the price, which is free for non-commercial use.
SDK version tested: 2.6
Vuforia is very similar to D’Fusion as it nearly has all the same features. However, one big difference is that it does not support as many platforms as D’Fusion. Currently it only allows creating AR for Android and iOS. However, the AR content created with Vuforia is virtually lag-free even when they are rich 3D animations. As there is no GUI supplied with Vuforia, users have to use Unity. This could both be a positive or a negative depending on whether the user has used Unity before. Vuforia supports multi-tag AR content and face-tracking. This has led to some creative games, which can be seen on Vuforia’s website.
However, Vuforia is mainly code based. This means to add intelligence to the AR content it has to be programmed using JNI (Java Native Interface) for Android and Objective-C/C++ for iOS. The programming to use depends on what platform you are trying to export the AR content to as Vuforia does not allow exporting the same AR content to multiple platforms without modifying the code. This could lead to coding the same same content twice to make it work both with Android and iOS.
Overall, I believe Vuforia is excellent as it plays 3D AR content without any lag. The biggest pitfall of the software is that it only supports Android and iOS. This means if you are creating content for Windows, you are better of using D’Fusion. Some people might be put off by Vuforia as it does not have a native UI. But using Unity with Vuforia is quite simple to set-up and use. There was no price information found about Vuforia.
SDK version tested: 3.1 (free trial)
However, this does mean that the user needs internet connectivity to use the editor. This can be put off potential clients who might be based in rural areas or don’t have a stable internet connection. Another negative of Wikitude is the pricing. It starts from €99 for limited version going up all the way to €1499 for professional version. This can be quite expensive for small businesses or individuals. It also has the similar pitfall as Vuforia, which is that it only supports mobile platforms. It does support Blackberry 10 but I don’t think there is much demand for AR apps on that platform.
Overall, Wikitude has limited features (especially the free trial version) compared to the other AR software on the list. Wikitude is also quite expensive and I cannot justify the price for the amount of features it gives.
Personally, I believe that D’Fusion Studio would the best for SMEs and individuals. This is because it is the most accessible and gives the most features for the price. For commercial businesses or users who want to develop just for mobile platforms, Vuforia or Wikitude might be more suited for them.
Which one is your favorite AR software? Do you know of an alternative, or better, AR software that was not put on the list? Leave a comment and let me know.