Microsoft’s Photosynth is morphing from a Microsoft Live Labs experiment — featured on the BBC’s “How We Built Britain” television series and in select other rarefied contexts — to what can only be described as a “totally cool” consumer application.
I’ve always been intrigued by Photosynth, since its introduction in late 2006, and what Microsoft might do with it. The consumer release is only the beginning; there are myriad academic, educational and potential commercial uses of the technology.
On the new consumer site, you can upload your photos — it only works on Windows machines (XP or Vista) but works with Firefox — and the technology automatically “synths” them, creating a 3-D, 360-degree interactive photo collage of whatever the photographs depict. It’s pretty amazing stuff.
Here are some screens of a “synth” of Seattle’s Safeco Field (which really don’t do justice to Photosynth):
Here’s one of an art gallery:
These are still images, but there’s something very “cinematic” about Photosynth. But unlike video the user can pan or zoom in on any individual image. It can thus go from very “macro” views to extreme closeups. One can imagine it as a new kind of “storytelling” medium.
The only thing vaguely similar to it is mapping site EveryScape, which takes still photographs and knits them together into a virtual version of real cities. There are intriguing ways in which sites like EveryScape or Microsoft’s own Virtual Earth can integrate Photosynth’s capabilities.
Photosynth is an exciting product but not yet as developed as Microsoft envisions. I asked Microsoft, for example, whether Flickr users could upload photos directly from their accounts into Photosynth — “not yet” was the answer. Such upgrades and developments are on the roadmap.
I’d love to see a Mac plug-in that allowed Mac users to participate as well. But putting those quibbles aside, Photosynth is one of the most compelling and genuinely unique products to come out of Redmond (other than Surface) in a long time.