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ARKit and ARCore are software development kits (SDKs) released by tech giants Apple and Google. They enable developers to create augmented reality or AR-based apps that are tailored to today’s smartphones, and as such, both are vital tools for eCommerce companies. 

In this blog, we compare these market-leading SDKs to help you decide which one you should choose.

Introducing ARKit and ARcore – Twin Tools for a New Age of AR

ARKit and ARCore are developer tools specifically aimed at Apple and Google products. Although useful for creating a range of AR-based projects, they were mainly created to feed the demand for advanced smartphone development tools.

Why do they matter? Well, Android operating systems developed by Google account for around 70% of all smartphone installations. While Apple’s equivalent iOS constitutes 26% of the market. That leaves just 4-5% of smartphone users on other platforms. Making these specialist SDKs essential for developing AR content for Android or iOS. 

There are many AR SDKs out there, but ARKit and ARCore are the go-to choices precisely because they are native to market-leading Apple and Google products. However, some of the other tools in the ecosystem can harvest the power of both, depending on the device they’re running on. Pawel Nikiel - 3D Software Engineering Lead, CGTrader

Both SDKs allow coders to take advantage of their respective tools like motion capture, location tracking, light sensors, and everything else that today’s smartphones deliver. Without these, creating AR experiences, 3D viewers, and early experiments with the Metaverse would be much harder.

Both kits work with light and movement sensors in similar ways, but there are some major differences. In some cases, it might even make sense to use both development kits for cross-platform projects. But in other situations, developers will need to make a choice between ARCore and ARKit based on their relative strengths, weaknesses, and example use cases.  

ARKit

ARKit is Apple’s development kit for AR-based iOS applications. It first appeared in 2017, before Google’s competitor emerged, and aimed to offer the “world’s largest AR platform”.

Available to everyone free of charge, ARKit sought to capitalize on Apple’s industry-leading camera tools and processors. ARKit was in its earlier days at that point, but Apple engineers already envisaged apps fusing real-world and virtual content.

Since then, ARKit has been updated for each new generation of iOS (we’ve reached ARKit 5 as of 2022). Each new iteration has added new functionality and placed more power in the hands of coders.

Pros

  • Fully integrated into Apple’s hardware. ARKit is designed to work with Apple’s operating system and iPhone hardware, with no need to worry about different processors or cameras. This streamlines development work, allowing coders to focus on creating the best product possible.
  • Easy AR development with Reality Composer – Apple’s Reality Composer tools have made it easy to convert usdz 3D models into fully manipulable AR objects.
  • Improved tracking. ARKit tends to perform better than ARCore in terms of image tracking and recognition. If you intend to create AR apps that track user gestures to manipulate on-screen images, ARKit will usually be the more efficient option. It translates movements into data faster than Google’s alternative.

Cons

  • Only compatible with iOS platforms. IOS accounts for a big chunk of global smartphone usage, but its market share remains lower than Android, while ARCore can work with iOS as well. That’s a big factor when trying to maximize user numbers.
  • Some backwards compatibility issues – Apple has previously updated ARKit tools rendering older versions obsolete. This shouldn’t happen again, but users of tools like SceneKit have been required to totally update their AR apps with new ARKit versions.

Use Cases – What can you do with ARKit?

Examples of ARKit projects include:

  • IKEA Place – The furniture giant quickly embraced ARKit, using it to create a trailblazing AR tool. IKEA Place lets customers trial furnishings in their own homes – a great example of digital objects in action.
  • Strava – Fitness app Strava was another early adopter, using ARKit to deliver 3D models of the routes run or biked by users. With AR capabilities, users can gain instant feedback on their routines, and plan different routes to maximize variety, while the 3D aspect also makes the experience much more engaging.
  • Labster – During the Covid pandemic, Labster used ARKit to deliver virtual science lessons, and has created a series of “virtual labs” to make learning experiments more accessible. Digital learning is ideally suited to AR apps, from science to corporate inductions, making complex issues accessible and understandable without students actually needing to attend classes.

