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Microsoft’s 3D Capture: Why is it better than any other 3D scanning mobile app?

On October 26, 2016 Microsoft quashed the rumors and proved they aren’t going to give up on mobile development just yet. Putting its Kinect-based 3D scanning solution aside, Microsoft demonstrated how high-quality 3D capture and modeling can fit into a mobile device.

Microsoft's 3D capture for mobile

The trick isn’t completely new: iOS, Android and Windows markets already had both free and paid apps capable of producing startling 3D models, elaborated down to the texture. Microsoft hasn’t revealed anything about its app (or a camera feature?) in particular, but here is what their demo alone has promised to contribute to the 3D scanning market:

Genuine 3D scanning

Almost every 3D scanning app on the market offers the same 3 steps. First, a user should take about 15-30 photos of an object from various angles and upload them to the server. (Scann3D allows not only taking images directly via the app, but also uploading already existing ones.) Then, to create a detailed 3D model, the app’s backend basically ‘stitches’ all still images together. After that, the model will be up for downloading (Trnio will even notify you about it).  

From what Microsoft showed during the demo, they want their app to be a genuine, real-time scanner. As the user circles the object, Microsoft’s 3D Capture doesn’t take images but rather analyzes the object on the fly and recreates the nodes for a future model. The only app on the market that uses fluid motion in a similar way is itSeez3D, yet it has its own downside, that will be revealed in the next section.

Instant processing

Even though 123D Catch, Trnio and itSeez3D are capable of producing quality 3D models, they heavily rely on the Wi-Fi connection and cloud servers. At times, users have to patiently wait for their images to be processed and only 30 minutes later they can download 3D models from the server. That is, if the processing doesn’t result in an error.

As opposed to other apps, Scann3D for Android offers on-device processing but needs even more time to perform it. For about an hour, the device’s CPU will be fully loaded with the modeling task and won’t allow its user to do pretty much anything else.

The model that Microsoft’s app created during the demo was clearly processed right on the device, since the nodes of the image were recreated on the fly, just like in Scann3D. Yet, unlike Scann3D, the model in the Microsoft app was finished in mere 5 seconds. From the demo alone, it’s not safe yet to say that the app will guarantee such instant results, but we don’t mind being reasonably optimistic.

All-platform compatibility

Although 3D capture was demonstrated on a Windows 10 mobile device, Microsoft announced that the feature will reach all devices. This statement was met with an impatient “when?” from both iPhone and Android fans all over Twitter with the MicrosoftEvent hashtag.

In fact, Microsoft has a great chance to justify its 2016 acquisition of Xamarin and go with Xamarin development. Xamarin’s Mono virtual machine can translate the native language of Windows apps – C# – into the original code of Objective-C apps (for iOS) and bytecode executed on Android. As the result of mobile development on Xamarin, all platforms will treat apps as if they were native. But the question of whether Microsoft will indeed use the Xamarin technology to bring their intricate 3D scanning functionality to iOS and Android still stands.

Update 30/03/2017 : Microsoft still intends to bring the app to multiple platforms at once, but hasn’t defined the release date yet.

The bottom line

No wonder that Microsoft’s 3D Capture app has become a hit among users of all platforms sooner that it got an official release date. The public interest in 3D scanning apps was proved earlier this year, when Snapchat acquired the 3D capturing app Seene to expand their image messaging offer.

However, other than in online networking, 3D scanning can be used for different purposes. Scann3D demonstrates one of the ways by successfully providing its functionality for real estate agencies who publish 3D apartment tours on their websites. Hopefully, Microsoft’s 3D Capture will become a high-quality and time-efficient tool that will help to transform many businesses.

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