When the folks at Red Hill Studios set about naming their app, they really couldn’t have chosen a better name than “Be There“.

Using a combination a stunning high-resolution panoramic images, actual on-location ambient soundscapes and the iDevice’s gyroscope, they have created a wonderful and immersive experience that allows you to enjoy the sights and sounds of San Francisco, without actually being there.

Be There: San Francisco presents users with a map of the city, on which are 12 popular points of interest. These include: Coit Tower, Ferry Building, Twin Peaks, Washington Square, Painted Ladies, Russian Hill, Lombard Street, Muir Woods, Chinatown, Mission Murals and even a 1878 Historic Panorama taken by noted photographer Eadweard Muybridge. With the initial download you have immediate access to Coit Tower and Twin Peaks, with the remaining POIs unlocked via a one-time $2.99 in-app purchase (a lot less than a plane ticket).

Upon selecting a POI, you are presented with an amazing panoramic view of the location which you selected. By holding your device in front of you and tilting it up and down or physically turning your body to the left or right, your field of vision will change in the panoramic photo as if you were really there, looking around at the scenery. This is accomplished using Red Hill Studios’ proprietary Panopticon™ technology, which monitors your iPad’s e gyroscopes and updates the view in sync with your movements.

For the full experience, be sure to have your sound turned on so that your ears will be treated to soundscapes of water and birds on the pier at the Ferry Building or nature and wind gusts high atop Coit Tower. The overall immersive effect on the third gen iPad is actually quite impressive, especially if you are wearing headphones. You’ll almost feel like you’ve been magically transported to the heart of San Francisco. About all that’s missing to complete the effect, is for the iPad to waft scented air toward your face.

As you scan across the San Francisco landscape you’ll see a number of little POI pop-ups, which when tapped, will offer up some facts and information about that particular location and allow you to quickly navigate there for a closer look. I found these informational tidbits interesting and useful in learning a little more about the city. However, there was no way to completely toggle these off if I just wanted to just take in the scenery without these constantly popping up to distract me once I’d already read them. Hopefully this can be added in a future update. Another nice enhancement would be if I had the ability to just listen to the informational blurbs instead of reading them, like an audio tour of the city.

If you feel self-conscious about turning around with your iPad or iPhone in hand, then you also have the ability to manually manipulate the panorama with your fingers. Simply swipe up, down, left or right to change the part of the panorama that you are looking at. This however, essentially kills the unique immersive effect of the app. However one thing I could see this being useful for, is if you were actually visiting San Francisco, you could bring the app up on your iPhone, line up the panoramic image to your exact point of view with your fingers. Then while you are actually turning, taking in the real-world sites (iPhone in-hand), you could use the touch points on the panorama as a sort of augmented reality tour guide to tell you about what you are seeing.

I see so many potential applications for Be There: San Francisco and its underlying technology. In fact, Red Hill plans to release a whole suite of Be There apps in the coming months with virtual explorations of a number of other locations including Yosemite Valley, Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C.

In Conclusion

From re-experiencing a fun vacation, to visiting a place you might never have otherwise seen Be There: San Francisco can be your virtual tour guide on an adventurous escape. Parents and educators could use this as a learning tool with their kids or students to teach them about other places or cultures. My wife and I visited San Francisco for the first time earlier this year and this app brought back some great memories.

It is great to see this type of innovative use of the technology. Though it is a universal app, Be There: San Francisco is really best experienced on an iPad, so if you have one I’d recommend that download this free app and experience this neat Panopticon™ technology for yourself.