Mar 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm #1235002
Just downloaded and started using a new topo app for the iphone called iTopoMaps. Looks like someone who backpacks and programs has gotten around to designing a topo map application.
This app. allows you to download and cache USGS topos on your phone freely downloadable through the phone in advance so that you can use the iphone in airplane mode while in the wilderness thus saving on battery and not need a 3G or cell phone signal. Turns the Iphone into probably the best mapping GPS IMO with no fees to pay for maps.
I used this in Shenandoah today and it worked well. Still no route planning functionality but apparently it's coming. It does allow to create waypoints. I will be testing this more in southern Utah's slot canyons in a few weeks and will post more results. But this app may be what finally justifies my iphone after 8 months of love/hate. Perhaps it be useful to other iphone usersMar 22, 2009 at 7:42 pm #1488018
I guess $15 is a fairly good price for a portable USGS Topo viewer. Did you say the topos were free, or extra $ (I'm sure they'll be extra $ once 3.0 OS and App Store pricing restructuring comes out in June)?Mar 23, 2009 at 5:12 am #1488068
Bill BBPL Member
I have this app as well. It is outstanding. The topos are free and can be stored on the phone permanently. Many new features. Are coming soon. An update is due out this week. Customer service is excellent. The developer responds right away and has put many of the suggertions from the help forum in soon to be coming updates.Mar 23, 2009 at 5:44 am #1488070
@malndmanLocale: Central NC, USA
Where do you get free USG topos?Mar 23, 2009 at 5:51 am #1488071
I think the app hits the USGS google topo map server and downloads the image pyramids there. But they are free and will likely remain free. (see http://store.usgs.gov/b2c_usgs/usgs/maplocator/(xcm=r3standardpitrex_prd&layout=6_1_61_48&uiarea=2&ctype=areaDetails&carea=%24ROOT)/.do)
You acquire the topos by tapping the screen while connected to the internet. So it does require a signal initially while planning and also requires some advance planning. But I cached all of Shenandoah yesterday before leaving my house while connected to broadband without any problem ( I have about 12Gb of free space on my phone so that helps). Those quads are now stored on my phone and since I visit Shenandoah very frequemtly they will stay on my phone for my next trips. No memory cards to fiddle with, no extra fee to pay to TOPO or Delorme or Garmin. FREE USGS topo Maps.Mar 23, 2009 at 7:20 am #1488081
Thanks for sharing links for the app and topo files! It would be very cool to have access to more (and free) topo maps. I will definitely give it a try.
IMHO, there also downsides with using the iPhone as a back country GPS:
Weatherproofing – the iPhone is less weather resistant than a typical mobile phone. They will not last long in a rain and I do not think constant moisture would be a good thing. Weather proof cases will probably impact touchscreen functionality and screen visibility.
Touch screen – cannot use with gloves. Even w/o gloves, physical buttons are nice on GPS for quick access of routine functions.
Power – you can run the phone in airplane mode to conserve battery life, but you still are going to use the backlight every time you use the device. The display is twice as big as the typical GPS and will use some juice.
Non-replaceable battery – there are some external battery packs for the iPhone, but you would need to leave connected or charge overnight. Probably not an issue for a short trip.
On the plus side, the iPhone has a much more powerful OS and processor. Developers do some cool stuff compared to what can be done on a typical GPS.Mar 24, 2009 at 4:35 am #1488323
When I'm hiking I carry my iPhone in a snack sized baggie and I am able to manipulate the touch screen through the bag. Take spare bags as they are easy to puncture.Mar 24, 2009 at 4:43 am #1488324
It seems that you don't have an iPhone and are quick to dismiss its capabilities based on what you see as downfalls.
Who needs real buttons when the programmers make whatever on-screen buttons they need?
I use an Aloksak when I take my iPhone hiking or snowboarding. Problem solved.Mar 24, 2009 at 6:35 am #1488341
Does the Iphone 2nd gen GPS Work when the Iphone is outside of cell receiver range — such as on the JMT?Mar 24, 2009 at 6:39 am #1488342
I don't have this app, so I'm not sure. Since the app downloads and internally stores the topos, I'd be confident to say that the app and GPS would work outside of cell range.
Things like the Maps app need the cellular network to stream/load the maps on the fly.Mar 24, 2009 at 7:03 am #1488346
Roleigh short answer is Yes!
