Ina Fried

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Occipital Uses Its 360-degree View, Sees Microsoft in Its Rearview Mirror

Tiny Boulder, Colo.-based Occipital hit pay dirt with its first mobile app. Called RedLaser, the program–which uses an iPhone’s camera to identify and scan a product bar code–was sold last June to eBay.

Now, the five-person start-up is racing to rapidly improve its second program, a panorama photo-taking app called 360.

The app uses the iPhone’s video-recording feature to create an immersive panoramic photo (see YouTube video to really get a sense for what it does). I’ve used it a bunch in recent months to capture everything from interior scenes of the Boston Library to a snowy Copley Square to shots of Stanford’s women’s basketball team snapping UConn’s 90-game winning streak. The app debuted at the end of July, mere weeks after the team sold RedLaser to eBay.

However, the Occipital team feels a renewed urgency to add a bunch of features quickly. In December, Microsoft offered a demo of a similar technology it hopes to add into its Bing for iPhone app.

What the 360 app does well, said co-founder Jeff Powers, is create such panoramas quickly and easily. However, the options to share that panorama are limited, especially if one wants to share an immersive photo as opposed to just an unrolled flat image. Also, one of the downsides of the app’s speeds is that it only captures a part of the scene once, meaning it misses out on the opportunities to improve on that initial image with additional data. Also, unless a user is particularly skilled, there can be visible seams within the panorama.

Powers said the company hopes to address all of those issues in the next release.

“We’re trying to satiate that exact urge to capture the scene and share it with other people,” Powers said in an interview. “We’ve nailed the ‘It’s really fast and easy [part]‘; we havent nailed the ‘It’s really good quality and easy to share’ part.”

Powers said he is also hoping to get the next version of 360 out in the coming months, “hopefully before they [Microsoft] come out with whatever they come out with and before any others.”

Occipital, which grew out of the TechStars Boulder program, also hopes eventually to bring 360 to other mobile devices.

“We’re very very interested in Android,” Powers said. One of the challenges, though, is 360 works very closely with the phone’s camera. With the iPhone, that only means understanding one or two different models, as compared to dozens of Android phones–meaning lots of extra support and development time.

“It is a big endeavor to support all of these devices,” Powers said.

The company also hopes to create an expanded Web presence, beyond a current gallery of 360-created panoramas.

As for Microsoft, it says its panorama feature is still a prototype, with no firm date for when it will be added to the Bing iPhone app.

At the December event, Microsoft’s Blaise Agueras y Arcas demonstrated Bing’s forthcoming panorama abilities in a video interview with Mobilized.

“This is still experimental, but we are coming out with it very soon,” he said.

Here is the video that shows what the 360 app can do:


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