Photos That Find Themselves
The first time I inspected a photo "geotagged" with the Eye-Fi Explore card and saw that Eye-Fi's software had not only placed the picture on the map within maybe 30 feet of the spot where I'd pressed the camera's button, but also the copy uploaded to Flickr was tagged with the appropriate city and state, I thought "cool!"
But when I told my editor about this successful test, her reaction was more along the lines of "that's kind of creepy."
Technologies that do things you've never seen done before can be like that. As I wrote in today's column, I found the Eye-Fi's auto-location abilities more fascinating than frightening, but I can see how others might disagree.
I was also pleased to see a combination of hardware, software and Web services function as advertised for a change. A lot of the products I try out fail when they have to interact with a device or a program from another company, but this was a rare case where things largely lived up to their advance billing. The software performed properly in Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.5 (it was even smart enough to verify that it would work through the firewall software on each system), after which pictures flowed from card to computer and thence to photo-sharing sites (although the Eye-Fi-to-Photoshop Express connection didn't work for a day, due to a now-fixed bug).
I was surprised, however, to see such limited support for geotagging in photo-album programs and the more than 20 picture-sharing sites Eye-Fi supports, including such popular sites as Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Kodak Gallery and Photobucket. Many of these applications either ignore the latitude and longitude coordinates Eye-Fi adds to the "EXIF" tags of photo files or don't provide a clickable map in response to them. I expect this to change before too long.
I ended the column with some perhaps-wishful speculation about some sort of self-location feature becoming a standard camera component. But what kind? The WiFi-based system used by the Eye-Fi Explore has the advantage of quick operation (it should only take a second or so to get a fix on nearby wireless networks), indoor and outdoor operation, relatively low battery consumption and affordable hardware (note that the card's $129.99 price covers the operating costs of the Web services that cross-reference the anonymous MAC addresses of nearby WiFi routers with Skyhook Wireless's database of wireless networks). GPS, however, works anywhere on or off the surface of the Earth, provided the receiver can see enough of the system's satellites.
Jef Holove, Eye-Fi's chief executive, predicted that GPS capability would remain too expensive to be more than a luxury option: "The camera business is very very cost-sensitive." At Skyhook, founder and chief executive Ted Morgan thought a GPS-enabled camera would still need WiFi, both for picture-transfer purposes and to jump-start GPS auto-lcation. "GPS takes a good minute or so to get a fix on a location," he said. "We can... help GPS get a fix quicker."
GPS developers, naturally, say they can solve the lag and battery-consumption issues on their own. I look forward to seeing these two camps race each other to market--I'm confident enough that they can work this out that I've put automatic geotagging on the requirements list for my next camera.
How intriguing do you find the whole geotagging concept? Has it earned a spot on your own wish list, or is it yet another "must-have" feature you can do without?
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