Late last week Garmin came out with a beta update for its Colorado, Dakota and Oregon GPS devices that displays uploaded KMZ files containing geopositioned overlays. Garmin’s announcement and instructions are here. This is the first time I am aware of that a mobile device renders KML overlays.
I happen to have an Garmin Oregon 300, and since I love it whenever a gadget I own gets better simply by aging, I did the (Windows only) upgrade and some testing myself this past weekend. The verdict:
- Although it is beta, this is a very robust update — the KMZ overlay of satellite imagery from the likely underground nuclear processing plant in IRan blogged a few weeks ago works seamlessly. That’s a 36 megapixel JPEG and a 16 megapixel JPEG in a 11MB combined KMZ file, into which I could zoom to see sub-meter objects! Screen refreshes are obviously not as rapid as on my MacBook Pro, but for a gadget meant to show a position in context it is plenty fast. I was expecting the file to completely bog down the Garmin, but the device didn’t even blink.
- Feed the Garmin a KMZ file with mixed KML-based objects, such as placemarks, polygons and overlays, and it wil ignore all the components except for the overlays. No complaining, no error messages. Just the overlays.
Some further thoughts:
- In its instructions, Garmin writes in red ink:
However, please be responsible and only create a Garmin Custom Map from a map that is in the public domain, you hold the copyright in, or you have permission to use from the copyright holder.
I think that statement is a bit odd, and am not at all sure it is justifiable. I understand how the sharing or distribution of maps can require copyright permission, but that is the case for any map, online or offline, digital or paper. What I am having difficulty with in Garmin’s statement is the attempt to parse a difference between owning a map and using a map. As far as I am concerned, owning a map but not being allowed to use it is a nonsensical demand.
To put it another way: Of course I should be able to scan a paper map I own, overlay it in Google Earth and import it into my Garmin. What’s that got to do with the copyright owner?
Sharing the resulting file with an online community? Yes, that could require permission.
But it gets trickier: There are many, many thousands of map and imagery overlays accessible online as KMZ files. In all cases, they have been made available with the expectation that they be displayed on a screen attached to a computer. Until now, the application most likely doing the rendering will have been Google Earth (or possibly Google Maps, or Microsoft Bing), but that is by no means a limitation of the KML markup language. KML is an open standard, and any device is allowed to parse KML. Do any of these KMZ files come with the condition that they may only be viewed using some applications but not others, or may not be viewed in combination with other functionality, such as a GPS positioning function? I think not. So why would it be okay to view such files in Google Earth while running a GPS tracking tool, but not on a Garmin while running its GPS tracking function?
- Why would anyone want to upload KMZ overlays to a Garmin in the first place? There is a very good reason, actually: No other portable device currently supports the display of KML overlays; Google Earth for the iPhone will likely get such support one day, but the iPhone is not an ideal GPS device, because it can only do one thing at a time, and tends to require a connection to the internet. If you’re a nuclear weapons inspector headed for the hills outside Qum, this latest Garmin update is your friend.