Geotagging… is my mom getting it soon?

When in 2002 I started thinking about location information that’s embedded by your camera in photographs (aka “geotagging”), Ayman was still using a twin lens reflex camera (I don’t think he does anymore, he’s been working on getting up to date with consumer technology). Also back then, the location-based-camera (LbC) technology seemed to be a unknown-number-of-years-but-at-least-forever away from mass market.

Since then, photo geotagging was popularized by Flickr (and later Panoramio) at least among enthusiasts (led by chief mischief and enthusiast). Even more recently, new GPS-supporting devices are available to the masses like the Nokia N95 and the new iPhone (the iPhone can use cell towers or wifi signals for location as well). Unfortunately, the masses need to be aware of the availability of the location data and the applications that make use of it (like ZoneTag). The iPhone is promising but I am not sure it has a native geotagging camera application. From the far left side, Sony has been selling a GPS device that can by synchronized with your photos. But the LbC is still, effectively, mostly in the hands of enthusiasts.

Will EyeFi change the picture (ha!)? I don’t think so, despite what David Pogue has to say (“so clever, so revolutionary“). Yes, EyeFi has the technology to make any miniSD-card camera into a LbC. Yes, they are using Skyhook Wireless APIs to map from detected wifi signals to location information (hardly revolutionary by now, but certainly quite cool). So, yes, EyeFi promises to deliver limited-coverage geotagging for a wide range of consumer cameras. Great step forward, but not enough.

Two conditions are required to make this technology mainstream. First, the hardware needs to be cheap and built into the camera as a feature (or at least sold as part of a kit and fit inside the camera – the EyeFi card can certainly go that route).  More importantly, personal photo managnement software (e.g. Picasa, iPhoto, Windows Vista – brrrr) needs to natively support the location capabilities so that there are significant benefits for any single user (or family) in adopting it. Just having a location stamp on the photo will not be of interest to my mom. She does not upload to Flickr and does not care about maps. But if additional services are build around that location data – anything from automatic digital scrapbooking to additional information based on the photo’s or collection context – that could become more interesting. Andy Fitzhugh had shown some options for consumer photos with his Virgil, back in the days; I also suggested some personal photo collection benefits. Not only desktop apps – Flickr and Facebook, for example, could also create more interesting geotagging applications with better personal appeal.

Given the rumors in the past, and iPhoto’s adoption of the timestamp-based organization of photos, and the iPhone’s location capabilities, I predict that Apple will be the first out there to support location in a mass-market application (and the devices will follow). Sony, by the way, has an application now that works with their GPS device, but I don’t think it has more than basic map features. But it’s coming! 6 years from now we’ll all have LbCs. Except Ayman, maybe.

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