Back in June we announced that Google will be updating it’s Street View App to allow virtually anyone to capture 360 Degree immersive imagery on the Google Map. It finally happened but is it good enough to be used for businesses? We are going to spend some time reviewing it and determining just that.

On September 3rd, 2015, iPhone users easily downloaded the app from the Apple Store. While most Android users had to wait until the app update was pushed to their devices. I didn’t get it until September 4th. This happened because the original Street View app was integrated with Google Maps and is hidden from the user within the app drawer. If you had searched for it in the Play Store it would show as being “Installed”.

Among the Trusted Photographer community this had been a much anticipated release. For some, it seemed like this app would threaten the need for Google Trusted Photographers. As soon as I launched the app from my phone I quickly noticed that the capture feature was very familiar. It’s a friggin’ Photo Sphere app!

Flagship Android devices have had this camera feature since 2012. This was the time frame in which Google Photo Spheres came into existence. In 2014, Google started to change their systems and made it more difficult to upload a Photo Sphere. The upload feature was no longer available on my device.

Thanks to this new app you can capture and publish Photo Spheres on nearly all devices in the world. As a secondary option you can connect the new Iris360 camera via wifi. Since I don’t own one yet, I cannot test the “Spherical camera” option. Get ready to see a lot of new 360 degree imagery on the map. But how good will the quality be? Is it good enough to replace Street View for business?

The Quality of the Street View Photo App

As Mike Blumenthal pointed out in his blog a few days ago, the Photo Sphere is the poor mans version of Business View (now called Street View). He mentions the quality of the Photo Sphere isn’t up to par with what business owners will want to use for their business. He recommends Business View (Street View | Trusted) over the DIY method and photographers should offer this as a free version to sell the professional grade.

While I would agree with him, we do have to consider the quality of the camera inside of the phone or tablet. Every device was not created equal. I don’t know what kind of camera Blumenthal used to produce his results; what I do know is that I have been able to get some pretty decent quality Photo Sphere’s with a Galaxy Note 4 on the previous version of the app.

Even at that point, things went wrong and after plenty of re-shoots it still didn’t look as great as my Street View Virtual Tours taken with a DSLR camera. When it comes to 360 degree technology we have to consider blurs and stitching errors not just resolution. After all Google wants to see nice high quality images and if they decide that your Photo Sphere’s aren’t making the grade they will remove them.

Test Run and Review of the Street View App

Before we get into my examples I would like to restate that I have had plenty of experience with the older version of this app and was able to create some solid results with 90% success.

For this test run of the new app I have only had 30% success in creating a decent looking Photo Sphere. See my first day results below.

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Taco Shop #1 (New)

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Taco Shop #2 (New)

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Historic Park (New)

After 3 or 4 attempts I was unsuccessful at getting a decent quality Photo Sphere of the two taco shops. The best Photo Sphere I took was at the more wide open historic park and even that had some stitching errors.

Here’s some examples of older Photo Spheres captured with the original camera app taken at the same historic park as well as a few other places in San Diego. Notice these have limited stitching errors but look remarkably decent compared to the newer app.

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Sea Port Village (Legacy)

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Lake Photo Sphere (Legacy)

Historic Park Good Photo Sphere

Historic Park (Legacy)

Here are a few factors that can give you mixed results:

  1. The way that the device is held has a lot to do with the accuracy of the Photo Sphere.
  2. The way one stands and turns the device.
  3. The speed in which the photos are taken can cause some blurring and other undesired results.
  4. The size of the environment and the distance of objects within that area.

What ever happens during the creation of the photo sphere cannot be un-done and you are forced to start over if you mess up. At 10 minutes per Photo Sphere … it’s far too long considering I can capture it perfectly every time using my professional equipment in 20 seconds.

Over all issues: Stitching Errors and Blur spots in imagery

Conclusion: We do not have these same issues when taking photo spheres and virtual tour imagery with DSLR cameras. All of our Virtual Tours at SD 360 Tours are shot with high end camera equipment and not a cell phone. Using professional grade equipment is definitely worth the investment when showing off the inside of your business.

Where can the Photo Sphere’s be Found?

The Photo Sphere wasn’t heavily adopted by those who had the ability. Personally I saw them in famous places as well as in nature settings (trails, rivers, forests, etc.) on the map. When the New Google map was released they were found in the image carousel directly below the map.

It’s been speculated and somewhat confirmed that this same app will be able to connect a Photo Sphere to a Google+ Business page in the future. Whether that is within the photo gallery, a new special widget, or the actual See Inside thumbnail. We don’t know that yet.

What we do know is that they are found like all other Photo Spheres before the app was released. Below the map mixed/buried in with all the other photos and Street View imagery. They are marked by a Photo Sphere icon and small blue dots on the map when you use Street View.

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The photo Sphere is buried in other imagery

What’s is the potential of the Street View App?

As the name suggests this app should be able to do a few more things than it actually does today. The biggest “Street View” like feature is missing. That is the ability to take several photo spheres and connect them with each other. But Google has promised this feature in the near future so we shall see.

All in all, it’s going to be interesting on how they improve it for the future and will be fun seeing what others have done and the techniques they use to get better results. We will continue to cover updates and possibly even a how to video once we can get better results.