Bonnie Cha

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Poppy Looks to Turn Your iPhone Into a 3-D Camera

At the risk of dating myself, remember the View-Master? The toy where you inserted a cardboard disk of photos into a contraption and it magically turned them into 3-D images? Well, a new startup is looking to bring that back — with a modern take, of course.

poppy

Launching today on Kickstarter is Poppy, an accessory that turns your iPhone or iPod into a 3-D camera and image viewer.

Created by Joe Heitzberg (co-founder of Snapvine) and Ethan Lowry (co-founder of Urbanspoon), Poppy looks like a pair of binoculars, except it features a slot where you can insert your iPhone (4, 4S or 5) or fifth-generation iPod into the device. Using a system of mirrors, it can capture two stereoscopic images using your iPhone/iPod’s camera. Poppy’s lenses then combine those images into a 3-D photo or video when seen through the viewfinder.

You can also use Poppy to watch any 3-D content found online, such as video clips from YouTube’s 3-D channel.

During my hour-long conversation with them, Heitzberg and Lowry, who also run the Hack Things website, were quite enthusiastic about the technology, often talking over each other, and said they have paid for the entire project out of their own pockets (along with spouse funding, they joked). But they also seemed realistic in their expectations of the device and the limitations of 3-D.

“The problem with 3-D is everyone has touted it as the next big thing. But we don’t think it’s the next big thing,” said Heitzberg. “We’re in tune with what people use it for.”

“I think, in the grand scheme of things, 3-D will win,” added Lowry. “The world is in 3-D, therefore our entertainment is going to need to be in 3-D.”

The two imagine that Poppy will first appeal to people who love playing around with photography, as well as moms and even young kids. (The duo took a prototype to a skate park, where the kids were fighting to use it to capture their skate tricks in 3-D.)

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They also realize that, like a dSLR camera, Poppy isn’t a pocketable device, so people won’t bring it everywhere. But they hope that people will see it as a fun device they can use to capture special moments.

Even so, it will be interesting to see how people take to the device. TV manufacturers and camera makers aside, a number of other companies have tried to incorporate 3-D technology into their products, with limited success.

For example, HTC came out with the Evo 3D smartphone several years ago, which had dual cameras for capturing 3-D photos and videos. I remember using the 3-D feature a handful of times, and then never using it again.

Heitzberg and Lowry are hoping that Poppy’s simplicity and low cost of entry will attract users. Their Kickstarter campaign features multiple pledge levels, but the cost for one Poppy is $49, which includes shipping. Poppy’s fundraising goal is $40,000, and the campaign ends July 26.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus