An iPhone can capture Photo Spheres even though this image type is generally thought of as an Android feature. These immersive, 360-degree images virtually transport the viewer to any location in the world in an augmented reality window provided by an iPhone, iPad, or Android device. While this feature is built into many smartphones, a free app is needed to create and view Photo Spheres when using an iPhone.
Apple and Google are both accelerating the pace of their AR development, making it seem as if virtual objects can be placed in the real world. This is often used for fun but there are very practical applications as well. The relative size and appearance of an item can be judged in AR before being purchased or carried into a room. Information overlays can reveal useful details about points of interest, identify products, and show ingredient lists. AR directions have been around for a few years and might soon be coming to the windshields of cars. Photo Spheres that react to the movement of a smartphone when viewed provide a bit of entertainment, while also being quite informative and useful to preview a location.
Google’s Street View app allows an iPhone to capture immersive 360-degree images at any location in the world with no other hardware needed. The process is simple but it takes a bit of patience since it requires 50 photos to be taken by methodically moving from AR dot to AR dot, spinning in place, and tilting the iPhone up and down. At each point, the user must pause until a cue is given that it’s okay to move to the next dot. It takes at least two to three minutes to complete a full Photo Sphere. Although it is possible to stop sooner by tapping the orange check button, this will result in an incomplete sphere. The checkmark turns green when all 50 photos have been captured and tapping the button starts the automatic alignment and adjustments needed to stitch these pictures into a complete sphere that allows a virtual recreation of that place and time.
There are several options for saving the finished Photo Sphere. The result can be shared publicly to Google Street View, shared privately to anyone with a Google account, stored within the user’s Street View account, and saved to the iPhone’s photo library for personal use. The Photo Sphere can also be viewed in an immersive way using the Street View app. In the iPhone’s Photos app, a saved Photo Sphere looks similar to a panorama, however, the top and bottom edges are a bit squashed. If the intention is to create a panorama, it makes more sense to use the feature built into the iPhone’s camera app rather than cropping the top and bottom of a Photo Sphere.
The purpose of saving a Photo Sphere is so it can be used in another app that can recognize that format. If the saved image is uploaded to Google Photos, it can be seen in an immersive view with the Google Photos app. It’s quite nice of Google to offer this capability to iPhone users for free even if the 360 images are kept for personal use. Since this feature is connected to Google Maps’ Street View feature, it will likely remain available for many years. Photo Spheres have been around long enough that there are many great Photo Spheres that can be found around the world. With the Street View app, iPhone owners can join in on the fun of viewing and creating Google Photo Spheres.
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