Google brings 360-degree panoramas to Android Jelly Bean


posted Monday, October 29, 2012 at 5:48 PM EDT


An update to Google's popular Android mobile operating system announced today brings a variety of new features, and comes accompanied by new Nexus-branded hardware on which to run the operating system. Key among the additions for photographers, though, will be Google's interesting new panorama function, which allows creation of 360-degree, 2D panoramas with an absolute minimum of fuss.

The latest revision of Android, version 4.2, somewhat confusingly retains the same Jelly Bean moniker as the previous 4.1 release. Other changes in the update include multi-user support for tablets, gesture typing on the native keyboard, Miracast wireless display support, and more.

The new Photo Sphere camera is shown in a video from Google below, and looks to offer a very intuitive interface with which to capture 360-degree panos. Panoramas can be shared publicly on the Google Maps Street View site, and the user interacts with them much as they would with Street View itself. Some early results shot by Google staffers and beta testers can be seen on the site already, and while it's certainly not perfect--there are some stitching errors here and there, as you can see in this Nexus 4 pano of Google HQ--the results look fairly impressive given the minimal user effort involved in their creation.

Demonstration of the new Photo Sphere tool in Google Android 4.2.

As for the hardware, there's both a new smartphone and tablet to accompany the existing Asus-developed Google Nexus 7, which competes with Apple's recently-unveiled iPad Mini. The new smartphone is the Google Nexus 4, developed in partnership with Korea's LG Electronics. Features include an eight megapixel camera, 4.7-inch display with 320 ppi resolution, quad-core Snapdragon processor, and 2GB of RAM. The tablet, meanwhile, is the Samsung-sourced Google Nexus 10, with a 320 ppi, 10.1-inch screen that hits a new resolution high for a tablet, at 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. (If it proves to have suitable display quality, that high resolution might make for a very interesting photo viewer in the field!) There's also a selection of higher-capacity versions of the existing Nexus 7 tablet, including one that adds wireless data connectivity.

Contract-free pricing for the tablets and smartphone is set at $300-350 for the Nexus 4 8GB/16GB, $200-250 for the Nexus 7 16GB/32GB, $300 for the Nexus 7 32GB with mobile data, and $400-500 for the Nexus 10 16GB/32GB. Availability for all three is set for mid-November. No information yet as to which Android devices will be upgraded to Jelly Bean 4.2; note that of course there's no guarantee any given vendor will include the Photo Sphere function in their own Android 4.2 products.