As a number of people have already noted, Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) release of Seadragon for the iPhone — an image-viewing app based on the deep-zoom technology behind the software giant’s Photosynth project — doesn’t just seem like an admission that the iPhone is better than any other mobile out there: Microsoft product manager Alex Daley comes right out and says as much in an interview with Todd Bishop of the blog Tech Flash:
"The iPhone is the most widely distributed phone with a (graphics processing unit),” Daley explained. “Most phones out today don’t have accelerated graphics in them. The iPhone does and so it enabled us to do something that has been previously difficult to do. I couldn’t just pick up a Blackberry or a Nokia off the shelf and build Seadragon for it."
For me, this is one of the biggest differences between the iPhone and any other mobile device (with the possible exception of the Sony PlayStation Portable). Yes, the apps are fun and the GUI is cool and the accelerometer and auto screen rotation and all of that are great, but the way it handles images — including photos, Web browsing and even games — is just light-years ahead of anything else. And Seadragon, for all the crap that Microsoft gets from a lot of people, including me, is pretty damn cool (although the name seems a little too consciously imitative of Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.).
I downloaded the app and in about two minutes I was zooming in on ancient maps from the Library of Congress and then satellite imagery of Toronto, which it picked up as my current location using the GPS in the iPhone. The speed with which it managed to do all of that, and on a mobile device, is pretty amazing — it was even faster than Google Maps on my desktop. And I can’t imagine doing it on any other device than the iPhone.