Tagging from the iPhone is straightforward. With the iPhone connected to your computer, go to Places in Aperture and then select Import from iPhone Photos…. Aperture will then display all the photos on your iPhone that have GPS metadata and you can pick the photos from which the GPS data is to be imported. Once picked, Aperture will apply the GPS data to photos taken near the same time as the imported data.
However, one issue with the iPhone is that it really isn’t a terribly good GPS logging device. Using it as one eats the battery and the data generated often has holes. And, because the iPhone uses A-GPS (GPS assisted by cellular signal), it doesn’t work at all when hiking in areas without cell signal. Apparently, I’m mistaken about A-GPS — it should fall back to regular GPS behavior. My experience, though, is that the iPhone just isn’t a terribly good GPS device when it doesn’t have a cell signal and has often been off by miles when in the hinterlands. It works great when on the road or near cities, though.
Dragging a photo onto a track. Note that my camera’s clock was set correctly.
Importing a raw GPS Track is a slightly more involved process and, at first blush, doesn’t entirely seem as easy as it could be. But there is a good reason for the way it works; clocks on cameras generally suck and, thus, there is a need to effectively timeshift imported photos vs. the GPS data.
When you import a GPS track, the Tracks and Waypoints submenu will be populated with the various segments of GPS track data imported from the log. Once you select a GPS track that includes a location for a photo that you want to geotag, drag the photo to the exact location on the track where the photo was taken. Aperture will display the offset in time between the photo’s timestamp and the GPS data. When you drop the photo, Aperture will ask if you want to assign GPS metadata to all photos taken during the (potentially offset) duration of the GPS track.
Done. Photos geotagged. And, if you haven’t happened to reset your camera’s clock recently, you’ll probably be chagrined and amazed to know exactly how poorly your camera keeps time!
Of course, you need a source of GPS metadata. And this is where your fuzzy happy generally intuitive and “just works” experience ends. Frankly, the state of GPS support on the Mac just flat out sucks outside of a handful of navigation oriented devices.
After purchasing and returning two different devices, I finally settled on the Qstarz BT-Q1300S.
First, the good: the Q1300S has about a 15 hour battery life, recharges conveniently off of USB, and is conveniently small in size. Once you deal with the shenanigans that I’ll describe below, the unit “just works”. The LED indicators on the front are pretty straightforward. Overall, the passive industrial design — the case, the indicators, the static elements — are quite solid and attractive.
Physically, the device is small and conveniently sized. The strap is too tight and, thus, doesn’t really swivel much. I can easily replace that.
There are two additional flaws that can’t be fixed. First, the unit uses a single button for power and other functions. It is of poor quality and, after only a few uses, is starting to stick. A co-worker with the same device has the same problem.
Second, the mini-USB connector is covered by a rubber shield (good!), but that shield flips open to cover the power button (which you need to get to) and actually gets in the way of sticking in the USB cable! Dumb.
From a User Experience perspective, the device is a train wreck. To turn on, hold the power button for 4 seconds. It boots and then it starts logging (the LEDs on the front do a pretty good job of giving status, though “solid” vs. “blinking” for “looking for GPS” vs. “GPS signal good” is non-obvious). To turn off logging (convenient for downloading or for just using as a BlueTooth data source), hold down the button two seconds. To turn off, hold down the button for four seconds. There is very little visual feedback during this process.
Horrible. Combined with a button that sticks and it is close to unusable. I would much rather have two buttons — power and mode — without the need to hold either down for any length of time.
To download data, requires that the device be on. Plugging in the device causes the Battery light to come on — almost looking like a power indicator. Of course, if you turn on the device, it’ll default to logging data. Expect to always have a dozen or so data points from wherever you happened to be when you downloaded the data. Remember that rubber gasket thingy from the USB port I mentioned earlier? The one that covers the power button? Yes, it is in the way if you need to turn on the device after plugging it in.
Why the damned thing doesn’t simply turn on when USB power is applied is beyond me. Better yet, why not let the device mount as a flash drive (some units do, but they had other flaws that made them even worse than the QStarz).
Since it doesn’t mount as a drive, that means you need some software to retrieve data from the device. Thankfully, HoudahGPS to the rescue. Once configured, it works quite well. Plug in the unit, make sure it is powered up, and then click the Acquire button. Done.
Configuring the device from a Mac is… unfortunate.
The QStarz device is based on the MTK chipset. This is a fairly standard chipset and, thus, there exists open source software for interacting with it. In particular, you’ll want BT747. It is a Java application that can configure, download, and otherwise manage an MTK based device (amongst other). Via the BT747 software, you can configure the sampling rate of the device. It defaults to once-a-second, but 2 or 3 times a second is useful for tracking relatively fast moving motion that changes directions quickly; biking or driving, for example.
If you want to communicate with the QStarz via BlueTooth (and maybe via USB — I didn’t try), go to the Finder and check the Open in 32-bit mode option.
Bottom line; with geotagging of photos becoming pretty much ubiquitous across both photo organization tools and the various websites (flickr, etc), it is only a matter of time — 12 to 18 months, I would guess — until pretty much every camera has GPS built in. Until then, the QStarz 1300S fills the gap. Not nicely, but it does work.
Heck, not only can I take can take a photo of Roger and one of the very few phone booths left in the state, but I can even show you exactly where it is (turn on “Hybrid” mode to see more than a green blob on the map)!
I am concerned about build quality. The company does monitor twitter, is aware of my power button issue, and is responding extremely proactively (so far). I’m impressed and, frankly, if QStarz comes through with their promise to replace my device, it will go far to assuage my disdain for the device.
Now, if QStarz would produce a useful — simple — Mac client, that would make me even happier.