Last night, the NY Times reported that the man primarily responsible for Microsoft’s Photosyth product, Blaise Agüera y Arcas, is joining Google. Agüera y Arcas is not simply an engineer or technician, he offers a rare combination of technical expertise, design and product vision.
Agüera y Arcas joined Microsoft when his 2003 startup, Seadragon, was acquired by Microsoft Research in 2006. The next year, that technology launched as Photosynth, one of the most innovative software tools or products Microsoft had then produced to date. Unfortunately, the Photosynth never caught on among mainstream users and its promise was never fully realized by Microsoft.
One imagines that if it had launched as an app a few years later, in the mobile era, it might have seen greater adoption and usage by “ordinary people.”
In roughly 2008, Photosyth and its image rendering capabilities were integrated into Microsoft’s mapping platform, then Live Maps. A version of Photosynth’s functionality was essentially copied by Google and integrated into Google Maps in 2009.
Agüera y Arcas’ last title at Microsoft was “architect of Bing Mobile and Mapping.” He was also a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer. Agüera y Arcas has also worked on wearable computing, augmented reality and natural user interface design. He was a central figure at Bing Maps.
The NY Times says he “will work on machine learning at Google, according to several people with knowledge of his plans.” I’m sure his role will be more elaborate than that suggests.
I’ve always been quite impressed by Agüera y Arcas when I’ve heard him speak. But it’s unclear to me how much of a practical loss his departure is to Bing Maps and Microsoft. The reason for his departure wasn’t revealed.
Below is the 2007 Ted Talk in which Agüera y Arcas first introduces Photosyth.