I must admit I’ve never really got my head round the idea of navigating with a GPS. I know, I know, I know, it’s probably an age thing and I’ve managed fairly well for some 40 years with a map and compass but it’s always seemed to me to be just another thing to carry, another contraption that’s reliant on battery power.
The one thing that did encourage me to carry a GPS for a while was the fact that I could get a grid reference from it, as far as I’m concerned the single most useful thing a GPS has to offer, but I dumped the GPS when I downloaded a marvellously simple application for my iPhone called Gridpoint GB. Relying on the phone’s navigation technology I can get a grid reference within seconds and I’ve used it very happily for a number of months now.
Now an ingenious piece of software called OutDoors, designed to work on the iPhone even beyond the range of a mobile network, offers walkers the benefits of Ordnance Survey maps, and at a 1:50,000 scale. I’m told the maps will soon be developed for other Windows and Google software-based devices.
The software locates the user within the map, enabling him/her to make sense of their surroundings. Importantly, it is not reliant on a mobile phone signal and like the Gridpoint GB application it makes use of the free satellite navigation technology built in to iPhones to register the user’s location on the detailed maps that are stored on the device. This means that walkers have a reliable and highly detailed guide, even in Britain’s most remote locations.
I downloaded the Highlands and Islands map, which cost me £24.95, and I’ve been impressed by the quality and definition of the maps - even at 1:50,000. Digitised versions of the OS maps are built into the software and users can search the maps for any single location, including a quarter of a million UK place names. The maps cover all 250,000 sq km of the UK, including all British National Parks which span an area of 22,000 sq km.
As well as pinpointing your position you can draw routes on the maps, work out distances and plan your day in some detail. Like other systems, eg SatNav, OutDoors hopes to build up a list of walking routes throughout the country which users will be able to download.
But what I like most about this application is that I have my emergency communication tool (my iPhone) and my map and GPS system all in one. I don’t now have to carry a mobile and a GPS device - but will I continue to carry a map and compass? Yes, I will. Old habits die hard and I still rather enjoy the experience of navigating with map and compass. I also like the bigger picture that a map offers you.
And like all devices, the iPhone has a rather limited battery life. That’s a continual worry, especially on backpacking trips. The OutDoors programme is fairly heavy on the iPhone’s battery life, so for the moment use of the application will be limited to day hikes, but hey, this is technology in progress and I must admit the thing I like most about this application is simply working out routes on the OS maps when I have a few minutes to spare, or when having to sit through boring meetings. It’s the modern expression of doodling…
OS mapping for the whole of the UK is available on iTunes including what is expected to be the most popular product, the UK’s National Parks. There are apparently further plans to launch more products in Europe. The product can be purchased on iTunes for £24.95 per region or just £1.99 for OutDoors Lite, which offers the whole UK road network. For detailed product information visit http://www.roadtour.co.uk/iphone/iphone_outdoors.php