App News

Is it too late to reflect on the year that was 2016? Heck with it, I’ll do it anyway! We’ve been so busy here at the Guthook’s Guides team that we never got a chance to shout out about our most eventful year yet, so here goes.

See ya later, 2016. I got places to go, people to see, things to do!

The first big development for the year was that we have a new name (sort of) for our company: Atlas Guides. If you click on the “Trail Guide Apps” link at the top of this page, it brings you to our new, snazzy website. We’re still the same three people working on all of the apps, and the apps in the stores will still be sold by Guthook Hikes (iPhone) and High Sierra Attitude (Android), but most of our new business is going to use the new name. Confusing? No worries– you can still find our most popular apps by searching for Guthook.

And speaking of apps, my goodness we’ve added a bunch in the past year!

  • Mammoth Tracks, the official Ice Age National Scenic Trail app, was released in early spring in partnership with the Ice Age Trail Alliance.
  • We produced an app for the Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier with guidebook writer Tami Asars. The Wonderland Trail is also available in our Pacific Crest Trail app.
  • We replaced our South Downs Way app with Trailblazer Walking Guides. Both are made in partnership with Trailblazer Guides of England. The new app will house several long-distance trails in Great Britain– so far, we have West Highlands Way and South Downs Way. Soon we’ll be adding Cape Wrath, the North Downs Way, and The Ridgeway, and eventually even more.
  • For our most international app yet we released the Te Araroa Hiker, for New Zealand’s long-distance hiking trail.
  • Continuing the international trend, we released an app for Canada’s Great Divide Trail.
  • We’re teaming with Australian Cycling Holidays to make the CycleWayz app, with dozens of bicycling routes in Australia and Tasmania, and soon to be many more.
  • And, while the New England Hiker was released in 2015, we expanded our coverage of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire to include almost the entire hiking trail system, including the Presidential Range (the rest should be finished this summer).

My goodness, that was exhausting.

But wait! There’s a lot more in store for 2017. While we will hopefully slow down in the breakneck pace of new apps and trail guides, we’re hard at work on lots of new features for our apps, including a major upgrade to the iPhone app’s look and feel, with a new main menu, improved settings, and an overall improvement in use. It’s the biggest interface change we’ve made in the iPhone version yet.

That’s what we’ve been up to, and what we are currently up to now. I’ll try to keep you informed with news about the apps and other things a little better this year than last. Most small pieces of news will be shared on our Facebook page, so keep an eye out there. In the meantime, get outside and work those legs!

One of the most common questions we receive about our trail guide apps is whether or not they work when you do not have a cell/mobile phone signal. The answer is a resounding “YES, they do work offline”! All of our apps are designed to work when you are in the middle of the wilderness, nowhere near a cell tower. (Otherwise our apps wouldn’t be very useful, would they?)

So, how does that work?

Searching for signal in a wild place.

Searching for signal in a wild place.

When you first download the app from the App Store or the Google Play Store, the device to which you download the app must have an internet connection. The connection can be a WiFi connection or a cell/mobile connection (though a mobile connection may not be the best idea since unlimited/unthrottled data plans are quickly becoming a thing of the past).  While you have that initial internet connection, the latest waypoint and track files are automatically downloaded to your device, plus you have the option to download photos and offline maps to your phone. You should download a map set so that you have topographic and other information about your surroundings.

When you are offline, the app uses your device’s built-in GPS unit to detect where you are and plots that information on a map. GPS, or “global positioning system”, is truly global, and works anywhere on planet Earth since the information is received from satellites.

FAQs:

  1. Will your app work when there is no cell/mobile service? Yes. So long as your device has a GPS receiver, it will work.
  2. Do I need a service plan on my phone to use your app? No. So long as you can connect to the internet with WiFi and your device has a GPS receiver, our app will work on your device.
  3. Will your app work on my iPod Touch? It can. The iPod Touch does not come with a GPS receiver. The same is true of a lot of tablets. But you can purchase an external GPS unit to plug into your iPod Touch, such as a Bad Elf.
  4. I’m pretty sure that GPS isn’t available in [remote location X]. Will your app work? Yes. GPS is global. So long as you are not deep in a canyon or cave (i.e. your phone cannot receive a GPS signal from space), you will be fine. Even in canyons, deep mountain valleys, and under deep foliage, the signal will usually just take longer to acquire.
  5. Can I send messages to my family using your app when I do not have cell/mobile service? No. The GPS unit in a phone and tablet is a GPS receiver. In order to transmit messages using GPS, you need a GPS transmitter, such as a DeLorme inReach or Spot.
  6. Why can’t I see Google maps when I’m offline? We do not use Google maps for offline use because it is against Google’s terms of service to cache the maps for offline use. Rather, we use topographic maps (the style depends upon trail location) that you can download to your device and which are displayed in the background of the map.

Let us know if we forgot anything and we will add to the FAQs.