That's the beauty of this app. It caches the map in the internal memory. The GPS works without cell phone coverage. And since you have all your maps already stored internally it doesn't matter if you have cell phone coverage or not. The only problem as mentioned before is longevity. I have a hard case for my phone and although it increases the weight a bit, I think it's comparable to an equivalent GPS + a separate cell phone which many people carry anyways. This protects the phone. An aloksak or baggie as mentionned keeps it dry. I normally ue a GPS as a supplement to paper map and compass. This will not change. This is just a better GPS /phone combination. I can see in the future having guidebooks stored on the phone as well as reading material, plant and bird guides that can identify using pictures or sounds input into the phone.Mar 24, 2009 at 7:17 am #1488348
Hey, Joe. I own the 3G iPhone and love the device. The user interface is fantastic. I think the multi-touch screen is great. Sorry, it was not my intention to slam the phone. I was trying to say that I think there are advantages of using a purpose-built GPS for backpacking. Glad the iPhone is working well for you.Mar 24, 2009 at 7:26 am #1488351
Martin – I think you have a great point. The iPhone is my only phone and so I have to carry it with me backpacking. As long as I have it with me, I might as well use it to review the trail, read guidebooks, take notes, etc., once I am camped for the night or taking a break on the trail.Mar 24, 2009 at 7:28 am #1488352
Kyle, I didn't mean to be harsh on you either. It's just great that the programmers were able to get this field-use GPS and topos to work in non-coverage areas.
Yes, the battery life/replacement may be a hindrance, as is using it with gloves.
But then again, this is bringing the iPhone to be the ultimate UL piece of technology (for those who bring tech into the BC). Phone, GPS, email, music, it's so multi-use! And with multi-use, there will be trade-offs.
I'm getting off topic.Mar 24, 2009 at 7:30 am #1488353
I'm not sure if I'm ready to buy a $15 app as a GPS. There are other apps out there that save the track info. Once they add that functionality, maybe then I'll jump.
Keep us posted.Mar 24, 2009 at 7:45 am #1488361
I bought it to have free USGS topos on my phone that I can cache and have interact with the GPS location.Even if I dont use it in the field, this is a great trip planning application if I have to change plans at the last minute while on vacation or discussing with a friend where I've been or getting advice from a local person. I'm a bit bias as a cartographer and map lover I feel it is worth much more than any TOPO package. Most of which are much more expensive.Mar 24, 2009 at 11:37 am #1488448
Bill FornshellBPL Member
@bfornshellLocale: Southern Texas
I have wanted to buy an iPhone ever since they came out. I haven't because they were not enough "Computer" and more or less a cell phone. I don't own a cell phone and have never talked on one.
This thread and the fact that a new upgrade is coming out this summer ?? that will give the iPhone a "cut and paste" feature makes it getting very close to what I want.
I would go for a topo map nav app but it would have to be really easy to use. I use a computer everyday but have little real skill with it.
My vision for the iPhone would be to use it like several have mentioned as a replacement for the paper stuff I would need to carry. It would also be nice if it would take the place of a camera. I am not interested in really great quality pictures, just the run of the mill "vacation" type snapshots that could be posted with a trip journal.Mar 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm #1488459
@jcarter1Locale: Pacific Northwest
It is indeed very nice to finally see cacheable topo maps on the iPhone. However, a tracking feature would be pretty useless because you would have to keep the app open, which would drain the battery in 2-4 hours even with the screen dim (according to reviews of the other GPS apps). You cannot use the GPS while in flight mode, which means you must keep the cellular antenna on whenever you use the GPS. This adds considerably to power drain.
Further, I can't get the MotionX GPS or GPS Kit apps to track while in 'suspend' mode (i.e. tap power button to turn screen off), so I doubt iTopoMaps will be able to either. The app would have to enable background processes to access the GPS, which Apple forbids. That said, my old Pocket PC and Windows Smartphone devices, which did allow background processes, couldn't track while in suspend mode either, so it may be even more complicated than that. Thus, to use tracking, you have to keep the program open and running, with the screen and cellular antenna powered. Not a formula for reliable tracking, and nothing an app programmer can do anything about.