ARCore

ARCore debuted in 2018, although it was built on Tango – an augmented reality development kit in use since 2014. ARCore started out as a pure Android SDK available via Google Play. However, this has changed somewhat, and recent iterations of the kit now cater for iOS as well.

Like ARKit, ARCore is designed to provide developers with the tools required to create immersive AR-based smartphone experiences. Strong points include light and distance estimation, as well as geographical tracking - three features that can be harnessed in some seriously exciting ways.

Pros

  • Good for gaming. Android users represent approximately 78% of global smartphone gamers, which is slightly ahead of the operating system’s market share.  Coupled with strong Unity3D features, this means that focusing on ARCore can make sense for smaller game devs with ambitions to integrate AR features.
  • Superior graphical capabilities. ARCore matches ARKit in terms of color intensity and temperature but adds a few extra features that help when crafting immersive augmented reality experiences. With ARCore, coders can use shaders and manage pixel intensities – opening up new visual possibilities for virtual objects.
  • Light estimation and depth - ARCore is also capable of handling light estimation. This applies ambient lighting based on your camera image, making virtual items seem much more realistic. The ARCore depth API is also adept at matching virtual objects to real-world spaces.
  • Enhanced mapping. As you’d expect from a tool created by the people behind Google Maps, ARCore is the leader when it comes to location detection and mapping. It uses a larger mapping dataset to represent the physical world (although ARKit is improving here) so should be slightly better for location-specific AR experiences.
  • Works with both Android and iOS. If you want to work on augmented reality across mobile device platforms, ARCore is probably the best option to choose.

Cons

  • Some devices are not supported. Google has been working to expand coverage, but some mobile devices remain incompatible with ARCore. Check this list to make sure your chosen devices are covered.
  • Not quite as good for iOS – ARKit remains superior for developing augmented and virtual reality iOS apps. Compatibility is better, and as we’ve seen, ARKit is excellent at harnessing the motion capture functionality of Apple products.

Use Cases – What can you do with ARCore?

ARCore has been used for a wide array of innovative projects, including:

  • Enhanced customer service – Apps like Streem have harnessed ARCore to provide AR-assistance maintenance. Live video streams and AR objects combine to deliver technical advice in moments. This kind of customer service tool can be applied in a wide range of settings, from car maintenance to drone piloting - providing in-depth assistance that’s much easier to assimilate than written content.
  • AR navigation – Google themselves has used ARCore to add AR navigation to Maps. This helps walkers out by adding virtual signs and instructions while getting around. Applications could include virtual tours of tourist attractions before making a visit, geography-based learning tools, and games that interact with the physical world. 
  • Beer Pong – In an early example of ARCore’s mixed reality gaming potential, Google created this nifty AR pong game where players try to knock over virtual cups in real-world environments. It’s basic and easy to get to grips with, but is just a taster for what is in store as developers explore ARCore’s gaming potential.

Choose an AR Development Tool That Suits Your Project

Augmented Reality is one of the great new frontiers in eCommerce marketing and services. ARKit and ARCore provide the tools required to succeed in the growing AR field, providing ways to benefit from Apple and Google’s mobile technology.

Both kits have their strengths. For example, ARKit is better for image recognition and specific iOS tasks, while ARCore is better for general graphics manipulation and gaming. However, both are widely used and will continue to develop alongside the hardware they serve.

At CGTrader ARsenal, we can help you make the most of the latest AR technology. Our team can create 3D models that are perfectly suited to both SDKs, and help you find a solution to turn those models into winning customer experiences. Get in touch and discover more today.

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ARkit vs ARcore: Which Development Kit Is Best for Building Augmented Reality Apps?

Aleksej Sokolov is the Lead Product Designer at CGTrader. Passionate about product design, he oversees the development of new product features and UI standardization across CGtrader’s product offerings. Outside work, his happy place is where 3D, photography, and motion intersect to create experimental visuals for music artists & events.

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