It’s lunch time and I’m in Chengdu, China, standing in a brick-laden artery of historical Jing Alley. I’m watching a family of three hunched over wooden benches under the awning of a street vendor cart, studiously picking from small garnished bowls of rice. Off to the right, I see a procession of dishes filled with delicious sauces, meats, and vegetables the family must have chosen from a moment ago.
It’s all very frustrating because I can’t place an order. Not because of a language barrier, but because I’m not really there. I’m looking around Jing Alley using an app on my iPhone.
My passport to Chengdu was stamped by Vrway Communication’s Arounder, an interactive and immersive panoramic travel photography viewer available both for computers and iOS/Android devices. Globe trekkers and armchair travelers alike are invited to play virtual tourist from an alphabetical list of global destinations–from Aarhus, Denmark to Zermatt, Switzerland–each subcategorized with thousands of 360-degree viewable panoramic points of interest. An overhead Google Map pinned with numbered sites to zoom for a closer look operates as the gateway for the web edition, while iOS and Android versions introduce users with a geographic “By Country” list to begin.
Technologically speaking, the Arounder viewer itself isn’t too different from the various iterations of user-controlled, panoramic imagery made most famous by Apple’s QuickTime technology. A composite image is created by stitching numerous photographs taken from a stationary point from every angle, including overhead and underfoot, resulting in a simulated view that allows users to turn left, right, up and down. You navigate with your keyboard and mouse in the web edition, and with swipes and taps in mobile app versions.
The overall effect is reminiscent of the early ‘90s first-person graphic adventure puzzle computer game Myst, with each locale presented as a silent still frame with a slight fisheye distortion. A quick scroll or flick of the mouse and the perspective can be manipulated from an ultra-wide view down to “please step behind the line, sir” closeups.
The option to peer directly overhead and below proves especially useful when admiring sights like the gilded architectural detailing surrounding the collections within the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica e Palazzo Madama or the ruddy, arid soil underfoot at Ayers Rock in the Australian outback. One drawback: You’re anchored to a single spot, so you can’t explore every last inch of your virtual destination beyond where the photo was taken. Also, I did run into one problem while viewing locations from a 1920 x 1080 resolution Android Kit Kat-powered device: the tiled images would misalign spoiling the view. But web and iOS app versions worked perfectly with nary a seam visible.
Overall, Arounder is a more robust experience in app form and makes more sense to use while traveling as a visual guide for planning what’s worth seeing and what to skip. Android and iOS versions include the option to book hotel rooms, find restaurant contacts, and use GPS-guided recommendations right from the app. Hundreds of other locations are listed to explore all across Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa, Oceana, and even beyond our planetary orbit, presenting points of interest varying from the remote to the bustling, the architectural to the natural, the fashionable to the macabre.
One last note: after several minutes “visiting” three or four destinations, I actually started to feel some motion sickness and had to stop for a breath. It’s both a warning and a tribute to Arounder’s immersive effects–and a reminder to always travel with some Dramamine.
Look around with Arounder here.