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Giving 3D a spin at Demo

Flat photos are dead, according to two startups at the Demo conference. But the products, while impressive, prompt a judges panel to ask: How do they make money?

ArqBall Spin lets you quickly create 3D images of items you want to sell.
Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Is 3D where photography is going? Two companies at the Demo conference here today are betting on it.

ArqBall makes a mobile app that creates 3D images, or "spins," of physical objects. Designed for commerce initially, it lets you quickly create a 3D spinning model of an object for sale and embed it in a sales page. The demo made the creating app look very easy to use: You put your object on a turntable or lazy Susan, put your iPhone in a stand facing it, and run the app. The software creates the embeddable graphic for you.

A new product from the company runs on the iPad, and lets you annotate 3D objects with labels that move as you spin the object around.

Then there's TourWrist, a mobile app that lets you create panoramas of places you visit. The iPad viewing app that was showed was stunning: It makes your iPad a virtual window into the visual bubbles the app creates. And as you walk with the app held up in front of you, you move into the image.

TourWrist reminds me of Condition One, but with fewer explosions.

Both these products are technological achievements, but a panel of judges after the demos keyed on the big issue they face: How do they make money? ArqBall has real potential if it can collect a fee for helping people sell items on commerce sites like eBay. TourWrist is focusing on tourism and travel.

TourWrist creates stunning 3D panoramas that you can view and control on an iPad. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

My big issue with immersive content, like TourWrist's, is that it requires more involvement to both create and view. As I discussed in my overview of Dabble, a location-tagging app that competes with Wallit, having a fast interface for getting social content matters. Wallit's extremely cool, 3D, augmented-reality technology looks fantastic in a demo, but when you're in a strange city looking for advice, chances are what you want is a quick glance at useful information, not to hold your phone up in front of you and spin it around while crowds of people push by.

But it is cool to see innovation in apps that build a 3D data and photography layer on top of the world. It's been flat for too long. We are seeing good creativity but I'm not sure the killer interface for 3D data has yet arrived. Perhaps Google Glasses will help it along.