Ina Fried

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A Panorama of New Apps Arrive for Taking 360-degree Images on the iPhone

While there are many apps that let one take fun photos with the iPhone, and even some good ones for flat panoramas, the field has been fairly narrow for apps that can capture a complete 360-degree view of things.

That is all changing this week. On Monday, Microsoft announced a Photosynth app for the iPhone that lets users snap multiple still images in rapid succession. Meanwhile, Boston-based Everyscape plans to announce later on Wednesday a free iPhone app called Uscapeit that builds an immersive view from video clips taken in a particular manner.

Such photography, says Everyscape CEO Jim Schoonmaker, lets someone experience what it was like to be somewhere as opposed to just see a glimpse of the scene.

“It’s a much more emotive sense of content,” Schoonmaker said.

The new iPhone apps join Occipital, which pioneered the category with its 360 Panorama app for capturing panoramic views.

Each app takes a somewhat different approach and has its pros and cons as far as ease of use and quality.

Occipital’s approach is perhaps the easiest, allowing users to slowly pan around as they see on screen what they have captured and what remains. The downside is that this can lead to seams as well as some repeats of anything that is moving in the image.

Photosynth works by letting a user take multiple still images that can be stitched together to create the panorama. Unlike a Photosynth made on the desktop, however, users can see what it is they are capturing and how well it is overlapping with what they already have. Also, Photosynth can capture almost all the area around a camera, meaning you can see not only all the way around, but also up and down, provided you take the time to get all the necessary shots.

Uscapeit, meanwhile, builds its image off of a video clip that is uploaded to a cloud-based server system that renders the panorama. The downside is that the user can’t tell how well (or if at all) their image is coming out until they get the results several minutes later. There were several occasions when I learned only belatedly that my images hadn’t uploaded at all.

They also vary in the ways in which one can share the captured image. Occipital makes it easy to tweet or e-mail a link, but has yet to integrate Facebook sharing, which is included in both the other new entrants.

Microsoft has been telegraphing its plans to enter the area for awhile, having shown last year a plan for integrating panoramas into the Bing iPhone app.

Everyscape, meanwhile, has been at this for eight or nine years. In the past, it focused on certifying professional photographers to shoot the footage needed to scape the interiors of restaurants, hotels and other spots. The company already has several city dining guides using those professionally made images.

However, the company has long aimed to get the technology in more hands, Schoonmaker said. Over time, the company wants to expand to Android phones and even allow those with just a camcorder to upload their footage via the Web. That, Schoonmaker said, should allow its technology to reach far wider than approaches that rely on smartphones.

“We want to get to hundreds of millions,” Schoonmaker said. “That’s really when big things happen. I don’t know how many iPhones there are in India or parts of Africa.”

To get a sense for each of the apps, here are shots I did of the old school Taco Bell in Palo Alto using both Occipital and Photosynth. Sadly, my Uscapeit version there didn’t turn out, but the company has several good examples of what it can do on its Web site.

While time will tell which approach and results people appreciate most, the early winner here is Apple, whose iPhone now has several options in a category of photography in which most of its rivals don’t have a single program.

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