Thoughts on the 360 Product Photography Industry

3D/360º photography is a fairly new industry. For an industry to grow, it needs to have a few crucial ingredients.

In our case, the first one is bandwidth.  The speed of the Internet was vastly  inadequate back in early 2000.  Back then, serving a high-bandwidth 360º view of a product on a website was out of the question.  As the years passed, the speed of the Internet slowlyincreased while the cost of website hosting services decreased; this makes 360º views feasible.  As of today, the world-wide Internet speed (both PC and mobile) has arguably reached the point to where it can consistently support a high-bandwidth, high-resolution 360º view under most circumstances.

So bandwidth is no longer the problem.

What’s next?  Creating good 360º images.  For the average Joe, it is not easy to make good-looking 360º images without good hardware.  So good, affordable hardware is a huge ingredient for mass adoption of 360º photography.  Like the computer industry back in the late 1970s, many people opted to engineer and build their own hardware from scratch.  That approach works great for tinkerers (like some of us), but it’s not an option for the masses.  The average Joe needs a pre-made, motorized 360º photography turntable that is easy to use, reasonably priced, and produces good-looking 360º images of most types of products (big and small, heavy and light).  In the USA, there is no company I know of that makes such a machine to date.  Some products hit on a few of those key areas, but none hit all of them.  Right now it’s akin to the smartphone industry before the first iPhone came out.  There, I said it.

As things currently stand, there is enough of a market that new hardware companies are starting to pop up exponentially.  Many of them are taking a stab at trying to develop that magical “silver bullet” 360º turntable for the masses.  Once that product hits worldwide markets – and is marketed well – 360º views will become more commonplace.  However, until that product hits the market, 360º view popularity will continue to grow at its current, somewhat modest pace.

Earlier in 2013 I went on a business trip to Europe to meet with many of the companies that manufacture 360º photography turntables.  About half of them are brand-new companies; they just launched within the last year or two.  Of those six companies, I’d say about half of them have something really close to that “silver bullet.”  Right now the hardest part for them is cracking into foreign markets, especially the market in the USA.  There are multiple bureaucratic and financial hurdles, which can take significant resources to jump over.  Many of these companies are very young and small, so the hurdles they face are sometimes too high to jump over.  Sad but true.  Fortunately, a few of them have managed to make it over, and they are just now starting to make a dent in that market.

What’s interesting, though, is that 360º product photography is more or less a one-way door.  Once a customer starts using 360º views on their website, they typically adopt it permanently.  As one might expect, going back to static images becomes an unattractive proposition.

There’s one last ingredient, though.  Software.  Specifically, I’m talking about the 360º viewer that displays the 360º images on a website.  In general, software is a faster moving industry with fewer and lower hurdles than what the hardware industry faces.  As of now, there are quite a few software solutions out there that we at Imajize compete with.  This has been a blessing in disguise.  It has fueled our innovation and it has also helped us to focus on making an insanely great 360º viewer that works good inside and out.  I hope that this will be the type of atmosphere that the 360º photography turntable industry also gets to grow in (as opposed to competing based on who has the broadest-reaching patents).

Conclusion; I believe the hardware industry is the last piece of the puzzle.  It’s nearing the point to where it can satisfy the masses.  Once the average customer has easy access to a good, affordable hardware solution, 360º views of products will become far more widespread across the Web.

As of now, the hardware throne for 360º product photography is still up for grabs.  Who do you think will take it?

Michael Allen