Thus I see the biggest benefit of GPS-mapping phones in general as locating yourself on the paper map without the need to plot coordinates. Turn the device on, find your position, compare it to your paper map, and turn the phone off. This simplifies the process of finding yourself on your paper map, but is still a supplement to a paper map. This also is the best use of the phone anyway, as it would minimize battery drain.
Unfortunately, however, the iPhone's GPS isn't that sensitive; it can take a while to find your location if you turn it off. I was impressed that I was able to get a signal in a pretty dense forest here in Western Oregon, but it took almost 5 minutes to lock. This limits its real-world usefulness as a primary navigation unit compared to the high-sensitivity receivers out there. Hopefully Apple will improve the GPS hardware in the next version, or at least allows GPS access in flight mode.
Don't get me wrong; I would love to have an all-in-one color mapping GPS device. But after 7 years of frustrating disappointments with PDA-Phone-GPSs, I finally realized that the simple, slow processor and non-backlit daylight display in something like the Garmin eTrex series is the only way you're going to get good battery life with today's technology, and the waterproof, ruggedized casing with replaceable lithium batteries with is the only way you will get reliable performance in the harsh conditions in which you would actually need a GPS for survival.
Thus, I broke down in January and bought a Garmin eTrex H; my first ever non PDA-phone-GPS, and the simplicity and ease of on-the-trail use are frankly refreshing. If I want to mark a waypoint, I press and hold a button and press confirm. No powering devices on and off, no turning radios on and off, no removing gloves, no worrying about the quality of the Aloksak zipper.
I do like audiobooks on the trail, so I debated getting an iPod Shuffle and leaving my iPhone at home, but since the iPhone has twice the audio battery life and includes a cell phone for roadside assistance or lucky reception on the trail, I am keeping both the iPhone and eTrex H in my arsenal for now. Besides, it's nice to have a backup GPS in my phone for redundancy. But if I left a device at home on a high-mileage trip, it would be the iPhone, not the eTrex H.Mar 24, 2009 at 8:53 pm #1488616
Martin, did you personally confirm that the 2nd gen Iphone works with this app and the GPS functionality when you were 100% confirmed out of cell range, or is this based upon what you read, or both?
Thanks!Mar 25, 2009 at 5:52 am #1488650
Yes I did. I own both phone and app. I have been making and selling topo maps for a living for the last ten years and using GPS since Garmin first started selling affordable backpacking models in the early 90's. I guess I say this to make the point that I am familiar with the technology and the medium and I think this is going to change my industry dramatically.
It's easy to turn an iphone's cell phone mode off to conserve battery it's called "plane" mode. This leaves the GPS on. So you don't have to be out of cell phone range to test the app. I did test it in Shenandoah National park this past weekend where I was definitely out of cell range. I'll be testing it again this Friday if the weather is not too wet.
It's exciting to see that other cartographers like Tom Harrisson have started releasing iphone versions of their maps. It may be possible for me to hike the JMT with Tom Harrison maps preloaded on my phone this fall.Mar 25, 2009 at 7:23 am #1488659
Martin, has Tom H. said he's going to release the 13 page JMT map set in this Iphone format this year? Maybe before July?
I'm wondering about the Superior Hiking Trail (the 220 mile trail in MN), do you know if maps for the SHT can be downloaded to the Iphone too? I bought the app but haven't really used it yet.
By the way, I came across a review of a 1.3 oz GPS device loaded with tons of user-friendly features, have you used this device too?
Easy Showily – Ultralight GPSMar 25, 2009 at 8:18 am #1488670
This is the link to Tom H. maps no word on tyhe whole JMT yet but several titles available and more on the way. May be a bit expensive by title considering the JMT paper map pack is 18.95.
Have not checked out the unit you mentioned. It looks very promising. I'm wondering whether it can report coordinates in UTM. If it does I will certainly be getting one. It could be very useful for long trip where only a minimal GPS unit is required.Mar 25, 2009 at 8:46 am #1488677
The Easy Showily 1.3 oz GPS home page.Mar 25, 2009 at 9:07 am #1488684
This unit also looks promising at 39gms and only one AA battery. It only reports position in DMS lat/longs according to the user manual however.
Seems a bit cheaper tooMar 25, 2009 at 2:33 pm #1488767
There's also another Topo map for the iPhone: TopoPointUSA. It's at:
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