Outdoor World Tech: Innovative Software and Hardware Platforms

Every now and then this blog veers off path to talk about tech, not that surprising I guess as this is not only an outdoor community but a tech-savvy one.

A recent discussion on computer mapping has focused, once again, on the challenges faced by the kind of small but innovative companies who tend to produce the applications that are designed to support outdoor activities. I have been asked to create a new post to concentrate discussion and the challenges posed by competing hardware platforms, so as to keep the mapping discussion discreet. 

The problem with this is that it beings me to the dreaded discussion (amongst other things) of the Apple v. Android debate. I just hope I am not going to regret this! 

Here goes!

First off I should declare that I am a user of both Apple’s desktop and mobile products. I wouldn’t describe myself as an ‘apple fanboy’ particularly. I have used Apple computers for a long, long time now and  their mobile products just dovetail superbly into my own work environment and workflow. It is the computer environment that make the difference for me and I have one or two critical programs that I have used for many years, that are only available on Apple platforms. If I wasn’t in this position I would probably be quite happy to explore one or other of the Android platforms.

The issue for us in this place is how hardware and OS impact on the provision of specialist software. It is always worth remembering that the outdoor world while big in some ways is a relatively small niche in terms of mass market. The sales of Angry Birds will always annihilate the sales of any outdoor orientated app. 

My interest in mapping software — as reflected in these pages — is in no short measure due to using Macs. Jump back a few years and Mac users have very few choices when it came to mapping software. The big players in the game back then, MemoryMap and Anquet both declared that they had no intention of supporting Apple platforms but the dramatic rise of the iPhone and the popularity of Apple’s laptops and iMacs has changed that a little. This is the sole reason that I follow the development of Routebuddy so closely. While Routebuddy is now genuinely cross platform it still has few peers in the Apple desktop world. I don’t have a great deal of experience in using a big range of products. I have Routebuddy and Anquet for Mac installed on my computers (the Anquet program being a third party implementation that uses Anquet data and maps from their servers). On my phone and tablet devices I have installed Routebuddy Atlas, Viewranger and the recent Ordnance Survey App — and I have tried a few others over time. Into this mix I ought to throw in Viewranger’s web based services which allow the platform to work on a cross platform basis through a web browser. I do use Viewranger in this way from time to time but in general do not like serious project planning using a browser. So, declarations out of the way, let’s move on.

Our mapping providers are in the main small companies and as such are finding life as difficult as many niche companies in the current economic climate. One major company has recently begun making senior staff redundant. Another I know of has not updated some of their maps for a long time and are effectively selling (from new) map data that is seven years old or so. Institutional finance and debt also seem to be significant issues. The worst product that I have used — with by far the worst customer service — is one which has been ported to my platforms by a specialist third party. Rumours suggest that the ‘parent’ provider is very unhappy with the state of affairs but they have a contractual relationship to work with. Worries about these kind of third party deals are what niggle me about the OS App. In my direct experience once the initial fire has gone out of these agreements software remains static over long periods of time and even mapping data becomes out of date.

Of course, nobody sets out to be in this kind of position. But we should recognise that anyone playing in this market is dealing with low margins, high development costs and are selling to a public that continues to be extremely cost conscious. So — and this is getting to the point — the choice of hardware platform may be significant, especially when it comes to mobile.

I suppose we have to rehearse the basic arguments. Let’s start with Apple.

Before Apple there were smartphones it’s just that they didn’t look and work as they do today. Apple’s iPhone has been an extraordinary success story and one of the few products that has genuinely transformed a market. Apple’s IOS is an extremely profitable and useable platform. Apple may not be the biggest handset seller but it’s IOS dominates by far internet usage and is also the most profitable cash cow in the mobile world by a long way. But, maybe, Apple has lost its way. Is the company really innovating in terms of its software platform at a pace that we want to see?

I was recently talking about this with Phil Sorrell from Social Hiking. Phil said that he used to look forward to new Apple mobile announcements with a real sense of excitement but over the last few years there has been little that has excited him or caught his eye. We talked about the new iPhone 5 which is incredibly powerful in terms of speed and battery life. It seemed to me very unlikely that Apple wouldn’t make use of this power in an update soon but then of course they have to also ensure that new OS software runs acceptably on legacy devices (more on this below). Some are frustrated by the lack of customisation for IOS. I tend to be happy with standard implementations as I just want things to work but of course any tech-savvy community will have members who want to be able to customise their equipment and there is a very healthy market in jail break products for IOS devices that allow people to explore the world as it is decreed by Apple.

