By 2020, there should be a billion augmented reality users worldwide, making AR a huge, rapidly growing pie. And the only way to get a slice is to hire the right development team for your AR strategy. To give you a head start on that, we’ve curated this list of the top augmented reality companies you can hire. Right after the table below, you can discover the criteria these companies fulfilled to make the list. We’ve also created a step-by-step guide to help you make the most out of your AR project.
We believe in subjecting the companies ranked here to a stringent set of criteria. These criteria cover a vast set of factors related to the companies’ experience and offered services. We begin with a long list of companies known for their work in the domain we’re covering and then evaluate each of them based on a detailed methodology. Here are the factors we consider:
The first step is a visit to the website of each AR company under evaluation. Each of these websites proves a valuable resource in understanding their capabilities in the following ways:
It gives us a preliminary idea of what services the AR agencies offer before we get down to a more thorough assessment. It provides us with an understanding of each company’s history and how long they’ve been on the market.
We can access the AR companies’ portfolios of past and present projects, giving us insight into their clients’ reactions based on their testimonials.
As we do when evaluating the top AI companies, we test the AR solutions listed in the agency’s portfolio. This means downloading the apps or visiting the sites mentioned and playing around with the AR features to experience firsthand how well these have been executed.
The testimonials on an agency’s website are almost always complimentary in nature. For a more objective idea of how clients rate an agency’s final products, employees, and work culture, we also visit third-party review sites like Clutch and Glassdoor.
We appreciate that even the best augmented reality development companies can end up with a few negative reviews. As long as these negative reviews don’t outnumber the positive ones and don’t stand out for any specific reason, we won’t immediately remove the company from consideration. However, negative reviews give us an idea of the limitations of a company’s services, which contributes to the overall ranking.
The development of an AR app isn’t a simple process. It encompasses multiple operations, and a development company working with AR technology needs to adhere to certain best practices in every single one of these to ensure flawless project execution. That’s why we’ve put together a breakdown of the range of services we look into, how, and why.
However, before we dive into it, we should understand that unlike virtual reality companies—who create an entirely new world—the development of AR deals with adding digital elements to real surroundings. There are certain specific areas in which a company working in AR needs to excel.
We first evaluate the types of AR the companies in our list are proficient in. The main types of AR include the following:
It’s also called recognition-based or object/image recognition-based AR. The core idea is that the camera on a device (phone, tablet, etc.) obtains a visual of the surroundings, and the software on the device recognizes a particular “marker,” which then triggers the software to provide an output. Simple outputs could be playing a short video or audio file, while complex outputs may include launching an animation or interactive visual effect.
The marker gives the augmented reality app a visual clue or trigger to position the AR content. The marker can be an image, a logo, or any type of distinguishable 2D object that the camera can recognize. Once the marker recognition is complete, the marker on the screen is replaced with a 3D version of the corresponding object. This allows the user to investigate the object in greater detail and from various angles. Rotating the marker would rotate the 3D image as well.
Also known as location-based or position-based augmented reality apps, these utilize a GPS, a compass, a gyroscope, or an accelerometer to provide data based on a user’s location and by predicting where the user is focusing. Based on the location-based data, the user gets to see certain AR content, which typically includes maps, directions, local business information, ads, and pop-ups.
With the advanced location-based features in most smartphones, this type of AR has become extremely popular among AR companies.
This type of AR projects artificial light onto real-world surfaces and then detects the user’s interaction with that projected light. The widespread uses of projection-based AR techniques can be used to create deception about the position, orientation, and depth of an object.
Augmented reality developers might use this type of projection-based AR to make it possible to project a 3D interactive hologram into midair.
In this type of AR, the original view of an object is partially or fully superimposed by a newly augmented view of the same object. Object recognition plays a key role here, as the superimposition cannot take place if the original object isn’t recognized.
A common example is the IKEA AR furniture catalog. By downloading an app and scanning selected pages in their printed or digital catalog, users can place virtual IKEA furniture in their own home with the help of augmented reality.
Businesses now commonly use a combination of different types of AR to enhance the visual cues presented to consumers to encourage them to engage with their brands and products. Therefore, it’s essential that augmented reality development companies have proven expertise in all the main types of AR.
