As great as the allure of its filters may be, Facebook didn’t spend $1 billion on Instagram for its digital photo effects. No, it was because Instagram was mobile-first, growing like a weed, had just launched on Android, and because it had created (with a small team) the first good-looking, mobile-centric social network for photos — location-tagged photos to boot. Launching a major redesign of its panoramic photo-sharing Android app, 360, today, Silicon Valley-based TeliportMe wants to do for the panoramic view what Instagram did for your regular old mobile photos.
Since TeliportMe launched 360 in late 2011, panoramic photos seem to have become the new frontier in the photo-sharing world. With the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, Apple brought support for panoramic photos (and an improved camera) to fanboys and girls worldwide, and, while the functionality has been available to Android users for years, Google got serious about panoramic photography in October with the launch of Photo Sphere, which allows users to stitch their photos together into a 360-degree view and share them to Google+ and Google Maps.
With built-in panoramic capabilities now on iOS and Android, it’s easy to think that TeliportMe’s days are numbered. Then again, a year from now, the vast majority of smartphones will likely have the ability to capture panoramic photos, and that means billions of panoramas being shared every month — every day. What’s more, at launch, Photo Sphere was only available for the Nexus 4.
TeliportMe co-founder Vineet Devaiah says that the coming ubiquity of panoramic images leaves plenty of room for apps like 360, especially if they’re able to add the kind of social networking functionality and “immersive experience” that made Instagram a must-buy for Facebook.
Eventually, the startup wants to be that for both iOS and Android, but it initially it started with the latter, hoping to tackle one of the biggest issues endemic to Android — fragmentation. In other words, Android relies on a long list of device manufacturers, which makes it difficult to build panoramic apps that are, by nature, hardware-centric. So, the founders put in long hours tailoring the app for the specs of each device in attempt to reduce those rendering issues that come from the variety of processing capabilities in each phone.
This has dominated the early development of 360, but thanks to its efforts on the fragmentation front and its improving stitching to make it faster and more OEM-agnostic, 360 is now nearing 1 million users across 150 countries. Of course, it’s got a long way to go if it wants to reach Instagram adoption.
So, since raising a round of seed funding from 500 Startups, Bill Gross and a handful of others, the startup has focused its efforts on building out those “immersive experiences” and today launched a bunch of new features and an overhauled UI that Devaiah hopes will put it on track.
For starters, because one of the biggest limitations to panoramic technology right now is the draining effect it has on your phone’s battery. Most panorama apps let you capture three or four panoramic photos before your battery drops below 50 percent. Even though the technology is improving in more recent generations of smartphones, some Android phones don’t have the processing power to handle much panoramic panning.
To address this, TeliportMe added a “Stitch Later” feature that allows users to postpone the stitching until after they’ve returned home after vacation. This also represents the company’s first venture into in-app purchases, as the Stitch Later feature will be available for unlimited use for a buck.
While 360 already offered the ability to share images on Facebook and Twitter as well as view, comment on and “fav” images captured by friends, the new app adds a key missing piece — following. With its new “follow” button, which functions the same way as it does on Twitter and Instagram, users can now follow their friends and view a chronological album of their friends’ most recent panoramic pics. The can see how many followers they have, how many they’re following, etc.
Along with the follow feature, 360 also adds search functionality, which the TeliportMe founder believes will be the most crucial part of the app going forward. The search feature does what you’d expect, allowing users to peruse through the app’s database of hundreds of thousands of panoramas, searching by location or keyword. While Instagram lets you search by user name and hashtag, it still doesn’t do location search, though this is no doubt something that Facebook will be looking to capitalize on, especially given today’s launch of its “Nearby” feature.
Lastly, 360 users now finally have the ability to see in high-def. TeliportMe’s previous sweeping capture process didn’t include the ability to snap HD pics, but the new update takes care of this problem, allowing photographers to capture the highest resolution their phone can muster.
All in all, it may not be enough for the startup to compete toe-to-toe with the massive resources of Apple and Google, which can slowly out-last and out-feature 360 until its developers run out of cash. But the more it’s able to create a fun, immersive and must-have user experience and get increase its engagement and virality coeffiecient, the liklier TeliportMe is to become an attractive acquisition target for one of the big players. Given what we heard when we last reported on the startup, some have already begun to kick the tires.