Tag Archive | "panoramic"

The Wonder of Mobile: A Look at Software, Services, and Devices of the Past and Present

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river panoHere I am, sitting on the shores of the Shenandoah River. A smartphone rests in my pocket. Removing it, I fire up an app to take a series of photos, and in seconds, I’ve got a panoramic photo ready for sharing. The simplicity of the processes gives me pause to stop and think about how far we’ve come in the last 10 years. While convergence seemed like a dream to many (and still does to some), for a number of uses, modern smartphones are the convergence devices that we’ve always dreamed about, offering incredible convenience, utility, and value in a single, pocketable package.

From one device I was able to capture, stitch, and wirelessly upload a panoramic photo to instantly share with my friends around the country and around the world, literally from the shore of a river. When it comes to technology, instant gratification is a whole lot more instant than it was 10 years ago.

So I decided to take a look at the process of capturing, stitching, and uploading a panoramic photo – what hardware, software, and services I would need – to accomplish that same task presently, as well as 5 and 10 years ago. Please note that there are likely alternative solutions, but this is how I would have gone about it (please share your experiences in the comments!):

Present:

As mentioned, I used a smartphone, an app, a mobile data connection, and hosted my photo on a free web service, but let’s talk about specifics.

My smartphone of choice at the moment is the iPhone 4, though any smartphone should have access to such capabilities. This gives me the ability to capture each photo, that will eventually turn into the panoramic, at 5MP, and in HDR if I so choose (a photographic technique that was once very complex to perform). I used the awesome and free Photosynth app to stitch together the photo in real time, it was literally done in seconds flat. To host the photo and share with friends, I had a range of choices, including: Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Twitpic, Photosynth and perhaps hundreds of other free services. Getting the photo to those services is an easy task for my 3G connection which sees around 1 Mbit/s on average. I could have even used a service like PixelPipe to upload my photo once and have it distributed to many hosting services.

Five years ago:

Five years ago, in 2006, the best digital camera I had access to was the 3.2MP camera on my old Sony Clie UX50 Palm Pilot, which actually took decent pictures compared to consumer digital cameras of the time. To my knowledge, there was no application that could stich together a panoramic directly on the device – as it ran Palm OS — and definitely not one that could do it in real-time. I would have to take the photos and line them up manually as I did, then off-load them to a desktop computer later for processing.

I could send each photo via Bluetooth from the Clie UX50 to my Sony VAIO UX180 [tracking page link to UX280, same basic device] right there in the field. On the UX180, a ultra mobile PC running a full version of Windows XP, I could process the photos using some desktop software, though the process was much less automated than it is today. Photoshop would be the obvious choice though I believe there were a few free tools at the time as well.

After stitching the photos and cropping the output, I’d need to decide which service I would use for hosting. Facebook did exist 5 years ago, but definitely didn’t support the display of a large panoramic photo. Twitter was just coming into existence in 2006, so most photo-hosting services made with twitter in mind didn’t yet exist. This puts TwitPic, which launched in 2008, out of the picture. Flickr, did exist in 2006, but even in its modern form, the site still limits the maximum resolution to 1024 for the widest side of the photo – not preferable for panoramic photos. More likely than a dedicated photo hosting service, I would have gone to a file-hosting service like box.net to upload my picture in full without any resolution/format restrictions, then sent a public link to my friends through email or IM, wherein they’d download the file itself and view it locally on their computer.

Actually uploading the photo could be done through the EDGE modem that was built into the UX180, and connected to Cingular. Yes, Cingular still existed back then! The EDGE data connection saw transfer rates around 400 kbit/s (50 kbytes/s) and would have taken 10 seconds on a good day to upload the 487kb photo that’s included at the top of this post.

Ten years ago:

analog panoramaIn 2001, things were far different. At this point, using an analog SLR would have been a practical solution. That is, unless I had $4500 to drop on a DSLR like the Nikon D1X, released in 2001, which had a whopping 5.3MP resolution! Or I could go with a more realistic camera like the Sony Cybershot DSC-S75 which was launched in 2001 to the tune of $700. Still, I wasn’t about to drop $700 on the DSC-S75’s measly 3.1MP, so an SLR would have been my tool of choice.

