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Weekly iPhone App Recommendations: EarthCam

March 2, 2010

I’m guessing, like millions of us, you like to peek in. No, not like that (although…), I’m talking about peeking into parts of the country, even the world. Maybe you want to see what’s going on in your old hometown. Maybe you’d like to see what’s happening around a place you vacationed. For that matter, you might want to have a little something extra to look into a vacation spot! EarthCam, the folks behind earthcam.com, have a fantastic app for those particular needs.


This app starts you off in the EarthCam Network, listing a lengthy series of countries to choose your cameras from. United States, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Bulgaria…I’m sure something’s going on somewhere in Bulgaria….north to south, east to west, around the globe. It’s a pretty stunning list, even though numerous countries do have one or two cams to them. (the Ukraine had two cams, Turks and Caicos Islands had one cam aimed at the 18th hole of the Provo Golf Club). The major countries have the most cams available, or at least the ones EarthCam makes available at that moment.Once you select a country, the list turns to the cams you can view. The United States list is broken down into states, from there you select the cam to view. A peek at the New York City cam showed a long list of cams from Times Square to Lower Manhattan. There are a few cams aimed directly at Ground Zero, many aimed along Broadway, as well as various other parts of Manhattan. North Carolina had several, although most of them were, at least as of this writing, inoperable cams alone Interstate 77. Some were working, including a nifty view of the Charlotte skyline.

There are numerous DOT cams available, although I know there are better ones (there are much better traffic apps if you intend to use a cam app to gauge your morning and evening commutes). Better in terms of reliability, as well as the fluid motion of the image itself.

"It's up to you..."

The streaming image on these cams range from poor to outstanding. Some cams have a lengthy refresh rate, a few have about a frame per second. Some cams have a time lapse option. I have no idea what the period of time is that’s used, but it’s a cool little feature. There’s a list of featured cams and a list of live video. The featured cams are a great place to start, the live feeds are where it’s at. I was able to watch a great stream from Niagra Falls, as well as outside of the TGIFridays in Manhattan. There’s a cam here for Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam (just figured I’d throw that out there in case it was a make or break cam for anyone). My favorite is aimed directly at the huge Coca Cola/Samsung sign in Times Square. There’s ambient audio as well, so if you want the sounds of the country or the city to go along with your peeping tom-ish ways, those cams are all set.

Like many apps, you have the ability to save a particular camera to your favorites, as well as rate them on a five star basis. You can search for a particular cam, or allow your iPhone’s GPS to find the nearest cam for you.

A wet Charlotte Motor Speedway

The app isn’t perfect. You are held to the ability of the cam itself to at least function, and many of them don’t. The refresh rates on some cameras are poor, a problem possibly stemming from the feed and not EarthCam’s doing. And in my instance, using the iPhone’s GPS, it couldn’t find a camera closest to me, even though the nearest is five minutes as the crow flies.

Limitations aside, it’s still an app worth the .99 cents that’s being charged in the iTunes store. The pay app has gotten slammed a bit, and the free version is a good trial to see if you’d like to ante up. I think the negatives are a bit unfair, as you get quite a bit crammed into a 99 cent mobile application. II think it’s well worth the dollar, a fantastic little window to the world, kept inside something that fits in your pocket.

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