New for the iPad

(December 27, 2010)

New for the iPad

PLEASE NOTE: The iPad implementations mentioned in this article no longer appear on the site. I am continuing to experiment with various ways to present panoramas on multiple platforms. I retain the article here for historical purposes only.

The iPad was first announced and demonstrated by Apple in January 2010. If you haven't seen it before, go to the iPad page on the Apple website and click "Watch the iPad video".

I was immediately struck with how perfect the iPad would be as a platform for presenting VR panoramas. Big bright display, convenient to carry, ideal for sharing between two people (just tip it towards them), and so natural for a touch interface. VR panoramas could make a great addition to on-line magazines, as well as travel sites and guides.

Unfortunately, it was not such an easy thing to get started with. Unike most major types of computer graphics, VR panoramas have no deep-pockets big companies to pioneer the way. Not only was there no interactive panorama shown in the iPad product intro (there should have been), there was no ready-made technology to present them.

Although Apple invented the field of interactive rotating (VR) panoramas with QTVR in 1994, they quietly stopped supporting it sometime in 2009. As a result VR producers all moved to Flash, a migration that was already in progress. Luckily Flash 9 did a passsable job of rendering these images, and Flash 10 was even better. Aside from the basic job of presenting the graphics and allowing navigation, Flash provided a framework for adding extra features to VR's, a relatively stable and well supported development environment. But Flash is not supported on the iPad/iPhone/iPod.

The technology we needed was obviously not going to come from Adobe, or, so far as we could tell, from Apple. It became increasingly apparent to many of us that the next big step in evolution of the web was going to be html 5. Unfortunately a portion of the VR developer community chose to rant against Apple's lack of support for Flash instead of looking ahead to new technologies.

A number of small companies started work on iPad (or more commonly iPhone) VR panoramas, and examples began to appear within a few months of the introduction. At least one company, TourWrist, did a substantial amount of work to introduce an innovative new product based on "iDevice" interactive panoramas.

Virtual Guidebooks is basically a personal effort - I take all the photos, create all the VR's, design the site, and maintain the database. So I had to wait for someone to provide a ready-built solution for iDevices that would fit my needs. It had to be easy to use, batchable, and inexpensive.

Just as in the case of the QTVR-to-Flash transition, the answer came from my friends at Garden Gnome Software in Vienna. I ran a few tests, using the beta version 3 of their program Pano2VR - and they worked! I customized the interface a bit (spreading out the buttons and moving the labels above them), and created a template that would work on my site.

I am not confident that the presentation I am currently using is optimal, and of course it is early days for both html 5 and the iPad. I decided not to try to customize the html5 VR's for the smaller screens of the iPhone, iPhone 4, and iPod Touch, which pose special problems of interface. But I did want to get some portion of my portfolio of VR panoramas out there for the world to enjoy on their iPads.

My initial offering of iPad panoramas consists of everything that I took on my Alaska trip of August-September 2010. They are easy to spot - look for:

NEW! for the iPad
NOTE: this link is no longer maintained

The iPad links will work on certain browsers (Safari and Google Chrome) and the smaller iDevices, but are only recommended for the iPad.

There are a lot of iPad panos in the guidebooks to Northern BC, the Yukon, and Alaska.

  • Northern and Interior Alaska (complete)
  • South-Central Alaska (about half)
  • Southeastern Alaska (about half)
  • Northern Yukon Territory (complete)
  • Southern Yukon Territory (almost all)
  • Northern British Columbia (almost all)

There are other panos set up for the iPad:
The Gold Trail, Cottonwood House, and Barkerville in the Interior and Rocky Mountains of BC
Prince Rupert and the Inside Passage in the Coast and Islands of British Columbia
Steveston, Crescent Beach and White Rock in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland
Mount Baker in the Washington Cascade

A week after the Alaska trip iPad conversion I put in another half day of work and set up one hundred panos taken in 2010 in The City of San Francisco (start at Fort Point).

Expect more iPad versions in the future - the present offering is only 6% of the total number of panos on Virtual Guidebooks. I will probably wait a while to let the technology advance and stabilize, and to get feedback on this preliminary offering.

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Don Bain at Google+