As mentioned above, AR deals with adding digital elements to real-world surroundings. Designing for AR involves three main factors:
Defining an experience’s input and output determines what elements a user can or cannot interact with on the interface—i.e., it delineates the boundaries between the augmented and the real. Inputs can range from physical gestures like hand swipes and facial expressions to the buttons available on a device. Outputs are typically 3D models of one or more products, potentially with a configurable scale, color, orientation, or combination thereof.
In augmented reality apps, the interface isn’t bound to a physical screen, but there are still area constraints. These constraints come from the user’s spatial considerations, which the designer needs to account for. Thus, AR apps might encapsulate a public environment, like the Nintendo Wii, or a very intimate space, like in Google Glass. The designers must ensure their applications function well within their environment.
Interaction with the AR environment can be exhausting for the user, and any good augmented reality company will be cognizant of these interaction costs. First, repeated, high-effort interactions that can be physically and/or mentally tiring should be avoided. And second, a cluttered interface with too many 3D visual elements sharing the screen should be done away with.
Apart from examining the companies’ past work and how they score on the above three factors, we also try to gain an understanding of their team’s agility with the most common design tools. The top aresenal of tools should include the following:
Developed by Autodesk, this is one of the most popular AR development tools for utilizing 3D across a range of industries and use-cases. The reason for its popularity is its extensive toolkit, which covers modeling, rendering, lighting, UV mapping, sculpting, and rigging. It also has highly capable animation tools, along with support for a wide range of easily implemented plugins.
Also from the Autodesk stable, this tool has a number of similarities with Maya. However, while Maya is the go-to tool for 3D animation work, 3ds Max is known for its utility in design visualization. It also has a more streamlined layout, which many designers prefer.
A particularly great augmented reality platform for creating painted assets and stylized art, Blender’s greatest plus point is that it’s free to use. This also leads to certain issues. For example, the wide range of community authors make guidance inconsistent, and it’s difficult to find the right tutorial to match the toolkit version. It also has a slightly confusing UI and GUI, but designers familiar with other 3D software tools can get the hang of it relatively quickly.
This tool’s most unique feature is its commitment to iterative design and teamwork, making it particularly popular in the game design and VFX space. Using a “node-based workflow,” Houdini essentially creates a “recipe” for a design process based upon every action taken being stored inside interconnected nodes. These can be shared between development teams, meaning augmented reality companies can share best practices and tweak or completely reshape a design based on what happened at a particular point in the design process.
This tool is mainly used for creating high-resolution models for games and animation. It’s invaluable for finalizing details on high-poly models, particularly when dealing with organic objects like humans and animals. If high asset quality is a key part of the AR project, but the designer doesn’t want to burden users with an annoyingly large package size, this is a great way to solve the issue.
Other commonly used design tools include Tinkercad, 3D Slash, Voxel Builder, MagicaVoxel, Autodesk 123d, Sculptris, Sketchup, Onshape, Fusion360, Solidworks, and Cinema 4D.
While it’s possible to outsource the design process to a specialized design company, the best AR companies typically offer it as one of their services, and we check if the companies on our list have this capability.
This brings us to the stage of actual development. Beyond the skills that software development companies offer, AR outfits must excel in certain software development kits (SDKs). The AR SDK is the core technological software engine that powers the development and creation of apps and experiences. Its main role is to fuse digital content and information with the real world. The most prominent SDKs are as follows:
Platforms: Android, Unity, iOS
Pricing: Free and commercial licenses
Programming languages: C and C++
Key features: These include image recognition, the mapping of additional elements based on user location and recognized images, markerless tracking, and the mapping of additional elements via a separate component over OpenGL.
Capabilities: Due to the unlimited number of recognized images, it requires less storage space on a device.
Limitations: The augmented reality developers using it can’t directly access OpenGL, and it has insufficient development documentation.
Platforms: Android, UWP, Unity Editor, iOS
Pricing: It offers free and commercial licenses. The free version has limitations in cloud recognition and puts the Vuforia watermark on the end product.
Programming languages: It provides API in C++, Java, Objective-C++, and .Net through an extension to the Unity augmented reality game development engine.
Key features: Vuforia has real-object, text, environment, and image recognition; target tracking; mapping for additional items with OpenGL; object scanning for recognition; and virtual buttons.
Capabilities: This includes support for virtual reality devices and a test app with comments showing Vuforia’s capabilities.
Limitations: It lacks a complete framework manual. Instructions and short tips are given randomly, but they can’t replace the required documentation.
