When the Google Nexus 4 first came out, one of the nicest new features it introduced was Photo Spheres. These are immersive 360-degree panoramic views you can take with the phone’s camera app, no extra gear needed. In the hands of a skilled photographer they create views that are the next best thing to actually being there. One of the few drawbacks of the format is that it requires a special viewer to enjoy: You can see the photos on the phone itself, or within Google Plus. But not everyone likes to use Google Plus, and even if they do, it’s a general social network dedicated to more than just finding and displaying photo spheres. If you’re looking for a service that’s all about Photo Spheres, without any of that pesky “friending”, “circling” and commenting that go on in a social network, look no further than SphereShare.net. This handy tool is made up of two parts: A website and a companion Android app (if you’re an iPhone user, you’re out of luck — but you can try something like DMD Panorama).
The SphereShare Website
As you go to SphereShare, the first thing you’ll see is a long list of clickable thumbnails, each labeled with its location:
Click a screenshot, and find yourself standing right in that location:
The panoramic view will fill your screen, panning majestically across the scene. On a 24″ monitor, the view is impressive. And when I stretch the browser window to span both of my 24″ displays, well, it’s really just like being there. You can also take control of the view by clicking and dragging with your mouse to look around, or scrolling with the wheel to zoom in and out.
Viewing images on SphereShare is brilliant, because it’s simple. You don’t have to sign up, become anyone’s friend, or join anything. Just click an image, and you’re there. In fact, to enjoy a live version of the view in the screenshot, simply click here. I also like how all of the menu items and other information is overlaid on the image, putting the photo front and center. You can see a few buttons in the top-right corner of the screenshot above. There’s also some information about the image itself in the bottom-left corner, but that can be difficult to read until you pan and get the background just right:
Signing In And Rating Images
If you want to take a more active part in the SphereShare experience, you can sign in with your Google account. This lets you rate photos:
While you must log in to rate photos, your name is not shown anywhere after you rate. That’s nice because you can offer your honest opinion and help the community curate the best of the best without being afraid to give poor images low ratings.
The website has several other features, such as viewing photos on a map or sorting them, but what you’ve seen above is the bulk of the experience. I love how simple and straightforward it is. The only significant feature I didn’t get into was uploading photos: You can upload Photo Spheres using your browser, but really, a better way to do it is with the dedicated mobile app which we’re going to look at next.
The SphereShare Android App
With somewhere between 5,000-10,000 downloads at this point, SphereShare’s Android app is no Instagram-style runaway viral hit. Still, it is well rated (100 ratings giving it an average of 4.4 stars), and has been updated recently. Unlike the website, the app does prompt you to log in right off the bat:
Its list of permissions is not overly invasive, though: It just wants to view “basic information” about your account, and wants to know your email address. Once you log in, you’ll find yourself looking at a grid of photo spheres not unlike the one on the site:
Tap a tile, and you’re taken to a page with its metadata:
This feels like an extra step, but it’s not too bad. Tap the thumbnail at the top of the metadata page, and the photo sphere will download and display. You can pan around just like with a photosphere you take on your own device, and it’s lots of fun. Like the website, the app has a menu for sorting images:
The map view is nice because you can easily zoom in and find images taken in your vicinity.
Sharing Photo Spheres Using the App
Photo spheres are best viewed on a large display, so the main reason to download the app is that it makes it easy to share photo spheres you’ve taken on the device. And upload button is on the top-right corner of the screen; tapped, it lets you pick an image viewer, and then an image.
Once you pick a photo sphere to upload, you can name it and specify whether you want to share it with the world or keep it private:
And then it’s time to upload it. As simple as could be, really. When done, the photo page looks like this:
And you can see the image you’ve uploaded, as well as share a link to it with anyone. Simple, fun, and effective.
Issues And Final Thoughts
When using the SphereShare app, I’ve had a number of network issues that caused login failures. Restarting the app did not always fix the problem:
While the issues were annoying and did detract from the experience, I found the SphereShare well-designed and straightforward. Simple, easy to use, and fast. I love the idea of disconnecting Photo Spheres from Google Plus, breaking the forced “social connection”. Sometimes an image is just an image, not an attempt for Pluses and comments.
Will you be trying out SphereShare? I would love to see some links to beautiful panoramic views in the comments!