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Best way to upload photos from an iPhone, and preserve location information (or: review of Flickup for iPhone)

I use Flickr to store my photos online. You can “geotag” your photos on Flickr, to show where, exactly, they were taken (on a map). I’ve geotagged most of the 4000+ photos I have on Flickr. By hand, dragging them to the correct location on the map. What a pain.

The iPhone, with the new 2.0 software, can take pictures and tag them with your current location (if you have an iPhone 3G with real GPS, this location information is usually MUCH more precise). Suddenly, the dream of being able to get photos from the iPhone to Flickr, WITHOUT having to manually geotag or othewise manipulate them, seemed to be within reach.

So close, yet so far away.

Right now, there are a few ways to get photos from an iPhone to Flickr. The easiest, I think, is to setup the “upload by email” feature on Flickr. This gives you a secret email address that, when sent a photo as an attachment, uploads the photo to Flickr for you. This is how I get iPhone photos onto Flickr 99% of the time. The downside is, the photos get sent at a much smaller size (640×480) than they were taken at (1600×1200). On top of that, all of the “EXIF” metadata (what make and model camera took the picture, what exposure settings were used, etc.) gets stripped off of the photo when it’s emailed. This includes the geotag/location information. So it arrives at Flickr shrunken and lobotomized and unaware of where it was taken. So sad.

Once the App Store launched, Flickr uploader apps started appearing in droves. AirMe seems to be a popular one, but I tested it, and it didn’t preserve the geodata, (and I think it shrunk the photos, too). So I deleted it.

I’ve been watching the development of an app called Flickup with interest. The author, Martin Gordon (@kodachrome22 on Twitter), is someone I kind of know from Ars Technica. But most importantly, the feature list of Flickup looked promising – it can upload photos and preserve the geotag/location information. It’s not free ($1.99), so I waited a little longer to try it than I would have otherwise, but try it I have, and I’m pleased (if not 100% ecstatic) with the results.

First of all, Flickup DOES preserve the geotag information of the photos it uploads (with a caveat):

Flickup Geo Test


This is a photo I took from within the Flickup app, and uploaded straight to Flickr. The app asked me for permission to use my location (like all location-aware iPhone apps do), which I granted, et viola! The photo appears on the map where it was taken (to the best of my iPhone’s knowledge). Click on the photo then click “map” to see it – I can’t figure out a way to direct link to a single photo on the map on Flickr.

Even better, for photos taken from within the Flickup app (as opposed to uploading saved pictures from the Photo Album), the photos go up to Flickr in their full 2 megapixel 1600×1200 glory.

If you’re looking for an app ONLY to take pictures, and send them directly to Flickr, you can stop reading here. Flickup is perfect, and does everything you’d expect it to (you can edit the title, description, and tags of the photos, etc., too).

So what are the caveats? They have to do with uploading saved pictures from the iPhone’s Photo Album.

First, when you upload a saved photo from the album, it goes as a shrunken 640×480 version. Martin says this has to do with some limitations in the iPhone’s APIs (which I believe). He also says that the API is the cause of all the other EXIF metadata being stripped from the photos (which is probably what makes this such a problem in the first place – fix your stupid APIs, Apple!) Don’t count this against Martin or Flickup.

Second, when you upload a saved picture from the album, Flickup WILL geotag it, but it appears to grab your CURRENT location (it asks), rather than use the location data stored in the photo. In other words, it will geotag the photo with the location of where it was UPLOADED, instead of where it was TAKEN. Martin acknowledges this is sub-optimal.

Flickup from Photo Album Test


(A photo uploaded from my Photo Album, but geotagged at the time of upload.)

If what Martin says about the Apple APIs stripping out EXIF metadata (and again, I have no reason not to believe this is true), then there’s probably no way for Flickup (or any other photo uploader app) to preserve a photo’s ORIGINAL location information. The best we can hope for is how Flickup works – tag it with the location at the time of upload. If you take photos and upload them immediately, then there’s really no difference. But it’s super annoying that Apple comes SO CLOSE to making this work the way it should, yet falls short in the home stretch.

