How 3-D Modeling App Arqball Spin Could Disrupt Online Retail

The annual SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, has helped launch darling web companies such as Twitter and Foursquare. It’s a hotbed for innovation and exploration in mobile and web-based technologies.

Erick Schonfeld, the former editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, was bowled over by a web app that was overlooked by many in the tech press: Arqball Spin. This app lets users create sharp, interactive 3D renderings of objects with nothing more than their iPhone, the product platter and the mobile app, as Schonfeld explains on his blog.

Arqball uses “computational photography” to create a 3D model of the rotating object placed on the platter, and then stitches images from different angles on top of it. The result is a digital object that looks real and even catches the light the same way my watch did on that platter.

Game developers and animation studios create 3D objects like this all the time, but they don’t do it using their iPhones. That is why this is truly disruptive. It brings 3D modeling to the masses. You don’t need bulky 3D scanners or expensive desktop software, all the rendering happens in the cloud after the data is compressed to a 1 megabyte file, and what you end up with is a 3D artifact called a “spin.”

It’s easy to see this app appealing to online retailers selling everything from clothing to food, electronics and more. One of the limitations of online shopping is that the touch-and-feel aspect one gets in a physical store is lost with a static image. This technology could let small retailers create the same high-end product rendering that major retailers can, with nothing more than their app and a smartphone.

The Arqball app, which was created by two faculty members from the University of Virginia, is available for free for iPhone/iPad users through the iTunes App store. For more information on the app, watch this video by Erick Schonfeld featuring Arqball co-founder Jason Lawrence.