Microsoft’s Bing team today released Photosynth, a free mobile app for camera-enabled iOS devices that creates spherical, panoramic images. Captured photos can be shared through Facebook, Bing Maps or freely hosted on the Photosynth.net website. Photosynth is now appearing in the iTunes App Store and the next version will be released for Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices.
Having taken panoramic pictures in the past on an Android handset, first with the Motorola Droid and then on later phones, I first thought Photosynth was just a rehash of that functionality. But it’s not. Instead of a linear set of horizontal images like the ones I created prior, Photosynth creates a near-360 degree image. You simply snap, snap, snap different frames of the world around you and the software quickly creates an immersive image that can be panned around. The official Photosynth video illustrates both the app’s usage and output:
I installed Photosynth on my iPod touch from the App Store and tried it out in my home. At first, the software required little interaction from me, aside from the initial screen tap to start the process. For a while, I simply stood on one place and slowly turned as the software snapped pictures. Over time, however, the software lost track of my image progress and I had to manually tap the screen. And ultimately, some of the final imagery becomes out-of-place in certain areas of the photo: the island in my kitchen is barely in the photo, for example, even though it is several feet in both length and width. There are a number of stitching issues in the bottom portion of the scene as well. An interactive upload of my test is available here on the Photosynth site. It’s a good thing the house is clean! (Note: the demo requires Microsoft Silverlight be installed.)
The promised output of Photosynth reminds me of another iOS app I’ve been using on my iPad lately called Tour Wrist. That software acts a virtual vacation by letting me “visit” more than 17,000 locations, each presented in a 360-degree view. I keep meaning to visit Alcatraz, for example, when I fly out to our GigaOM offices in San Francisco, but never make the time. With the spherical view in Tour Wrist, however, I’ve explored the prison and was even inside a cell, albeit virtually.
In theory, with the Photosynth, or other similar software, I could create my own virtual tours and likely for far less money because it doesn’t need fancy camera equipment. Our own Chris Albrecht recommended I check out 360 Panorama for iOS devices in the iTunes App Store.
I do find it strange that the Bing team created Photosynth first for Apple devices instead of Microsoft Windows Phone handsets. What better way to further differentiate Microsoft’s mobile platform by building a photo-stitching engine for it? Perhaps this has something to do with how popular Apple’s handsets are as cameras: on Flickr’s, for instance, the iPhone 4 is poised to be the number one camera used by Flickr members.