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Up Close With Google Views, 360º Photo Spheres Plotted On Google Maps
Last year, Android gained “Photo Sphere” functionality, the ability for people to take 360 degree photos. It’s very cool, something I’ve used plenty. Now Google’s making it easier to find and share this type of photography with a new “Google Views” area within Google Maps.
Viewing Photo Spheres
Google Views, which Google announced today, allows people to browse through a collection of popular Photo Spheres through a column along the side or select places that have panoramic photography as plotted on a map:
The bulk of the page is taken up by a featured Photo Sphere. However, you can expand the map using a small arrow icon in the top right corner, if you prefer to browse that way. I like that, because it makes it pretty easy to zoom in on a particular area to see more locations that have been photographed and top photographers:
Many of the photos come from Google’s own Street View Gallery but others come from individuals. The initial set came from those using the Android Gallery app that launched in Oct. 2012, Google told me.
Adding Your Own Photo Spheres
I’m checking on that. I know that I’ve shot several myself, and none of them automatically appeared. That’s where manually adding your pictures comes in.
When you’re in Views, and signed in, you’ll see a small blue camera icon at the top right of the screen. Select that, and a window will open with all your photos (whether public or not) that are on Google+, like this:
After you’ve done this, you can pick any Photo Sphere pictures you can locate. It won’t allow you to select anything not in Photo Sphere format.
Unfortunately, the windows displays all your photos, not just your Photo Spheres. That means you have to remember when you’ve shot some Photo Spheres, go into the right album and hope you can find them that way. You can also search, but Photo Spheres aren’t automatically tagged with any particular words.
I found that searching for “PANO_” will find some Photo Spheres that way, since Photo Sphere file names seem to begin with those characters. However, this may bring up other panoramic but non-Photo Sphere photography. Google told me it hopes to improve searching in the next few days.
After selecting one or more Photo Spheres, you’re asked to add a location to them, if one’s not already detected. Then hit submit, and you should get this message:
After that, it’s waiting time. You’ll have a “Views” page of your own, like mine:
Your Views will also each have their own pages, like this Photo Sphere I made in front of the “AndroidPlex” at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View:
Notice the red arrow I added in the lower left. That points to a message saying “Not shown on Google Maps” with a “Why?” link next to it. That link, in turn, says the Photo Sphere is “Pending approval for Google Maps.” Google says processing time will take a few days, though mine were approved in about 30 minutes.
Microsoft, of course, has offered 360 degree photography through its Photosynth app for years, which you can get for iOS and Windows Phone. Those can, in turn be shared through the Photosynth site.
I haven’t used Photosynth lately, but Photo Sphere has worked much faster for me, plus it was much easier to share to the public through Google+.
Sharing, Embedding & Marketing
The addition of sharing Photo Spheres through Google Maps, via Views, should make it even more compelling.
In fact, some Android phones will even allow direct sharing to Google Maps, speeding up the submission process via a sharing icon, as shown to the right.
However, not all Android phones can do this, even if they have the required Android 4.2 or higher. In particular, Samsung has left Photo Sphere off its Galaxy S4, one of the very few faults I have with the otherwise excellent phone from them that I’ve been testing.
From a marketer perspective, Google Views presents a new opportunity to promote a brand through contributing great images to Views, including perhaps if the brand itself is associated with landmarks. You can also learn more about contributing here from Google.