While I was not one of the nut jobs Apple Enthusiasts that stayed up all night to pre-order the new iPhone 4, I did eagerly await the release of the new OS4 software update and install it the very second I was able to.  Thankfully my install was quick and painless, though not without a few surprises.

iphone os4 geotagging photo mapOne of the semi-new features is the ability to geotag your photos.  I say it’s “semi-new” because as it turns out, it’s actually been available since the OS2 update, but not everybody knew about it (more on that later).   With the release of OS4, it’s more obvious – and actually usable on the iPhone.

Geotagging your photos on the new OS4 allows the iPhone (and various other tools and websites) to sort your photos by location.  When you open the photos app, you’ll notice two icons at the bottom – “Albums” and “Places”.  Selecting “places” will provide you a map, similar to this one that I grabbed from my phone.

The level of detail at which the photos are geotagged is pretty amazing, though with the iPhones GPS capabilities, should not be all that surprising. The map I uploaded is zoomed out pretty far, but if you were to continue zooming in you would see the little dots continue to split and multiply as photos are sorted into smaller and smaller groupings based on their respective locations.  That’s cool, right?  This will be great for vacations, or events – it’ll be so much easier to upload your memories to Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket or any number of places and have them automatically tagged by location.  Welcome to the future my friends, or if you are an Orwell fan, I guess it might be the past.

I reference 1984 and Big Brother because I suspect that most of the people (myself included) that bought their phones after OS2 was released, and therefore missed all the hullabaloo of the “new features”, had no idea their photos were even being tagged. On pre-OS4 phones, the locations services feature was either ON or OFF – for everything.  You couldn’t set specific permissions, and it didn’t tell you what apps were using it.  I (and again probably most people) relied on the apps to pop up and ask you each time.  Even the Google maps app had to ask me, or wait for me to push the “locate” button.  It was actually a pain that when I wanted to check movie listings, Fandango had to ask me every time if it could use my location.

However, I don’t recall my camera ever asking me.  I found a post over on Wired that talks about the new photo tagging in  OS2 that shows such a request, so maybe my old brain just doesn’t remember ever being asked – do you?  I’ve also discovered that there are apps available that would let you view photos arranged by the tagging, so clearly somebody knew about it, just not me.  Not knowing I had been tagging my photos for the last year or so, I was a bit surprised when I opened my photos app and saw all the existing photos already sorted.  I had to stop and think about what I had shared and with who.

    Remember that day you were in the backyard playing with your kids, and a butterfly landed on little Susie’s finger?  Remember how cute you thought it was and that you just HAD to put a photo up on the web for the world to see?  Remember how you thought nobody would know where you or little Susie lived?  Sorry Susie, that photo was geotagged and now the whole world knows where your back yard is and where you sleep at night.

Scary, right?  Go check you photos.

Thankfully, the new OS4 location services settings are much more clear about what apps have permission and which do not.  Even better, it allows you to individually turn them on or off.  Taking pictures from the beach, turn tagging on.  Taking pictures in the living room, turn tagging off.  You can clearly see within the settings that the camera is using your location.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to remember whether it’s on or off, because unlike other apps that use location service, the camera does not show the little “compass pointer” to alert you they are turned on and in use.

Overall, I think this is a pretty cool feature.  And, if nothing else we’ll help make Google street view more useful, right?

What are your thoughts on the new(ish) geotagging feature of the iPhone?

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