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Mount Baker photosynth

We’ll never know what took so long, but one of Microsoft’s most amazing mobile apps, Photosynth, has finally been released for Windows Phone. The highly regarded and award-winning app has been available on the iPhone since last year.

According to Microsoft’s Michael Stroh, Photosynth is “a Microsoft technology for creating majestic 3D panoramas from individual 2D shots.” But Photosynth isn’t like the many panoramic photo apps and capabilities that grace all smart phones. Instead, it provides full, 360 degree panoramas, in both horizontal and vertical directions.

Though the iPhone app has garnered this technology some attention, Photosynth actually debuted in 2006 in the wake of the Microsoft acquisition of a technology startup called Seadragon that resulted in Live Labs (now dead). Photosynth was—still is—a photo tourism project that lets the user cobble together immersive, nearly 3D imagery out of a series of still photos, and I recall using the first tech demo to virtually visit Venice, Italy. It was pretty impressive for the day.

Over time, of course, Photosynth was updated so that you could use your own photos, and the stitching effect—where the individual photos used to create the panorama or “synth”—was improved. A Photosynth 3D viewing application was released for Windows, and then later for Silverlight as well.

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What’s amazing about the mobile app, of course, is that you can now create seamless panoramas on the go. And of course, the software guides you through the process, so you can more accurately capture exactly the shots you need. The results range from unusable to pretty impressive, though of course you need to practice a bit to get a handle on how things work. Impressive outdoor areas seem to work better—and make more sense, given the aim—than small indoor rooms, for example.

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And a still image does little to convey the weird, 3D-like effect of scrolling through a created panorama. When done correctly, it provides a very realistic sense of being there, one that makes Google Street View and similar solutions feel primitive and flat by comparison. (Microsoft uses this type of imagery in its Step Inside feature on Bing. This is a good example.)

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In Windows Phone guise, Photosynth lets you capture, create, and share mobile panoramas using a fairly simple user interface. As noted above, the apps guides you as needed and creates, or “stiches”, the panoramas on-phone, so you don’t have to download the pictures to the PC for later processing. You can share panoramas using the normal Windows Phone capabilities—Twitter, Facebook—and store flat, 2D versions of them as normal pictures on the device.

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You can find Microsoft Photosynth now on the Windows Phone Marketplace. However, in a typical bit of Windows Phone FAIL, you may have a hard time finding it on the actual phone, as I did:

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But it’s in there. And it’s worth getting.