Poppy debuts on Kickstarter to turn your iPhone into a 3D camcorder

By Michael Carney , written on June 26, 2013

From The News Desk

IPhone photographers stand to gain a whole new dimension thanks to a Kickstarter campaign launched today. Poppy is a Viewmaster-like case and an accompanying photography app that when fitted onto an iPhone 4, 4S, 5, and iPod Touch turns the device into both a 3D camera and a 3D video viewer. The product was created by former Urbanspoon founder Ethan Lowry and Snapvine co-founder and MediaPiston founder Joe Heitzeberg.

Poppy works by utilizing mirrors to capture two stereographic video images using the iPhone's single camera lens. The accompanying app then combines these streams into a single 3D video that is viewable on a Poppy as well as any other 3D viewing device – including 3D TVs or a standard screen with red/blue glasses. The device can also be used to view third-party 3D content such as Hollywood movie trailers and other content on YouTube. There are no batteries or sensors within the Poppy, as all image processing is handled by the iDevice.

Poppy dual shot

Lowry and Heitzenberg have already completed Prototypes of the Poppy, one of which I was able to demo last week. The device is well constructed and looks like it rolled off a production line, except for its absence of any visible branding. The founders already have their overseas manufacturing facility selected and are turning to Kickstarter to raise $40,000, which will go to final tooling and to fund the initial production run of Poppy devices. This is Lowry and Heitzenberg’s first hardware product, however the Santa Barbara residents have chronicled their journey from Web development into the maker world on their Hack Things blog.

An interesting result of Poppy’s design is that it makes for a fully immersive viewing experience, like looking through a pair of binoculars. This is ill-suited for consuming long form content, but for short and even mid-length content it’s a pleasant experience. A downside of the design, although one that would be difficult to avoid with a product offering this functionality, is that it is too big to put in your pocket and thus will not always be available when the perfect 3D moment presents itself. The device itself is roughly five inches by four inches by two inches in dimension, if I had to eyeball it, but is lightweight given its size. It’s most likely that owners will choose to carry the device strategically, similar to a DSLR, to events that lend themselves to 3D videography. Otherwise, it makes a fun coffee table consumption device and conversation piece.

Behind the Poppy mobile app, the founders plan to create a Vine- and Instagram-like video social network dedicated to 3D content. Users can share content as they create it to their public and private follower graphs and also consume the content shared by others. The only drawback is that the this consumption experience will be limited by one’s access to their Poppy hardware or another 3D screen. Those fleeting moments in line at the grocery store or on the train are likely better suited to traditional photo and video content, or Dots, while consuming Poppy content will need to be saved for a more “leanback” time and place.

For those interested in Poppy, a Kickstarter contribution of just $50 will make you the proud owner of one of the first production devices created – which are expected to ship before the end of the year. Final retail pricing has not been set, but expect the total to end up closer to $99. I expect the device to a hit among photography enthusiasts, and hipsters, as well as action sports fans. In that way, it could follow a similar trajectory as GoPro in its early days, before it became a mass cultural phenomenon.

An Amazon search for 3D video cameras (further filtered for camcorders) returns 200 results which range in price (and quality) from $55 up to $3,000, many of which require special lenses and accessories to support 3D filming. Poppy’s advantage, other than its price, is that it turns what is already the world’s most popular camera – one that also happens to be connected to the internet – into a 3D camcorder, and does so in a durable and hipster-chic form factor.

Despite years of promises and excitement, 3D video remains a niche market. For that reason Poppy will surely start out as a novelty, assuming it’s successful in reaching its Kickstart goals. But there’s a difference between artificially adding 3D to a Hollywood movie for marketing effect and the joy of creating this highly engaging content yourself while watching your kids play on the playground or your friends perform skateboard or basketball tricks. The latter, being personal, is likely to be far more engaging and fun, both to create and to consume.

3D video is unlikely to takeover standard video entirely, but there is a place for this content. By virtue of being accessibly priced and first to market, Poppy is in a great position to bring 3D home video into the mainstream.