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Mobile Apps

Sprayscape: The wrong way to capture a VR environment

The new Sprayscape app promises a quick shareable capture of VR environments. But the results are kind of blah.

Sprayscape is a new app that is a "perfectly imperfect VR-ish camera."

Screenshot by Patrick Holland/CNET

Android Experiments encourage developers to explore new ways for people to interact with its mobile devices. One experiment, Sprayscape, is now available as a free app from the Google Play store -- an iOS version is in the works. The app self-describes itself as a "perfectly imperfect VR-ish camera." And that's an accurate description of my experience using Sprayscape.

Sprayscape uses your phone's gyroscope and camera to capture a 360-degree VR-portrait or Sprayscape (I kept calling them Vrotraits). You can view captured Sprayscape environments on your phone or share them with friends via Facebook and SMS.

How do you use it? When you open the app you are greeted by a black screen, grid-like with white lines that resemble longitude and latitude. As you move your device around, the screen moves around as well -- kind of like the Star Walk app.

To capture a Sprayscape, you tap and hold the screen as you move your phone. The app continuously captures images. It feels like a cross between spray painting and taking a panorama photo -- except there is no paint and the panorama surrounds you in every direction.

Top image: a capture of a mural using the continuous spray technique. Bottom image: the same mural captured not using the spray technique.

Screenshot by Patrick Holland/CNET

So how are the results? Not impressive, to say the least. I have a lot of blurry Sprayscapes on my phone. The fault is your camera is capturing images continuously as you move the phone. None are in focus. I tried getting creative by writing letters or shooting a Sprayscape with the selfie camera, but letters are difficult to spray, and the selfie-scape turned out creepy.

If you tap on the screen without moving your phone, you get a more in-focus image. But what's the point? I let several coworkers try the app, and they had the same reaction: what's the point? So I asked the developers.

Glenn Cochon, senior designer at Google Creative Lab replied, "We're interested in exploring ways that anyone with a smartphone can become a VR creator. By taking the pressure of 'perfect capture' out of the equation, we hope people will have fun and get creative with the times and places they use the app."

I don't want to write this app off because I feel there is a creative nugget in there to be mined. Cochon says he's excited to see how other developers will use Sprayscape's open-source code in their own projects. And there lies the potential for Sprayscape.

As for us non-developers, stay away until the kinks are worked out.