iphone apps

All posts tagged iphone apps

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!

Partial Data for the middle states. That will change.

Partial Data for the middle states. That will change.

This summer is going to be a busy one, starting in just a few weeks. At the top of my priority list for the year has been to finish mapping the Appalachian Trail from Damascus, VA to Delaware Water Gap, PA. That’s about 900 miles of trail, which is currently included in the AT Hiker app in a less complete form than the rest of the trail sections.

The reason those sections aren’t mapped as completely as others is because I never expected the apps to be as well-received as they have been, so when I initially released the apps last summer, I had only mapped the first 450 miles of the AT at that point. By the end of the summer, I’d added about 850 miles of trail from Delaware Water Gap to Katahdin, but those middle states had to be rushed out with old trail data gathered from Forest Service and USGS data.

From May 13 through the end of June, I’ll be hiking the AT as fast as I can to update the trail data for those middle states, and then I’ll try to get that data into the apps as quickly as possible. But it’s going to be tight. I’ll also be working for NOLS through all of July and much of August, which means I won’t be able to spend much time working on the computer after the AT hike.

For those of you who are using the Virginia and Pennsylvania sections of the apps now, I can’t promise that the updates will arrive in the apps before September, but I’ll try to be as efficient as possible with my data collection so that I can transfer it over to the apps quickly. Last year, transferring 350 miles of trail data from GPS and trail notes into the app took about two weeks. This time it will be 900 miles, and I’ll have three or four days. Luckily, I’ve made some progress in efficiency since last year, so maybe I’ll be a little speedier. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In case you missed the announcement a few weeks ago, or just want to see what the new generation of my iPhone apps looks like, here’s a little demo I recorded for the New England Hiker app for iPhone. The initial download is free, as are the guides for Monadnock State Park, the Willey Range, and Pillsbury State Park, so check it out and get out hiking!

Mapping the final sections of the Appalachian Trail for my iPhone apps is turning out to be a slower process than expected, so I’d like to give all of you app users out there a little peek at what else I’m up to. The last two sections of the AT app are going to be a little while before they’re finished, but the continued improvements should make the wait worthwhile.

Hiking in lousy weather, just to bring you the best AT iPhone app ever!

Hiking in lousy weather, just to bring you the best AT iPhone app ever!

What Needs To Be Mapped?
As of June 29, 2013, the Appalachian Trail app covers the entire AT except for New Hampshire and Maine. I only need to map out about 200 more miles of trail to finish these sections. Originally, I planned to have them finished by mid-July, but weather and logistics continue to push the deadlines back. The new projected finish date is sometime in the end of July for Maine, and the middle of August for New Hampshire.

All of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania still use “partial data”, which means there is less information about land features, trail junctions, and views. The bad news about this is that I won’t be able to upgrade that trail data until at least next summer. The good news is that this will keep those three sections of the app at a discounted price until I do upgrade them.

Will There Be Any App Updates In The Meantime?
Yes! I’m working on lots of little updates that may be rolled out throughout the summer and fall (for the AT and PCT apps). These will include at least the following by the time I’m done with the current round of updates:

  • Making the elevation profile load about ten times faster than it does now.
  • Adding landscape view, so you can look at the elevation profile and map with the phone turned sideways.
  • An option to reverse the direction of the trail, giving you southbound mileage and elevation profiles.
  • Crash reporting, so I can debug errors remotely.
  • Ability to drop a pin on the map, and allow users to take private notes (rather than trail register entries that are shared with everyone) on those pins, as well as sharing locations on Twitter and Facebook.

What Else Are You Working On?
Sometime at the end of this summer, I’d like to start working on another set of trail guide apps for non-linear trails. While the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, and Long Trail are relatively easy to set up since they each focus on one particular trail, I want to be able to make guides for networks of trails that may include dozens of different trails. I have already mapped hundreds of miles of trails in New England, and have many more on my radar, including trail networks like:

  • Monadnock State Park and the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway (New Hampshire)
  • Camden Hills State Park (Maine)
  • Bigelow Preserve (Maine)
  • Grafton Loop Trail (Maine)
  • Mahoosuc Range (Maine and New Hampshire)
  • Camel’s Hump State Park (Vermont)
  • Mount Mansfield, Underhill State Park, and Smuggler’s Notch State Park (Vermont)
  • White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire and Maine)
  • Southern Taconic Range (Massachusetts and Connecticut)
  • Mount Greylock (Massachusetts)

Of course, these apps will take a back seat to the currently available apps, since the first priority is always to make sure what’s available is as good as it can get. I’ll keep you all updated with this blog as the summer progresses.

Any device that uses a battery will die. When you’re on the trail, you can expect that battery to die when you’d really rather it not. With more and more hikers using smartphones as navigational tools or for photography, communication, journaling, or whatever else you can imagine, it’s a little surprising you don’t hear of phones dying at inopportune times, though. There are many good ways to keep that device juiced up while you’re out on the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. Here are some of my favorites so far.

Conserve!

Really, the easiest way to make that battery last is to use it less. Turn it off when you’re not using it, or at least turn airplane mode on so that the phone isn’t looking for a cell signal all the time. I keep my phone in airplane mode while hiking, and only turn that off when I need to check my location or messages. Just by doing that on my last trip, my phone charge lasted five days before recharging. Nothing fancy.

On the other hand, I write apps that people use in the backcountry, so I shouldn’t be telling you to put the phone away, right? Adventure Alan has the most thorough guide to getting the most out of your iPhone’s battery, which I think all iPhone users should read if they plan on taking their phones out on the trail. It’s iPhone-specific, but a lot of the advice could easily work for Android as well.

Spare Batteries

On my latest backpacking trip, I figured I would use my phone a little more than usual, so I brought a spare battery. For Android phones, this is a bit easier than iPhones, but a friend pointed me toward the Anker Astro battery, a rechargeable power pack for various USB devices.

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With the charging cord and wall plug, the whole thing weighs just over 6 ounces, and I measured 2.74 full charges of my iPhone 4 from the pack. The USB cord that comes with the battery has interchangeable tips, so it charges the phone from the battery pack, the battery pack from the wall charger, and the phone from the wall charger. It could also charge my Petzl Core battery for my headlamp as an extra bonus.

Renewable Energy

There’s been a slew of new hiker-portable power generators in the past few years– solar panels, kinetic chargers, wood burning generators, and who knows what else. I’ve never seen one that’s really worth checking out. Everything is either too heavy, too inefficient, or both. But the technology is improving.

A PCT hiker who uses my iPhone apps recently told me about his Suntastics sCharger, and it looks intriguing. Check out his solar hat, and this mini-review by Stumpknocker. It seems the technology for portable solar chargers is getting better, to the point where it may even be practical for use by backpackers. Obviously, solar is far more viable out west than it is in the east, where direct sunlight while hiking is a rare luxury, but Patches Pal’s solar hat or Stumpknocker’s solar backpack-lid don’t seem nearly as inconvenient as the “old days” of backpackers carrying solar panels. They may look silly, but you can bet you’ll see more of them in the future.

There’s plenty more to discuss on the matter of smartphones in the wilderness, but on a purely functional level, it seems they are becoming more and more viable as backpacking tools. It will certainly be interesting to see where things stand in another year or two, as technological progress marches onward.