Microsoft made something cool: Photosynth

I’ve heard the new Windows phone is awesome, too, but haven’t had a chance to play with it yet.

At first, it seemed strange to me that Photosynth, an incredible and free panorama-snapping iOS app, was developed by Microsoft. But then I began uploading my panoramas to Photosynth.net and happily agreed to share my panoramas on Bing Maps, as well, and I quickly realized that Microsoft did, in fact, have self interest in this endeavor. They’re populating Bing Maps with great 180-360 degree panoramas of famous and beautiful places.


The view from the top of Parque das Ruinas, in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro.

Google added this element to Google Maps years ago when it purchased Panoramio in 2007, but like many Google-acquired start-ups, the service has sort of languished ever since (relative to modern efforts). It’s a good sign for Google Maps that Panoramio photos are no longer a primary feature, but not much has changed about Panoramio itself. There’s a neat API, at least, and a great collection of geo-tagged photos, but Google should probably introduce a competing app to rejuvenate submissions.


El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a former theatre in Buenos Aires, was spared destruction and given new life as the flagship bookstore of El Ateneo.

Anyway, Photosynth is awesome enough to make me re-install Silverlight and dust off my Windows Live (Hotmail) ID. Even though I took panoramas all over South America without 3G or Wifi access, when I went to upload them tonight, the photos’ metadata quickly brought up a list of nearby places to choose from. It was amazing how easy it was to assign each photo to a destination I am now 8,000 miles away from, without even consulting a map.


The Panama City, Panama skyline as seen from the harbor.

I’ve been through every iteration of panoramas in the last 20 years, with varying degrees of pain:

1997: I excitedly purchase a Kodak Advanced Photo System camera for its simple panoramic mode. My parents graciously pay a premium each time get my wide aspect ratio memories developed.
2002: My first Canon Digital Elph doesn’t have a panoramic mode, but I use clunky software programs to digitally stitch and assemble panoramas. The overlapping edges don’t look great.
2004: My next Canon point and shoot has a panoramic mode included in the firm/hardware, which consists of holding your elbows as steady as you can while rotating your torso enough to achieve a 30% overlap. The bundled panorama utility software stitches them together. Again, results are not great.
2005: I see that my friend in Leeds, England simply prints 4x6s and manually arranges them on her wall, as people have done for 150 years. I’m a little depressed how superior the analog treatment is.
2011: Microsoft releases the Photosynth app. It’s simple to use and is yet another smartphone app that makes the iPhone a justifiable replacement for actual cameras with far higher quality components.


Experimenting with a macro shot of my cafe carioca.

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