Thursday, January 2, 2014

Android 4.3: Why no Photosphere?

I just got the rollout of the Android 4.3 update for my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and one of the caveats that wasn't mentioned was that it is sans photosphere.

Now before you go screaming at Samsung for not including it, you should know that the app itself was native only to Nexus devices.

Going Bubble with Photography

For some time now, Bubble photography was the domain of dedicated photographers, who use very expensive DSLRs to capture a bubble images, which is just like Street View but in places without accessible roads or dancing girls.

This meant you had to mortgage your kidneys too take a loan to buy that bulky DSLR just to satisfy your own urges for immersive photography. This isn't good news but heck, who can complain if you want to be the first of a million users to try this at home?

Now that Mobile is the future for such content. Bubble Photography should be mainstream before Obama gets kicked out of office but before you cheer for the Republicans, let me warn you that there are competing standards, like those found on iOS, developed by Microsoft. Photosynth is one such platform that hopes to take some of shine off Google. You can capture an immersive bubble photo of a venue of your choice and have that uploaded to Facebook or camera roll. The problem with Microsoft's method is that the bubble photo is flatten into a wide angle panorama. Needless to say it doesn't look one bit like that immersive image you were so keen to share with the world. That's ok really since every other Bubble Photo platform has a similar problem.

To share an immersive image, you need to login and create a profile within the Microsoft Photosynth community. Windows Mobile users will no doubt have native Bubble Photo support much to the angst of iOS users while some Android users will be scratching their forearms in doubt even after their handsets have been updated to 4.3.

Photosphere APKs to the Rescue

The folks at XDA released an APK file for users to download and install the Google Nexus camera app and you can find them here.

But a word of warning. It doesn't actually work on all devices running Android 4.3. Part of the problem is probably the hardware. The Galaxy Note 2 did allow me to run the app but the images shot on it were far from stellar. The overlapping images didn't stitch well and the whole bubble image turned out to be more of a psychedelic attempt at feeding LSD directly into your brain. You can view my failed attempt here.

Shooting a bubble is relatively easy. It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 mins to complete the photography cycle before you can stitch it all together.

The APK file is actually a Gallery and Camera app, the camera's bubble capture capability is buried under this APK. Samsung has its own dedicated camera app in Android 4.3 that doesn't support Photosphere so you need to remind yourself to launch the Google Gallery or Camera app instead of your camera app to capture and view bubble photos.

Mobile Photo Bubbles are here to Stay

With Photosynth and Bubbli ( you'd be hard press to write off the photo bubble as a fad but let me assure you that these are here to stay.

Immersive photography is a vaporous technology. It has to exist in a context of a virtual environment where it can be appreciated. For this you will need an app, or a web browser for you view the image. People who spend extended times on the Internet will eventually come to realize that you can view these images with a dedicated app to get their daily fix.

This is the same problem IPIX bubble photography had in the 1990s. You cannot possibly share the image without a dedicated browser plugin that lets you view them. Desktop isn't kosher anymore, mobile is. So with that in mind, everyone will be flocking to mobile devices to consume image content.

Fortunately for Google, who wants your content and not pay for it, you are given the liberty to share the photo bubbles on your G+ profile as a form of self promotion. The part you didn't bargain for was the Google app working across all Android devices for now.

And since the technology to view it is not copyrighted to say the least (Google wants you to add these to its street view imagery) there is no hope for a mobile photographer to earn a living shooting this. You could however bamboozle some unsuspecting horse trader to having his stable added to Google maps with your help for a small fee.

Photosphere looks to be the next big thing for Google. They are already asking photographers to contribute to the source and APIs are already available for people to make apps to do this. Content developers can add photospheres to their blogs so it isn't all bad. Right now, Google has to make Photosphere native within the Android ecosystem for a seamless experience. For that, I think you'll need to wait for Android 4.5.