Poppy: Surprisingly Sensible 3D for the iPhone

Smartphone, meet View-Master.

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For a brief moment in 2011, certain people in the tech industry seemed to think that the next big thing in smartphones might be 3D. But the revolution began and ended with Sprint’s EVO 3D, a phone which could capture and display glasses-free 3D video. It wasn’t that great and didn’t make much of a splash.

I haven’t given smartphone 3D much thought since then–until just recently, when I met with Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry, the creators of a Kickstarter project called Poppy. It’s a gizmo that gives the iPhone 3D capture and display capability. And it’s pretty darn clever.

Rather than aiming to make smartphone 3D into a world-changing breakthrough, Poppy is based on the notion that there are certain number of folks out there who might like to fool around with 3D video and still images, and that a smartphone can be a cheaper, simpler tool for the purpose than a serious camera equipped with a special 3D lens. Simple in design and vaguely reminiscent of the View-Master, it’s a plastic box, about the size of a thick-but-small hardcover book, with a slot for an iPhone 4, 4S or 5, or an iPod Touch. Stick your phone in, peer through the viewer, and you can use the Poppy app to see stereoscopic 3D content, including 3D movies on YouTube. (You control playback with the iPhone’s volume buttons, the only part of the camera that’s accessible when the phone is in the slot.)

[image] 3D images


When you want to capture 3D imagery, you swivel out the front portion of the Poppy box, which positions a mirror set-up in front of the iPhone’s camera. That allows the Poppy app to capture the two versions of a scene it needs to assemble a 3D video or still picture. Then you peer through the viewer and shoot.

How’s the quality? In the samples I saw during my demo, not bad, with a relatively crisp 3D effect. Everything is in portrait mode: Poppy takes the iPhone’s landscape-orientation display and chops it into two rectangles to create the 3D image.

When Poppy’s inventors showed me their brainchild, I guessed that it might cost somewhere around $150, and thought that serious 3D hobbyists would be willing to pay that. Nope. Because it’s basically a box with some holes and mirrors, Heitzeberg and Lowry think they can sell it for under $50, a price point much closer to impulse-purchase territory.

Assuming their Kickstarter crowdfunding effort is successful, they hope to have Poppy ready to ship by early 2014–maybe late this year if everything goes perfectly. It won’t sell by the millions, but I wouldn’t be startled if it turns out to be more of a success, on its own terms, than the EVO 3D ever was.

Poppy: Turn Your iPhone into a 3D Camera [Kickstarter]