I would have captured the photos with the analog camera on the bank of the river, using manual/mental alignment (and I’d have to hope that I did it well because I wouldn’t be able to digitally review the photos I just snapped). Then I would have waited to get home and have my film developed at a photo shop. With the photos in hand, I would manually align them and glue/tape them together, then use a scanner to capture the whole panoramic into the computer. Of course, the dimensions of the panoramic would have been constrained by the physical size of the scanner!

Sharing would be a whole different story indeed. In 2001, there was no Facebook, no Flickr, no Box.net, and some email providers might not have supported the size necessary to attach the photo to an email. A floppy disk or could have have been used to physically share the file with friends, in lieu of a modern day flash drive, or of course I could have printed multiple copies to hand to friends! But more likely is that I would ask people to come over to see the picture on my old 1024×768 CRT monitor!

How About You?

I only looked back 10 years, but it felt like a serious trip down memory lane. What alternative solutions (devices/software/services) might you have used 5 or 10 years ago to accomplish such a task? Or perhaps there’s something you do every day with your smartphone but would have only been accomplished with an ever complicated workflow as you go back in time; let’s hear it!

Photosynth App for iOS Impresses with Quick and Intuitive Panoramic Image Creation (free)

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photosynth logoThe recently released Photosynth app for iOS is an impressive and effective (and free!) tool for making high-quality interactive panoramic photos directly on your mobile device.

The Photosynth project is the brainchild of Microsoft Live Labs. It started as a neat service that was capable of combining hundreds of photographs from similar areas and allowing the user to virtually fly around to each photo. Later, support for uploading traditional panoramic photos and creating interactive ones from your desktop came online. Now they’ve unleashed an awesome new app for creating mobile interactive “fishbowl inch panoramic images.

The free app is available from Apple’s App Store for the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 2, and fourth generation iPod Touch, and it’s a joy to use.

Yes, you read right. While Microsoft is indeed the company behind Windows Phone 7, they’ve actually opted to make this app for iOS instead of their own mobile OS. This is similar to what we saw when they released Seadragon (now Zoom.it), another interesting photo-related app from Live Labs, for iOS several years ago.

Image 4Fire up Photosynth and the app will guide you in creating your first panoramic image. When you being making the image, you’ll see the world through the lens of your iPhone or iPod Touch’s camera, and as you move the camera the app will track the scene and automatically take images as they are needed. You are essentially building a virtual sphere around you by capturing images. The goal is to move the green circle in the center of the screen until it is on one of the dashed lines (which represents the boundary of images that you’ve already captured). This will cause a new photo to be snapped. Rinse and repeat as much as you’d like, then render the scene. If the algorithms used for scene tracking temporarily have some trouble, you’ll see the frame turn red. Just turn back to facing an area that you’ve already snapped, and it’ll pick things back up in no time.

I could write 10 pages of text about how it works and you still probably wouldn’t understand it as well as if you just saw it. Fortunately, we’ve got this wonderful new technology called “video inch which actually allows you to watch a series of photos that gives the illusion of movement, and thus we can share with you what it’s like to use this app! Check it out:

Once you capture a synth, you can upload it to the Photosynth website to share with the world (or you can leave it unlisted so that only those with the link can find it). What’s more, you can view fishbowl panoramics that are on your device, or load and view those that you have already created and are on your Photosynth account. Support for viewing (but not creation of) traditional panoramic photos (‘flat’ single-file images like jpg, png, bmp, etc.). Here’s what you can expect to see as output:

http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=4f67232d-6821-44c1-8caa-089eb4e5f54c

Photosynth has brought some incredible ease of use to the world of panoramic creation, and they’ve packed a lot of good functionality into this app in the incredible price of free.

My critiques of the app are few. In accordance with Apple’s App Store rating system, my current rating would be a 4/5 (it would be a 5/5 if I wasn’t so picky). From my use so far, it doesn’t seem as though the app is stitching full-resolution photos. It is likely using lower resolution shots which means less quality when you zoom in. This is probably a technical limitation (the phone only has so much RAM to hold photos before the pano is rendered and saved), but it could also potentially be a bug that was inherited from a limitation on the iPhone 3GS’s lower resolution camera (I’m using an iPhone 4 in this case).

My other complaint is that there is no indication as to which panoramic you’ve already shared to Facebook. If I have a group of them that I’d like to upload, I have to go through and upload each individually. Sometimes I’ll forget my place and then I have to wonder if I’ve already posted one of the panos or not. There’s also no twitter integration which would be nice!

Still, very well done, team Live Labs!

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