Flickr’s new Gear VR app lets you gaze at thousands of 360-degree photos

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Flickr Jumps Into 360° Virtual Reality Photos with New Samsung Gear VR App.

Yahoo is best known for their online search engine, but they have their hand in a number of other products and services across multiple platforms as well, including photo storage with Flickr.Flickr, the Yahoo-owned image and video hosting website, has today released a Samsung Gear VR app that lets you view the top rated 360-degree photos from the platform’s global userbase. The app presents you with an infinite carousel of the site’s top-rated 360 photos, everything from dentist offices to breath-taking vistas—and all extremely high quality to boot.

And with its thin straps (which are much more compact than on earlier versions of the Gear VR), it finally fits in a normal-sized messenger bag or purse. Since this is meant for Gear VR, it’s also only something that is compatible with Samsung smartphones, as these are the only devices which Gear VR is currently working with. According to a Flickr blog post announcing the new VR app, “Flickr is the best platform for 360° photos because we respect the image quality of uploaded photos, and we want to be one of the best ways to access engaging virtual reality experiences.” There’s no shortage of 360 photo-viewing apps on the Gear VR store currently, but Flickr VR is the first to source the images directly from their user base. Flickr photographers have uploaded tens of thousands of 360° photos over the years, and now Flickr is providing a new way to experience them through a VR headset. Upon opening the application, viewers are greeted with a “carousel” of 360-degree images which Yahoo has curated, so users can be sure they’re getting to see the most breathtaking pictures of the lot.

Flickr VR joins a growing library of content on Gear VR and opens up the possibility that other virtual reality headsets could soon see a compatible application for the same kind of experience, although nothing has been specifically mentioned in regards to the nature of such a project, beyond the fact that Yahoo has plans for “new experiences” with 360-degree photos through VR headsets as well as web and mobile platforms. The good news is that although Yahoo hasn’t mentioned anything definitive, it seems that they at least have plans to introduce something for other VR headset types. Flickr says it’s working on other 360° photo features and experiences for both VR headsets and for mobile devices, and that this new app “is just the beginning.” Stay tuned.

Which ones remains to be seen at the moment but it’s likely that if they did release an app that works with other models, those based on Google Cardboard would be included as would other up and coming models like the HTC Vive, and potentially the Oculus Rift since it’s the closest experience to Gear VR. In order to take full advantage of the medium’s capabilities, you’ve got to be able to fully turn around, whether you’re doing so to catch details in a video or change direction in a game. Watching Netflix or other flatscreen video is possible, as is using the web browser and playing certain games, but some of the highest-quality experiences quickly turn into a recipe for whiplash and sore shoulders.

I’m in roughly the middle of the motion sickness spectrum, and I had to consciously avoid anything that would trigger it, especially heat or stuffy rooms. And using the very sensitive pad is an exercise in keeping your hand close enough to find it without sight, but not so close that you keep accidentally tapping it. This is mostly baffling because it seems extremely possible to transfer the exact same trackpad interface to something like a small handheld remote — the Gear VR’s version of a detachable stylus.

If you assume that VR will succeed, it’s easy to imagine a future where La-Z-Boy recliners have been replaced by swivel chairs, or even by more active peripherals like the omnidirectional treadmill — chairs are supposed to be terrible for our health anyways. Games like EVE: Gunjack, an arcade-style shooter, already work with a limited range of motion, and more developers may eventually back away from full 360-degree turning. I can come up with one notably unsuccessful example, however: the Nintendo Virtual Boy, a supposedly portable device that had to be propped on a table, used a one-color screen, and paused every 15 minutes to prevent headaches and nausea. The Virtual Boy was widely panned, but looking back, reviewers could be strikingly forgiving of what we remember as its biggest shortcomings — arguing that the one-color screen was just like the popular Game Boy, or that a certain amount of headache was simply the price of entry. Oculus has struck deals with studios like Felix & Paul, so it’s slightly strange that Facebook and Samsung didn’t use their considerable funds to commission a meaty, well-publicized video series at launch, something to draw users in for the days and weeks after release.

The VR fiction series Gone looks exactly like this, but its 5-minute episodes are supposedly being strung out over months, and it’s still in the teaser stage. I played maybe half a dozen I’d voluntarily boot up again, and three I’d play as long as I might a mobile or PC game: cooperative bomb defusal game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, compelling point-and-click adventure Dead Secret, and my longtime personal favorite, the hacking game Darknet. Still, most of them — including those three — feel a little thin or unfinished, like beta versions awaiting new levels and more polished mechanics or graphics. It’s a fantastic and creative project, but one that belongs to the inherently limited local multiplayer genre — in other words, it’s a great party game, but people only throw so many parties.

This is, obviously, the “chicken and the egg” problem of virtual reality: people won’t make games unless the headsets sell well, and the headsets can’t sell unless people make games. This is probably better than the first wave of Android and iOS games, but those games were padding out a system that people already used for other reasons. Whatever Samsung says, this — not last year’s Innovator Edition — is the public beta of mobile VR, the point at which we learn what works, what people want, and whether they’ll pay for it.

This isn’t like complaining that a phone has a low-resolution screen, it’s like warning buyers that the screen is covered in very fine glass splinters. Oculus quite reasonably puts truly mainstream VR several years away, and products like the Rift or HTC’s Vive will offer a totally different set of experiences.

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