Photosynth for Windows Phone

Never mind a photograph; now you can (finally) capture a 360-degree panorama on Windows Phone with Microsoft Photosynth.Is Windows Phone behind or is Microsoft beta-testing apps on other platforms first?

Never mind a photograph; now you can (finally) capture a 360-degree panorama on Windows Phone with Microsoft Photosynth.

Is Windows Phone behind or is Microsoft beta-testing apps on other platforms first? It's probably a bit of both, but it does mean that Android and iOS get some Microsoft apps before Windows Phone does. Maybe we'll see the same automation that On {X} gives Android in Windows Phone 8; Microsoft says the lower security limits in Android let it experiment there (Motorola already has a similar feature it calls Smart Actions). The delay in bringing the impressive Photosynth panorama app to Windows Phone that Microsoft has been offering on the iPhone since April 2011 was because it wasn't until the Mango update that Windows Phone gave app developers enough access to the operating system to build this kind of camera app. (We're not sure why Photosynth didn't come out sooner after the release of Mango last autumn; perhaps Microsoft was waiting for more Windows Phone handsets with gyroscopes to hit the market.)

Now that it's here, it's hard to argue that development capabilities for Windows Phone lag far behind the iPhone any more; the features of the Photosynth app seem identical on both platforms and it's hard to tell the difference between synths captured on iPhone and Windows Phone. Where you can tell the difference is between older, slower Windows Phone handsets like the HTC Radar and the new Nokia Lumia devices. Both Lumia 800 and 900 phones captured and processed synths more quickly and with better alignment, thanks to their faster processors and better sensors.

Unlike most panoramic stitching apps, Photosynth doesn't restrict you to a strip of images taken side by side; with practice you can do a full 360-degree view. Start a synth by tapping on-screen and then moving the phone around; as a new area comes into view and Photosynth detects how it aligns with the existing images it takes a new photo (having the sound on helps you tell when it's time to move the phone on). If it can't align the image the outline turns from green to red and on-screen instructions ask you to move the phone back until the outline turns green then try again. if you don't, the outline turns yellow to indicate you can take a manual image here and Photosynth will do its best to align it when it stitches the images. You see more red outlines on a phone without a gyroscope (or before you've turned the phone enough times to calibrate the sensor) but with care you can still stitch large scenes with many overlapping images. We had most problems with areas where there are no distinguishing features — like a clear blue sky overhead, and large synths do take some time to stitch on a slower handset.

From Our blog Capturing and stitching a photosynth

Once you capture as many shots as you want, Photosynth stitches them together into a 3D view; the preview shows you how it has to bend the images into petal-like tiles to create the topography and is almost art in its own right.

Partway through stitching a synth, the image is like modern art!

When you name the image you can select from a list of nearby places to save you typing the location, which also sets the location. You can save synths to Microsoft's online Photosynth site (with or without adding them to Bing Maps) and send links to Facebook and Twitter. You can also choose the licence for your synths from the full range of Creative Comons options from 'all rights reserved' through public domain and six different types of attribution. It's nice to see Microsoft planning ahead to let people choose how they want sharing and reuse to work.

Choose a thumbnail and location before you share; with the right licence your synth might show up on Bing Maps

See your Photosynth on the web

Mapping a 2D photo onto the 3D world is complex and there's often some distortion if you have rectangular lines like paving stones. If there are people in your synths you can get some disturbing effects, with the top of someone's head going missing or their feet showing up twice (you can remove individual images from the synth before you stitch it together). And the less you move the originating point as you turn the phone, the more realistic the 360-degree view will be, when you look at it on the phone or on the website later.

From Our blog Viewing and zooming into a synth on the phone

To get an idea of what you can achieve with practice, look at the featured synths in the Photosynth app and the ones on the website (which includes synths taken with high-resolution cameras and stitched together with the free Image Composite Editor plugin for Windows Live Photo Gallery. Photosynth is an excellent combination of a tool that enables creativity and sharing your creations and crowdsourcing mapping images. Not every amateur synth is going to show up on Bing Maps but in time you'll be able to explore inside museums, walk around parks or check out a new coffee shop. The Windows Phone app is good enough to create high quality panoramas and simple enough to create quick views. Estate agents can use synths to show off houses, or you could create a synth of a favourite place to enjoy if you move away. Photosynth has been a compelling app on iPhone for over a year; getting just as good an experience on Windows Phone is something of a landmark.

Enjoy some really impressive synths like this base camp; there are plenty of Jubilee celebration synths this week

Mary Branscombe


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