Mobile 360° videos may be the holy grail

Nils Forsblom
Nils Forsblom wrote this on

Mobile 360° videos may be the holy grail

Mobile 360° video is giving viewers a new perspective of what future videos can be like. But the technology is still in its infancy. By overcoming a few technical challenges, like how to create software that can detect gestures and motions with greater accuracy for a more seamless viewer interaction, 360° video has the potential to open the doors to new levels of engagement for app developers, media outlets, advertisers, and most importantly to the consumers.

Before we get into that, let’s cover some background. The appeal of 360° videos (like this one of a dinosaur or this one of the Golden Gate Bridge) is they put you smack in the center of the action. You’re in charge. You can pan around to look up, down, behind you, and discover new details every time you watch a video. The viewer is no longer a passive observer, but actively engaging with the medium.

If you’ve got a headset like the Google Cardboard or Oculus, you can engage by moving your head to pan a scene. If you don’t have a headset and you’re watching from a desktop, you can use your mouse to pan the virtual world. Or, if you are on a smartphone, you can simply rotate, tilt, or otherwise move your device to interact with the 3D world before you — all of that is powered by sensors in the mobile device.

Since this article about “lightweight VR” appeared in VentureBeat last year, 360° videos have gone mainstream. Now, social media titans YouTube and Facebook both offer capabilities to upload and share virtual reality videos with the world at large.

Anyone with the right equipment can create their own videos. You just need a spherical camera rig (outfitted with six or more cameras) to capture what is happening from all directions. Next, you need a software like Stitch that can turn the individual videos into one seamless, panoramic view. And don’t forget to add your own metadata. (Some cameras do this for you automatically, but not all.)

For advertisers, 360° video is a watershed opportunity. Over the years, consumers have been bombarded with so many banner ads, 2D videos, and the like that now it’s almost impossible to get through to them. Overcoming ad desensitization is a growing problem for marketers and 360° video may be the solution. The new medium has huge potential to breath life back into advertising through engagement. Because when a consumer engages with an ad, you know you’ve got their full attention.

Now the question for the advertiser becomes: How do you keep 360° videos interesting? How do you create new interactions that are quirky and stimulating enough to grab and hold a viewer’s attention? The answer: make those interactions application like. That requires overcoming a few major technical challenges.

Hurdle #1: Improving the framework for broad distribution

Right now, distribution on 360° video is not great, because the current formats are not designed for cross devices and browsers. As mentioned, the two leading ways to browse, discover, and view 360° video content are through YouTube and Facebook. Both have limitations. On a desktop computer, for example, only certain browsers support 360° videos. Chrome and Opera are compatible, but Safari and Firefox are not. The perspective controls via the browser (which involve clicking and dragging on the video while it’s active) are also less intuitive and immersive than the headset or motion controls using a mobile device.

Additionally, on a mobile device, you can only view 360° videos on Facebook and YouTube in-app. This makes it difficult to reach a broad range of viewers. It is very difficult to create an app that works perfectly on a vast range of devices and browsers — in fact, it’s impossible due to poor hardware and/or software quality. Apps are always limited to working well in some environments and screen sizes, and not so well in others.

Hurdle #2: Getting better data from motion sensors

When it comes to viewing on a mobile device, another challenge with interactive 360° video is making sure interactions (such as rotating the device, pitching the device, tilting the device, or walking with the device) are as smooth and as seamless as possible, with minimal latency. If you rotate your smartphone to view your virtual world from a different angle, you want the video to move as you move.

When you begin to interact with a 360° video on the level of a game, the quality of motion processing technology becomes paramount. The only way to obtain accurate orientation and motion measures are by combining outputs from at least three sensors: the accelerometer, the gyroscope and the compass. All three come innate in most modern mobile devices. The problem is these sensor readings are often inadequately accurate when used separately and result in poor user interactions.

Hurdle #3: Inventing cool new interactions to engage the viewer

One of the ways brands can make 360° videos more interesting to viewers is to incorporate creative and new types of engagements. For instance, a user might interact with objects in a 360° video that can allow the user to engage in a multitude of distinct scenes and different worlds, creating countless unique experiences. Or, brands can incorporate new types of motions in their experience so that, for example, taking steps in the physical world corresponds to the user stepping through the virtual world. Haptic or multi-dimensional feedback can also be used to guide the user to interact with a 360° video using a particular gesture or in another specified way. Or, the user might be able to interact with the video space using the Air Pencil. The 360° video might even give us a whole new social networking medium. The possibilities are endless and you can come up with lots of ideas just by paying attention to what’s happening in the mobile hardware and VR hardware space.

But the key to developing any new type interactions lies in tapping into the innate sensors in a mobile device to detect a viewer’s motion with a high degrees of accuracy—and then make sure the virtual world responds seamlessly to those actions. All of this requires high quality motion sensor processing framework, machine learning, sophisticated algorithms, and design that are all carefully tied into one beautiful user experience.

We are not there yet, but the future of 360° videos and immersive content is very promising. And it may bring a lot more inspiration to mobile applications and advertising by engaging with consumers in a way that pulls them in, instead of putting them off.

If you want to keep up with the latest developments, follow us on Twitter or send us an email to info@adtile.me .

PS: We are working on something called “360° Motion Video” and “Flightpath” —You’ll hear more from us on that soon!

Nils Forsblom

About the Author

Nils is the CEO & Founder of Adtile. You can reach him at nils@adtile.me.

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