 

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The most difficult part of making a detailed guide and map of the Appalachian Trail is being able to keep the trail info up to date. Especially since I live in Maine, while most of the changes to the trail happen in the southern states. People will often email to tell me there’s a new shelter here, or a new set of switchbacks there, but with the level of detail in the apps I need a lot more than most people can give– GPS coordinates, detailed information, a track file, photos.

Last year, I spent a good chunk of time and energy mapping the trail through Virginia, and figured I might go down south for a month every year to update a section of the trail, but that’s not entirely realistic. So this year I’m trying a new experiment. I’m going to try hiring a few section hikers (or maybe through-hikers) to do detailed data gathering for a few of the most outdated sections in the AT Hiker app.

This year, the priorities are the Smokey Mountains, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, since those are the sections with the oldest data sets so far. I’m hoping to find a few section-hikers to do this, since section hikers are generally less Katahdin-focused than through-hikers, and can take the time to explore side trails. Also, if I can get a section-hiker to update the trail data before most through-hikers hit the area, the through-hikers will have updated trail info by the time they get there.

So please check out this page if you’re interested, and share this post with any experienced section-hikers you may know who could use a few bucks to fund their hiking adventure.

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Earlier this week, I posted this notice to the info section of the AT Hiker app (iPhone version). I’m posting it more publicly here, partly to get the word out, but mostly to spark some discussion. The move is probably going to be controversial among people who have used the app, and I didn’t arrive at the decision to do this lightly. In the end, I decided that listing so many heavily impacted, unofficial campsites on the over-crowded section of the AT is a burden on the people who maintain the Trail, and I’d rather do what I can to help them than make their lives harder for my own personal gain.

At the request of land managers in the southern three states of the Appalachian Trail, I will be removing many of the unofficial tent sites from the AT Hiker app soon. Many of the waypoints will remain as landmarks or water sources, but without the “tentsite” icon, and won’t show up in the “next camping” tool or the databook list of campsites.

The reason for removing many of the unofficial campsites is that, as many of you know, there will likely be increased crowding on the trail in the coming years due to the films “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods”. Land managers and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy are doing everything in their power to limit the negative impacts of those crowds on the trail, especially in the southern states where the heaviest use of the Trail takes place. We are all hoping that not listing some of these unofficial campsites will lead more hikers to choose established and maintained sites (like shelters and official campsites), which consolidates the campsite impacts to smaller areas.

I understand that for many of you who purchased this app, the abundance of unofficial campsites is a major draw, and I sympathize. I can’t stand overcrowded campsites and shelters, and I like to know that I’ll be able to camp elsewhere to avoid crowds. But, also like many of you, the Appalachian Trail was a major positive influence on my life and I’d like to do what I can to ensure that it retains some semblance of wilderness for future generations. Each of us needs to do our part to protect this trail that we love.

I encourage all of you who enjoy any part of the trail to contact the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org) to find out what you can do to help. There will be a great need for volunteers in the coming years to protect and maintain the trail. I hope you will join me in supporting the efforts of those who work so tirelessly to ensure the continued existence of the trail.

I’ve been working non-stop for the past few months to make major upgrades to the Guthook’s Guides apps for iPhone, and I’m pretty excited to announce what is in the pipeline for 2015. The updates will probably not be ready until January or February 2015, but I’m aiming to have them ready before most Appalachian Trail hikers hit the trail on Springer.

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New Maps!
The biggest improvement will be the base map. For the past three years, I’ve only had access to maps by OpenCycleMap, an open source mapping project with high-quality maps for the entire world, but those maps weren’t always ideal for what I wanted. So I’ve finally found a good replacement for the base map, using the USGS National Map, which is a beautiful topo map with hill shading, contour lines in feet, and a simple, uncluttered map view.

Of course, I’ll also leave the OpenCycleMap option in the apps for trails outside the US, so you can choose which map you’d like to use. To accompany the new choices, I’m also overhauling the system for downloading and choosing maps. No longer will you have to wait for the maps to download before you can use the app– a single button will bring up a list of online map sources (which you need an internet connection to load), offline map sources that are loaded to your phone (no internet connection necessary), and offline map sources that are available but haven’t been downloaded yet. Selecting an offline source to download will start the download, which will work in the background while you can play around with the app without being stuck with a loading screen.

Simpler Photo Downloads!
While I was working on improving the map download system, I also wanted to make the photo downloads simpler as well. So now, rather than waiting while the photos download, you can go about your business while downloads happen in the background. Each trail section will have a setting toggle for automatic photo syncing, which means the app will check for new photos without any extra work on your part, and will download them automatically if they exist on my servers. If you don’t want the photos for a section of the trail, just turn off syncing, and the files will be deleted for that section. Easy as pie!

More Stable and Efficient
Many of the upgrades I’m making aren’t flashy and exciting new features, but will improve the speed and stability of the apps. Fewer crashes and faster loading are always high on my priority list for upgrades in the apps. With phones becoming exponentially faster each year, incremental improvements in how quickly the elevation profile loads, or how quickly you can switch from one section of the trail to the next aren’t going to be as noticeable to you on your shiny new iPhone 6+, but I try to be a perfectionist anyway.

Stay tuned for more news about what’s coming up in the future!