Historical photos get a digital twist with Historypin iPhone app

Aug 22, 2011
Tech

I so wanted to love Historypin. As a nerd for historical photos, the idea of being able to see how the world has changed — with the app you can overlay a historic photo over your current location as it’s seen through the camera viewfinder — was intriguing. Earlier this year, I flipped for a […]

I so wanted to love Historypin. As a nerd for historical photos, the idea of being able to see how the world has changed — with the app you can overlay a historic photo over your current location as it’s seen through the camera viewfinder — was intriguing. Earlier this year, I flipped for a similarly conceived app devoted to San Francisco, but my experience with Historypin, for iPhone and iPod touch (The app says it’s compatible with all versions, but I’d think users with camera-equipped Touches would have the best experience) wasn’t as much of a lovefest.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Historypin’s concept has a future, but the app itself needs work. First, it’s unstable, consistently crashing when finding my current location or trying to view the available images. Second, it’s extremely slow, taking considerable time to load, well, everything in the app from images, to splash pages to maps. Because this is what the app does, and not a supplementary feature, it’s a prominent issue.

The app is obviously still collecting photos, so there’s no promise your area will have any images nearby. I don’t find that to be an inherent problem — there are photo collections available, so you can still get some use out of the app — but what does disappoint me is the fact that the photos that are available in Historypin are small. You can view the image slightly larger if you go into overlay mode — this turns on your camera so if you’re standing on the exact spot the original image was taken, you can line up the past with the present. Swiping your finger down will increase the opacity so you can see through the old image to line it up properly. Even with this, I wish there was a way to just zoom in or enlarge the original image without turning the camera on, especially since I think most people who would want to view the image as an overlay would also want the option of taking a photo of the present-day site. This feature exists, but it’s through a separate button and requires a Google account (Historypin is a Google partner). This should all be integrated in one location.

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I like that the app offers the ability to stumble upon a random photo by shaking the device. I also like that Historypin offers a search bar to find specific keywords or location, as well as the ability to filter photos to a specific date range when viewing the map. Not all photos offer historical information, which was a touch disappointing since context really helps bring the images alive.

I hope Historypin can crowdsource enough old images to turn the app into a solid educational tool, but until then, getting the app up to speed should be priority one.

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