Geotagging Japan on the iPhone with Placetagger

I just finished up a month long trip to Japan.

My first thought was to purchase a dedicated GPS tracker. Based on reviews at amazon I ordered an AMOD AGL3080 logger, but unfortunately I reieved a defective module. Without enough time to get a replacement I decided to return this and try using the GPS built into my iPhone and went about searching the iTunes store for the best app to log the GPS coordinates. Placetagger appeared to fit the bill, so I purchased it and logged as much as I could of my trip. The app had pretty good reviews and they recently added an update. Unfortunately the app did not live up to my expectations.

The app has several good feature, a simple to use interface, icloud support, and exports data as a standard GPX file.

Some of the critical problems I ran into

  • The app crashes at random times: Once I realized this I was pretty good about checking my phone often to make sure it was still running. But there were several times I forgot. Fortunately it does not loose all the data before the crash and I can see from the log at what point it stopped logging.
  • Unable to export some data: I didn’t realize this until way too late. When you choose to export data on the iPhone the app launches a email message with the attached GPX data file, sometimes the file never shows up.
  • Appears to stop logging sometimes in the background: I would switch over to mail/instagram etc and often forget to bring Placetagger back to the foreground. It appears that it doesn’t always log when in the background.
  • The app won’t show the GPS coordinates on a map outside the US: When you select a GPS log it will just show you a blank map of the US. No idea why the map would be limited in this way. But this was not a big issue for me since the goal here is to get the GPX data file to my desktop to geotag my photos.

With a few changes it could be very good app.

  • To start with fix the bugs: Until that is done I would not recommend using this app.
  • Pause / Resume: Through the day I would stop for a meal or coffee and don’t need to log, why not let the user pause logging. Perhaps in set intervals of 15 or 30 minutes would be a nice feature that would have the app logging again without the need to go back and select resume.
  • Save GPX data files directly to dropbox: The whole point of this is to access the GPX files for tagging, eliminate the extra step of mailing each file.
  • View the frequency: The Precision to Battery Life slider is great, but I would like to know how often if is actually logging.

Internet access in Japan using an iPhone and B-mobile

Previously I have taken my iPhone and relied on wifi access where I could get it. But unlike the US free wifi was not that common. Few cafes or hotels offered the service. Wifi service is a little more common now, I wanted a more consistent connection for checking mail, instagramming or accessing FB and of course maps. 

There are a number of different SIM cards you can get for a smartphone with an unlocked SIM. Many offer voice and data and some just voice. But all I really needed was data. B-mobile was the only service I know of that offers a data only plan. For around $40 (¥3,500) you can get a sim (or in my case a micro-sim for the iPhone 4S) with 1GB of data, which was just the right amount of time for me. The card is available at the Yodobashi Camera/Bic Camera or Yamada Denki.    

A few things to be aware of:

  • You must have a phone with an unlocked SIM slot. Many companies will unlock your SIM slot for international travel so check with your phone service before your trip. 
  • To activate the SIM card you must call an activation number from a Japanese phone. The card isn’t active until the 1PM next day. 
  • 1GB is a lot of data but if you use the phone often you can burn through that pretty quick. Many apps run in the background constantly downloading and checking updates. I suggest downloading a data monitor app. I used “My Data Manager” for iPhone which is free. You can also turn on airplane mode, or temporarily disable “Cellular Data” to minimize data usage.  You can of course purchase another card or refill your current card.
  • ImageThe network settings for 3G data need to be configured for B-mobile. I didn’t realize this at first and for the first day thought the SIM card was not working. 


Update: It does appear that B-mobile has a visitor card in 14-day and 1 month variations that does not require activation and can be picked up at the airport.

Apple Podcasts App Review

I listen to quite a few podcasts on music, tech, language and photography. There have been 3rd party podcast apps around for some time but I have never bothered. I am sure many of them had lots of useful features but the built in player was good enough and trying out a bunch of apps for a few features wasn’t worth the trouble. Since Apple released their Podcast app I figured I would try it out.

Overall I like the app. The Podcast Catalog very prominent and pretty easy to use. Typically I look for podcasts I have heard of from other shows and don’t browse for podcasts. Using the search option I added some of the podcasts I already listen to.

Podcasts app
Apple Podcasts app

I have beed using the skip forward 30 and back 10 seconds. Skipping a particular rant by the podcaster, or when I realize that I was not paying attention it is easier than trying to scrub back or forward 30 seconds or a minute.

The main player view is based on a dark Tape-Deck looking UI. When was the last time you saw a tape deck? I guess it is intend to look retro but it takes up a good amount of the UI space and provides no functionality. The 2x faster and half speed slower speed button is now replaced by a turtle/hare switch. It’s cute, I get it, but I would preferred this switch function with finer adjustments. Other buttons include the social sharing buttons, because everything now must include social sharing buttons. Unfortunately rather than sharing the episode you are listening to it only sends out the general podcast feed URL.

A couple things I did notice that appear to be missing.

  • The description is no longer available. Some podcasts put useful information here, notes on the speaker than can be reviewed during the podcasts, or translations for some of the foreign language podcasts.
  • The ability to manually sort the playlist, you can sort the podcasts by data either ascending or descending. This is not a big deal I did use a synced iTunes playlist that was not always sorted by date.

I was surprised that podcast subscriptions where not synced over iCloud. Especially since the episodes can be streamed and no longer need to downloaded. Podcasts can still be managed under iTunes and if you want them synced you must use iTunes. I hope this is the beginning of Apple moving some of the clutter out of iTunes and perhaps making it a better music manager.

The Apps does require iOS 5.1 and will run on the iPhone 3GS and higher.
Podcasts at the App Store