So, is Flickup worth the $1.99 in the App Store? If you’re a Flickr user that cares about a) uploading pictures at full size instead of 640×480, and/or actually preserving all that fancy location data that your iPhone can tack onto your photos, then yes, absolutely. Flickup is the way to go for full size geotagged Flickr uploading goodness.

There’s still room in this field for perfection. But it seems that it will depend on Apple making changes to the photo and location APIs on the iPhone, or some really clever developers figuring out ways to get around those restrictions. Guess which one I’m betting on happening first? 😉

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Two Month Kindle Review (and full text of my Washington Times interview)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Kelly Jane Torrance, a reporter for the Washington Times. She was working a piece about the Amazon Kindle ebook reader, and had seen my Kindle unboxing and initial review video. We conducted an email interview, part of which went into her final article in the Washington Times (“The Carry-On Library” – beware popups).

Of course, all of my lengthy replies didn’t make it into the article, so I’m posting them here. Consider this my “two month” review of the Kindle – that’s about how long I’ve been using it. Read on for the rest of the interview/review.

(Update: I forgot to refer you to a couple of other posts I’ve written about the Kindle, namely, my Rebuttal to Kindle Critics, in which I talk in depth about the limits, real and perceived, of the DRM on Kindle books purchased from Amazon, and “Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else“, which is pretty self-explanitory. Both are good background on my thoughts/stance on the Kindle in general, and DRM in particular. I didn’t get into DRM much in the newspaper interview.)

How long have you had your Kindle?

I’ve had my Kindle for about a month and a half, since they became reliably available in mid-April. But I’ve wanted one ever since they were released in November 2007 (and subsequently sold out in 6 hours).

Why did you decide to purchase it?

I’ve been a long time fan of ebooks. I’ve read hundreds of them on various PDA and phone devices over the last few years. Needing to touch a physical book as part of the reading experience stopped being an issue for me a long time ago. The convenience of being able to take a library of hundreds of ebooks with you on a small device is very appealing. Already a fan of ebooks in general, I wanted a dedicated reader device with an electronic ink screen (super high contrast and DPI, low power usage). Among the dedicated eInk reader devices out there (Sony Reader, etc.), I chose the Kindle for a couple of reasons.

First is the Kindle Store – the almost-150,000 books that Amazon has made available to purchase and read on the Kindle. You could have the greatest ebook reader device in the world, and without a great library/store, it would fail. I figure if anybody can do the “electronic bookstore” right, it’s Amazon.

Second, the Kindle has a built-in unlimited cellular wireless data connection. That means it can access the internet and the Kindle Store almost anywhere there’s cell phone coverage, with no monthly fee. Besides being able to look things up on Wikipedia, or browse the web, this means I can go from “I want to buy a new book” to having the book purchased and downloaded to my Kindle in a matter of minutes, from anywhere.

You mentioned you have an iPhone, so are you the sort of person who tends to buy the latest gadgets?

I’m definitely the kind of person who always wants to have the latest gadgets. I’m a geek all the way down to the core. Interestingly, it was when I bought my iPhone that I stopped reading ebooks, because there was no ebook software for the iPhone, and it replaced the other mobile gadgets that I used to carry. So when the iPhone came along, I went back to buying “dead tree” version of books. I lost the advantages of ebooks, and the paper books I was buying started piling up all around my house.

Have you always been a big reader?

Yes, I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. It drives me crazy to have a few minutes go by without something for me to read (either on my Kindle, or reading the web on my phone).

How many books do you read in a month/year?

I read probably 6-8 books a month, around 100 per year (first time I’ve counted that up – yikes!).

What sort of things do you find yourself reading on the Kindle?

