First a caveat – I try not to review or discuss specific gadgets here at RandomConnections unless I actually have the device in hand and have played with it, either having purchased it for myself, for work, or having swiped it from a friend for a test run. I don’t like to speculate on a device’s capabilities unless I’ve seen them myself. Also, especially this close to Christmas a favorable review might be taken as a “wish list”, and that’s not necessarily the case. So, I tend to stick with what I’ve actually seen.
Today I’m going to break with that policy somewhat. My intent was to discuss a capability rather than a specific device or brand, but it turns out that only one brand has this feature (so far.) I’m talking about photo navigation, the ability to navigate to a geotagged photo via GPS as an inherent capability of the device.
Some background – recently I was contacted by a visitor to the site seeking more information on geotagging audio. The project he’s working on sounds fascinating. He would like to develop tours with information that would be triggered by location. For example, a visitor would have some sort of GPS-enabled media player. When the visitor comes within range of a specific coordinate, images, audio, or video related to that location would appear on the device.
This all sounds pretty cool and feasible. However, there are some obstacles. First, there is no inherent industry standard method for geotagging audio or video. You can, however, write location data into the EXIF metadata for photographs. You could create something with these capabilities, but you would need to cross-reference the media files with an external database that contains the locaton information. About the only way to do that would be with a laptop attached to an external GPS such as the Delorme Earthmate. While these capabilities could easily be programmed into a single portable device, to my knowledge such a device is not currently available on the market. There are many GPS units on the market that can serve as media players, but there is not location data recorded for those files.
Shortly after this e-mail discussion and with GPS capabilities on my mind, I was in Walmart and I walked past the GPS units. I saw that most of the Garmin units on sale featured “photo navigation.” Like many other brands, the Garmin GPS systems can act like a picture viewer. However, they take this one step further by allowing to you set the image as a Point of Interest (POI) if the image has been geotagged using EXIF data. This allows users to navigate via GPS to the location where the picture was taken. Garmin has also provided a direct link to the Google Panoramio site so that you can download geotagged images of your destination.
I’m not sure how useful this feature really is, but the coolness factor is pretty high. From a photography standpoint, I’d love to be able to download geotagged images that I like from Flickr or Panoramio and go to those locations. Both the locations and the photos themselves give me inspiration for my own photos, as well as teaching me a little about how the photographer may have taken the image.
I said previously that Garmin is the only brand that has this feature. However, in the course of writing this post I discovered that I was wrong. Both Mio and the New Zealand company NavMan have GPS units that include photo navigation similar to the Garmin units. The Mio unit is essentially a smart photo with built-in camera and GPS. The NavMan units are dedicated GPS units, but they also have a basic camera built into them. These units are only available in Europe, so that still leaves Garmin as the only real option for photo navigation in US markets. Below is a promotional YouTube video from NavMan describing the NavPix capabilities, but the concept can apply equally to the Garmin system…
Photo navigation capabilities are moving in the right direction (OK, bad joke.) However, I would love to see a generic device that would do what my recent visitor suggested – play media as you reached a location. If it were generic enough, users could download their own tours for a variety of locations. I could see loads of marketing potential here. In addition to general sight-seeing, you could also use it for house-hunting, etc.
I’d also love to see a device that would also allow you to create your own tours on the fly. Include a simple memo record function with built-in microphone that would allow you to geotag the audio file as you record it. Of course, such a device would allow you to export the data so that you could share it with other. With capabilities such as this, you could create a whole new level of GPS and treasure-hunt related games. Geocaching would start to look like Pong compared to what would be possible with such a device. I guess I need to get busy and invent it, or just wait patiently until someone else puts one together. I don’t think it will be long, though.