Earlier this week, real estate tech giant Zillow announced that its free iPhone app for creating interactive virtual home tours out of photos, Zillow 3D Home, is now available to anyone across the U.S. and Canada. But now other more specialized imaging companies are fighting back, saying Zillow’s offering is hardly “true” 3D — and that they ultimately offer better, higher quality, more immersive imagery.
In an email to Inman, Anton Yakubenko, co-founder and CEO of 3D imaging company GeoCV, offered some praise for Zillow, saying that the company has “done an amazing job curating, capturing, processing and visualization for classic 360 virtual tours.”
He also described the launch of Zillow’s 3D Home app as a positive thing because it could ultimately prompt users to “upgrade to the next level,” which may mean migrating to GeoCV’s imaging services.
However, Yakubenko also argued that Zillow’s free app is creating 360 degree tours, which are not genuine 3D.
“There is still a huge gap between Zillow 360 tours and GeoCV genuinely 3D tours,” Yakubenko said. “GeoCV 3D tours have a 3D model view to showcase and understand the layout, and smooth transitions between panoramas without jumps from room to room. It’s possible to extract a floor plan with 98 percent accurate dimensions, and print resolution HDR photos from GeoCV 3D tours.”
Yakubenko added that overall, GeoCV offers “a much more complete and appealing digital twin of the property.”
GeoCV launched in 2014 and today emphasizes its ability to produce cost-effective 3D tours using a variety of different devices. The company has focused particularly on working with professional photographers, who capture images using a smartphone, a sensor, a tripod and a rotator device.
The company offers monthly subscriptions that include data editing, file hosting, 3D model downloads and other services. The most basic plan costs $149 per month, though the company told Inman that most users have gravitated to the unlimited tier, which costs $599 per month.
Notably, however, GeoCV does not yet let customers capture files that it can turn into a 3D tour with only their iPhone(s). However, the company hopes that the next iteration of the iPhone includes the technology necessary to shoot imagery with enough detail for it to convert into its 3D tours.
By comparison, Zillow says that its 3D Home app can capture the imagery for an interactive home tour with just an iPhone. Once a user shoots images of a property, Zillow’s technology stitches them together into a complete space.
However, Zillow 3D Home lacks the detailed 3D floor plan and ability for users to move around extensively within each 3D room of a home that GeoCV offers.
Like GeoCV, Matterport, which also launched in 2014 and offers 3D floor plans and tours, similarly told Inman this week that Zillow’s approach does not ultimately create a product that is 3D.
“360 property tours, such as the one announced Monday, lock you into one fixed position and perspective at a time, making it difficult to orient yourself and limiting their application,” Matterport said in an emailed statement. “360 is not the same as 3D. For customers and professionals looking to make consequential decisions around properties, these factors are material and the differences in quality between 3D and 360 are immediately noticeable.”
Matterport further argued that products like Zillow’s “have been around for years and have been shown to be far less effective than both true 3D and high-quality 2D photography for real estate sales and marketing.” By contrast, the company said that it is “the only platform that creates true 3D models of the built environment.”
In the past, Matterport was known among the real estate industry by its Pro 2 camera, which currently retails for just under $3,400. Matterport also offers a multi-tiered subscription service for hosting massive, detail-rich 3D image files.
More recently, however, the company has launched a new software platform-based subscription offering, Matterport Cloud 3.0, designed to make its 3D tours more accessible to a wider customer base. In January, it announced that it would let users shoot images with consumer or pro-sumer grade 3D cameras, such as the Insta360 ONE X, that cost around $400. And at the same time, the company touted new, cheaper subscription tiers, starting with a free one (though it only grants users the capability to host one 3D space on the Matterport cloud and it can only be shared privately, not posted publicly).
In its statement to Inman this week, Matterport said it is “the only real 3D solution available for 360-degree cameras.”
Asked about claims that 3D Home isn’t true 3D, Zillow responded with a statement in which senior product development director Josh Weisberg said “we are focused on providing an authentic and immersive view of a home for the more than 157 million unique visitors that visit our sites and apps each month.”
“We know home buyers care about features that make finding a home easier — which 3D Home does, for free, and we are just getting started,” Weisberg added. “Zillow continues to leverage emerging technology to create a more seamless, on-demand real estate experience.”
Zillow also clearly believes that at the very least its product will be good enough. In a statement announcing the 3D Home launch, the company described the tool as “an AI-powered mobile platform for iOS devices that allows anyone to capture 360-degree panoramic photos of a home and easily create a 3D tour.”
Zillow’s statement did not get into the finer distinctions between 360 degree imagery and “true” 3D, but argued that its app gives people “an easy way to enhance their home listings, at no cost, and also provides buyers with a more authentic, immersive experience of a home.”
Zillow also has a significant home court advantage: The company’s 3D Home tours can be embedded directly on its namesake home search portal website, which for better or worse is the first gateway into real estate for a large number of consumers (over 180 million as of the company’s latest earnings statement). Other interactive tours such as those from Matterport or GeoCV, on the other hand, cannot currently be embedded in a Zillow listing. (They can appear on other portals, however, such as Redfin.)
Inman has interacted with imagery from all of these providers, and the three dimensional spaces created by Matterport and GeoCV do have more features and are more immersive than those produced by Zillow’s 3D Home.
The question, then, is if a richer, higher quality product will trump the convenience and free capabilities that Zillow offers?
The established providers do think that users will ultimately want more from their interactive home tours.
Jonathan Klein, GeoCV’s managing director, reiterated to Inman this week in a phone conversation that there is a distinction between 360 degree imagery and true 3D, and pointed specifically to the “dollhouse” view — a kind of 3D digital blueprint of a property — as something that Zillow can’t offer.
But Klein also said that “awareness is great for the industry,” and suspected that users will ultimately want to graduate up to products like the ones his company offers.
“This opens the door for adoption for more sophisticated technology,” he said.
This post was updated after publication with a statement from Zillow’s Josh Weisberg.
Correction: This post initially misidentified the Insta360 ONE X camera.