Thursday, January 15, 2009

Geography, Archaeology and the iPhone

In many ways, the 3G version of the iPhone has the potential to be a great little device for field data collection. The iPhone boasts a GPS, a digital camera a great buttonless interface, sharp graphics, integration with Google Earth and a remarkable programming SDK. Yeah, there are downsides: the precision of the GPS is probably ca. 5 meters at best, the camera CCD "only" 2 megapixels, the SDK is available only through a developers program, the 3G data plan will bankrupt most people if used internationally in "data roaming" mode. But compared with the expensive, heft and "special purpose" nature of most professional gps/data collectors - the iPhone is kind of the ultimate in tiny, ubiquitous, multi-functional and inexpensive field device since one can:

- take geotagged photos of landscapes/artifacts/objects

- record notes for positions through a host of applications.

- locate oneself on satellite imagery and aerial photography - live and in the field!

- perform functions such as calculate slope, measure remote heights through 3rd-party apps

- potentially develop specialized GIS field data collection apps using the SDK (which has a SQL dimension) in which one can photograph features, record positions and describe things using a pre-set data dictionary.

- not to mention it's a phone.

I think that some of the potential for the iPhone is just beginning to emerge as developers find out about the possibilities of this platform and GIS users realize what they have in their pockets. As it stands there are a number of good applications that point in the direction that the iPhone platform can go in terms of GIS functions. For reference sake here are a list of apps that I have come across to date. There are many others - if you have any good ones, let me know.

- Google Earth (of course). This iphone app makes viewing and collecting points on real-time imagery possible.

- TrackMe a 99 cent app that is great for mapping linear features and tracks.

- iPhone Maps - this is a built-in application but is fairly useful for plotting locations. Quite basic but functional.

- GPK Kit - This is a comerical app ($10) but a good one for turning your iPhone into a functional GPS unit with all the features you'd expect.

- SeaDragon Mobile - This Microsoft iPhone app showcases their "Deep Zoom" technology - but also hosts their Virtual Earth imagery (with GPS locations) as well as Photosynth! Whoohoo!

- Cardinal Application is good for working out direction (eg: orientation of slope, direction of flow of a river etc…)

- Clinometer Application – Slope, angle and gradient measurements on demand

- RulerPhone - lets you measure remote objects (or artifacts) by including a fixed scale in the image. With this one could measure heights of trees, mounds, or sizes of artifacts.

- Geotags - Is a basic GIS app for the iPhone. It allows you to take geotagged photographs, write notes, pinpoint features, and geotag audio recordings. This app demonstrates what will be possible for the iPhone is a basically a generic GIS data recording system.

- AirMe is a good application for automatically uploading geotagged photographs to Flickr.


gregdowning said...

an interesting ap that allows you to align photos with terrain. Maybe future versions will have a better way to save out this data.

-S.M. said...

There is also a great app called Dimensions, which enables the phone to take numerous amounts of measurements

Terry said...

Interesting post...I have been using the Iphone in the field for a little while now, and I put up a post about the apps that I have been using:

Unknown said...

Hi Carl

I just released a political geography game on the iPhone called Flag2Map that might be of interest to your readers.

And from now until 16 feb 2010, all income from the iPhone game Flag2Map will be donated to Haiti :-)

Kai Gilb

Brian said...

Hey, nice post. found it helpful when writing a post on my own blog (

There doesn't seem to be much online about archaeology and apps.