Platforms: Android, iOS, smart glasses, Epson moverio, Vuzix M-100, ODG R-7, PhoneGap, Titanium, Xamarin, Unity
Pricing: Free and commercial licenses
Programming languages: Java and C++
Key features: The best are 3D tracking technology (SLAM), image recognition and tracking, geo-location AR for apps, improved extended tracking, advanced camera options, and positioning.
Capabilities: The free version is fully powered.
Limitations: The free version comes with a watermark.
Other prominent AR SDKs include ARKit, ARCore, EasyAR, Onirix, MaxST, Pikkart AR SDK, DeepAR, Lumin (Magic Leap), and MixedReality Toolkit (HoloLens)
Obviously, expertise with one or more of these augmented reality development tools requires the development team to be comfortable with a variety of programming languages, like C++ and Java, as well as other aspects like working with the Unity editor.
While smartphones are the most common hardware used for AR-based applications, we understand that your needs might be different. There are, of course, several other hardware options when it comes to AR. Therefore, it’s important for us to check if the AR companies can build for the following devices:
These are the most widely available and best-suited devices for AR mobile apps, which can range from pure gaming and entertainment to business analytics, sports, and social networking. AR technology can be used in mobile devices through location services or the camera or a combination of both.
These devices are becoming quite common and support AR by relaying virtual objects over the input from a webcam. Since it’s still difficult to manipulate a tracker in front of the screen, there aren’t many AR applications on PCs or smart TVs, but the segment is seeing more and more attention from augmented reality companies.
These are designed primarily or solely for AR experiences. An obvious example is the heads up display (HUD), which sends data to a transparent display directly in the user’s view. Originally introduced to train military fighter pilots, now these devices have applications in aviation, the automotive industry, manufacturing, sports, and so on.
The most well-known of these devices is Google Glass, but others like Meta 2 Glasses, Laster See-Thru, and Laforge AR eyewear have become available as well. These units can display notifications from your smartphone, assist assembly line workers, help users access content hands-free, and so on.
These take the AR experience one step further. Augmented reality hardware companies like Samsung and Sony have announced the introduction of smart lenses for AR, with the former working as an accessory to smartphones, and the latter functioning as a stand-alone AR device.
These systems are still unavailable for common use. They create images by projecting laser light into the human eye and aiming at bright, high-contrast, high-resolution images.
The top AR companies ensure that their products are thoroughly tested before they’re handed over to the client. Verifying that the final product adheres to the client’s requirements and is functional from top to bottom, with no glitches, is an integral part of the development process. Meanwhile, the guidelines for testing AR applications are still being developed because testing for AR is so different from testing for other applications—nullifying the utility of traditional testing tools. As we can see, there are a number of challenges that augmented reality developer teams have to overcome:
AR apps go far beyond the standard WIMP (window, icon, menu, and pointing device) interface model, allowing users to interact with the apps in a range of creative ways, including the 3D space. Testing for AR apps, therefore, needs to include new standards in GUI and usability testing, which would reflect all the unique multidimensional relations between the user and the augmented world.
Ensuring an accurate superimposition of digital data onto an image of the real world in motion is important for an AR agency. Users don’t want augmented objects floating from their intended positions when the device is moved a certain way. To achieve this, the movement and rotation of the device must be perfectly translated from the physical camera to its virtual representation—paving the way for a landmine of potential bugs in AR apps.
The plethora of devices, operating systems, screen sizes, camera resolutions, and several other variables can make AR app-testing a nightmare. There are some emulators like iOS Simulator or Android Studio, but the replication of the actual user experience isn’t perfect. So augmented reality companies usually need access to each device to test all the components of the new technology in a physical location. This, in turn, can run up against budget and convenience limitations.
A comprehensive legal framework with regard to AR application testing hasn’t been created yet. The physical nature of the application aside, it will soon become necessary to test how one AR application interacts with another so that privacy is maintained. Data privacy is an important legal issue that’s becoming increasingly prominent as the world becomes more digitalized and cybercrime continues to proliferate.
That brings us to the end of this detailed coverage of the leading augmented reality companies and the important criteria we’ve ranked them on. We are sure this comprehensive article will not only help you partner with the agency best suited to your needs but also appreciate the range of specialties this agency should excel at. In case you’re looking to hire a virtual reality expert, make sure to check our list of the best VR companies.