In his article “iPads for Planning” (posted on Planetizen, April 2, 2010), Robert Goodspeed states that the iPad and iPhone are excellent tools for planning because they are highly mobile, location aware, and can be connected to a 3G network.
Goodspeed is right on the mark. In November 2008, we used the newly released iPhone 3G to populate a purpose-built project website with high-resolution data portraying the extent of anti-terrorism security in public space in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
We chose the iPhone 3G for the Secure Cities project because it is a relatively inexpensive investment compared to other hardware platforms. Over the course of the project, a small university grant paid $660 for the iPhones, service agreements, and data plans. It was the connection to the 3G network that made the data collection process so straightforward and better than ‘traditional’ GPS hardware for our data collection process. Why?
“Out of the box” software costs totaled $1.99 for the project.
This left us money to build custom software that made the post-processing of the data extremely efficient. The applications built for this project consisted of a web form [below] that enabled researchers to add additional information (attributes) to the geotagged photos and a small application that appended those attributes to the geotagged photos as they were uploaded to the project website. Our software did not stand alone. Instead, it acted as the glue that held together three components: the $1.99 photo geotagging application developed by Jofti software, Picasa Web Albums developed by Google, and the two most popular Open Source database engines - MySQL and PostgreSQL/PostGIS.
We found that the XifPix application was the most important piece of software used in this project. Thanks to the connection to the 3G network, it is more than likely that the data collection would have run just as smoothly had the field researchers used only the XifPix software to collect and upload data to Picasa. The abundance of this and similarly inexpensive, convenient, well-tested web applications may preclude the need for custom built software products on other projects.
While the future of consumer technology in planning is bright, we see many applications for existing tools. With a bit of ingenuity and an open mind about what constitutes a legitimate piece of GIS software or hardware, we can “do GIS” without, as Goodspeed puts it, consulting “pages of technical instructions” or worrying about planning-related applications being “sufficiently lucrative to attract developers”. Instead we can utilize already existing, inexpensive consumer technology to make our projects and plans more accessible to all.