I find myself reading mostly books from my favorite genres on my Kindle – science fiction, history, computer books. Besides the books that are available for purchase from Amazon, I read a ton of free books that are available from places like Project Gutenberg, Creative Commons, and the Internet Archive. Many of my favorite authors, like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, have embraced Creative Commons (“Some Rights Reserved”) as a way to distribute their work for free in order to gain new fans. Cory Doctorow has written extensively on why he follows this model (the basic argument is that for most authors, your enemy isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity), and in my case, at least, it works. I buy hard copies of Cory’s books to give to friends, as well and recommending they get the free versions of his books. He and others like him have gotten way more money out of me this way that they would have if they followed the traditional publishing model.

Are you happy with your purchase?

I am very happy with my Kindle purchase. I use it every day, and I love it more and more. I read to my daughter from it every day (she calls it my “magic book”, the best way I could think of to describe how it works to a 5 year old). I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading.

What have been the best things about the device?

As a concept, the best thing about the Kindle and ebooks in general is being able to hold hundreds (or thousands) of books in one physical device. As a device, I love the electronic ink screen on the Kindle, and the built-in wireless connection (and the fact that Amazon doesn’t artificially block you from using the web with it). The battery life is stellar (with the wireless radio turned off, battery life is measured in thousands of page turns, which translates to days and days of active use). The design and layout, while controversial, becomes immediately comfortable when you start using it – you can tell why it’s designed the way it is as soon as you hold it in your hand. For me, it has changed reading the same way MP3 and iPods changed music. It’s a real-life Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anything you’ve been dissatisfied with?

My only real complaint with the Kindle is that I wish the page would refresh faster when you “turn” it. The refresh time is about 750 milliseconds – three quarters of a second. I understand why this is – the electromechanical eInk screen just can’t flip all those pixels very fast. This will improve as the technology matures. But it’s still irritating sometimes, when the Kindle can’t keep up with me and my page turns. I also feel a little guilty when visiting my favorite local independent bookstores. I still go there, browse, and buy books that aren’t available or wouldn’t work well on the Kindle (photography books, etc.), but I’m spending a lot less time and money there than I used to.

Have you shown your Kindle to others through the forum on Amazon?

Yes, I posted a “See a Kindle in Portland, OR” in the forum that Amazon set up for this purpose. A couple people came, including another Kindle owner (at the time, the only other Kindle I had seen “in the wild” besides my own). Since then, I’ve been keeping loose track of how many people in Portland have a Kindle – we’re up to 8 or so that I know of (and a whole lot more that I don’t know about, I’m sure).

Do you find people coming up to you to ask about the Kindle? And do you enjoy showing it off?

People often come up to me and ask about the Kindle, and I love to show it off, and tell them all about it. I know several people who have decided to buy a Kindle after hearing me sing the praises of mine. Sometimes I feel like I’m working for Amazon and Jeff Bezos, and they should pay me a commission. (Actually, I am an Amazon affiliate, and I get a small percentage of Amazon credit when someone buys a Kindle through the links on my website.)

Have you traveled with your Kindle?

I have traveled with my Kindle, and it’s one of the most brilliant uses for the device. A few weeks before I got my Kindle, I took a two week trip to Shanghai, China. I brought a “dead tree” book with me to read during the trip. I finished the first book before I even left my home airport, and bought another one there. I finished that one by the time I got to San Francisco, and bought another one there. I finished that one before we landed in Shanghai. While I was there, I bought a couple more books, which were sufficient for the rest of the trip. By the time I got home, I had been carrying these five or six books in my luggage all over the world. It was that experience that gave me concrete evidence of how a Kindle could simplify my reading.

Could you see yourself taking it to the beach and places like that?

I take my Kindle with me everywhere I go – it has a semi-permanent place in my cargo pants pocket. I take it to work, to appointments, to meals, everywhere. I love being able to read for a few minutes when I have the chance.

Did this factor into your decision to buy — To me, this seems like one of the biggest benefits, being able to get what you want wirelessly, without having to carry books or worry you’ll run out of reading material.

This is exactly why I love my Kindle – being able to read what I want, when and where I want, and get new stuff to read easily and quickly, and I can carry it all around in my pocket.

/end of interview

Do you have a Kindle? If so, what do you think about it? If you don’t have one, what would it take for you to get one? Have any questions about mine? Post a comment, and let me know! :-)

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