Google revamps Street View, welcomes user 360° images

The company is teaming with three camera makers to get the photos

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A message on Google's Street View app asks for user permission to upload a contributed image

Credit: Martyn Williams

Google is revamping its Street View service with an eye to attracting many more contributed 360° images.

On Thursday, the company introduced an update to its iOS and Android mobile apps that supports uploads from three cameras: Ricoh's Theta S, the NCTech iris360 and the Giroptic 360cam. The cameras capture an image in all directions, similar to those from Google's Street View car.

On the iPhone, the Photo Sphere Camera app has been updated and renamed Street View. It previously allowed users to create and share all-around images by stitching together multiple pictures taken with a smartphone camera. With its relaunch, it supports the 360° images and adds Street View imagery from Google.

On Android, the existing Street View for Google Maps app is being replaced by a new version over the next two weeks. It previously provided nothing but Street View images, but the update adds user-generated images.

Together, the two new apps will allow users to contribute their own images to add new perspectives or fill in spots missed by Google's service. And it will allow all users to see the new images as they navigate on maps.

"I believe we are really right on the verge of a great swell of consumer adoption of spherical imaging," said Charles Armstrong, a Google Maps product manager, introducing the changes at the IFA consumer electronics show here in Berlin.

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Charles Armstrong, a Google Maps product manager, uses the Street View app during a demonstration at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin on September 3, 2015.

Google has faced some criticism from privacy advocates over the Street View service and now routinely blurs out people's faces and car license plates from the images it captures.

By accepting user-generated images, that privacy policy is being widened.

"We’re giving users the ability to comment on license plates and faces, even if they were contributed by other users -- something we have not historically supported," said Armstrong.

Unlike the Street View process, which is handled automatically, the user-generated images will only be altered if Google receives a request and then it will be done by hand, said a company representative in Berlin.

The announcement was made as Ricoh unveiled the Theta S, the third in its Theta line of cameras that can capture images in 360°. The Theta S will go on sale later this year.

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Ricoh's Theta S camera on display at a Berlin news conference on September 3, 2015.

Ricoh said the link with Google was made possible by the American company's open spherical camera API.

The spherical images have a resolution of 5,376 pixels by 2,688 pixels.

"The content quality here is great, we’re very excited about the resolution," said Armstrong.

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