360 for Android phones: the “Instagram for Panoramas”

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Taking a 360-degree image offers a more immersive viewing experience, but for Google Android(s goog) devices, there aren’t too many third-party panoramic apps to choose from. Some Android smartphones now come with a panoramic function in the native camera application, but that’s usually reserved for higher-end devices. 360, a beta application for Android, has the potential to change that because it’s optimized to work on handsets that have relatively low-end hardware. Plus, the software supports sharing of panoramic pics on social networks in addition to its own dedicated site.

The beta software was developed by TeliportMe, which is aiming to build a crowdsourced repository of 360-degree images, similar to Google’s StreetView. To do this, however, the company understands that it needs a large number of users contributing images, so it created the 360 app for a wide range of Android phones. That’s a challenge, because different phones use different gyroscopes and other sensors needed for the image creation process.

There’s another challenge as well. According to Vineet Devaiah, TeliportMe’s CEO, many Android handsets don’t have the processing power needed to quickly build the panoramic images, which precludes them from taking such pictures. 360, however, makes up for meager hardware by using an efficient software solution.

As you may have imagined there is a lot of image processing that takes place during the stitching process, most Android phones technically don’t have that much RAM or processing power. An example would be a famous phone like HTC wildfire (~10% of marketshare), which has the processing capability lesser than that of an iPhone 2G. The precision needed to make a good panorama is very high and with all these varying factors the only answer was superior software.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I don’t have a low-end Android handset to test 360. But my Google Nexus One with its 1 GHz Snapdragon(s qcom) CPU and limited 512 MB of memory is more comparable to a mid-tier smartphone by today’s standards. And the app works quite well on the Nexus One. I was able to easily snap a 360-degree image simply by starting the app, tapping the screen and slowly turning my body around in a full circle. Once the full rotation was complete, the app stitched the images together, and the end result is very seamless.

In the image gallery, I show the full 360-degree view from my backyard as an example. Note that I show it in portrait mode, but it works well in landscape, too. The software includes a viewer that supports full panning of panoramic pics, creating a sense of being at the center of the picture.

Aside from the excellent stitching — even the many clouds line up in my sample shot — 360 supports image sharing through Facebook, Twitter and within the 360 community as well. I was able to view panoramic images from other 360 software users around the world and you can search for shared images nearby your current location. Here’s the web version of my backyard: You can look, but only if you promise not to point out the lack of weeding around the deck.

Given the outstanding stitching ability and support for lower-end phones, if Devaiah has his way, he thinks 360 could “become the Instagram for Panoramas” on Android devices.

1 Comment

Jonathan Cohen

I found the results to be fuzzy – unlike the screen caps of the UI I’ve seen online, the actual UI does not have a max speed indicator. As it is, it’s too easy to move it faster than you should, resulting in the aforementioned fuzzy photos… I vastly prefer PhotoAF Pro, which also has an automatic mode, but does not work by the ‘sweep’ method.

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