This level of customisation is one of Androids selling points but also one of its problems. Android has come a long way in a short time and the latest implementations of this OS are as least as good as Apple’s. Perhaps, Android Apps on tablets still leave a lot to be desired but the gap is closing quickly. Android’s success is a vindication of Google’s open community philosophy. When I was talking to Phil he found it interesting that people didn’t seem upset yet with Google, that they still trusted it where they were suspicious of others — remember that company called Microsoft? But I am often reminded that Google is not a charitable body. As the Guardian recently observed Google’s decision to kill off Google Reader is areal reminder of how difficult it is to build a consistent platform using web 2.0. I do wonder about Google. Much of what we enjoy as free is effectively the result of their research and development phase. If a user base begins to slow — or if a product cannot be explored financially — like Google Reader it will be cut off regardless of how many people are relying on it. New developments like Google Glass may be exciting but they are primarily designed to drive more commercial income. But, at the moment, Google has managed to develop Android into a very impressive mobile platform.

But what about these development costs? Are they that significant and will they effect the future of our products?

A recent twist has shown that the much maligned Apple Maps Software Development Kit (SDK) is not only easier to use for developers but is in some ways more powerful than the Google equivalent. Of course, Apple’s offering will always compare badly in the field of search where Google seem without any prospect of real competition. Apple has to rely on a host of third party developers to deliver what Google can do in house. A recent article by tech site Gizmodo has shown that Android’s fragmented hardware base makes for significantly slower development time for new versions of the OS.

Android can of course claim to genuinely be a platform for the people. Android can run on the most highly specified devices but also on some of the most modest. But this is a platform that exists on cheap subsidised carrier programmes and perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is nowhere near as profitable as IOS.

In our previous debate Neil Wilson Harris of Routebuddy weighed in. Currently his company is IOS only with its mobile Routebuddy Atlas offering. There was some doubt as to whether Routebuddy aim to develop for Android. Neil has confirmed that Routebuddy is developing for Android but he also seemed to hint that development was slow. More controversially I guess Neil questioned the long time future of Android, which I have to say surprised me.

Neil pointed me to this article on e.businessinsider.com which looks at Samsung’s amazing growth but also notes Apple’s continued domination in terms of income generation. Neil’s view is that for consumers IOS is the safer bet and safer buy at the moment.

The launch of the new Samsung Galaxy has give tech journalists a lot to think about. During the launch Samsung never once mentioned Google or Android. While many traditional Android apps still work on the Samsung phone it seems the company is intent on developing more and more Samsung specific applications that won’t be shareable across the Android world — a general feeling seems to be that Samsung are eying up Apple’s mobile generated revenues and see their future as more of a unique platform, based on Android yet but increasingly specialised around dedicated apps and OS front end, reminding me that Apple’s own OS sits on top of a unix core.

So, over to you? I genuinely have no real ideas or insights in to how things will develop. But in our specialised world where margins are everything these issues may well have a real resonance.

What does the team think?


  1. Can’t really comment too much on the Android / Apple discussion, but I use Linux Ubuntu for everything – apart from mapping software, image editing and posting to my blog.
    As far as I’m aware there’s nothing available for Linux that does these jobs easily and efficiently as the M$ XP platform stuff does (not that’s within the ethos of Linux anyway ….. = cheap or free! :-))

    I have a very limited knowledge of operating systems, but I understand that the Apple OS isn’t dissimilar to Linux, so there’s hope that commercial developers will write more stuff for Linux – which is becoming a more and more popular operating system amongst the non-techy computer users.


  2. John,

    You made me chuckle there!

    There’s absolutely no hope that commercial developers will make applications for Linux unless there’s a decent market willing to pay; Because, as you said above, the ‘ethos of Linux is cheap or free’. Which is kind of shooting itself in the foot.

    Our RouteBuddy desktop software is the only map software that could be re-hatted for Linux; But unless that market changes, or a commercial offer comes along, then it isn’t going to happen. Sorry! 🙂

    On that note Android shares part of the Linux problem with the majority of users wanting cheap or free apps and content. Now you might have heard of the 80-20 rule in commerce (where 20% of the customers provide 80% of the sales) but with Android it’s worse and arguably we could say a 20-20 rule! (And with Android being a morass then that’s a high-engineer-cost market to develop for, requiring a lot of forethought.)

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  3. I said in another post…
    ‘However, given the fact that Samsung is the largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world then I don’t think that Android is the right business model for them.’

    To expand on my comment:
    With Samsung using various iterations of Android (in itself a huge problem) and the Google store taking all the revenue for apps and content – I don’t see, apart from a free-to-use OS, what added value there is for Samsung?

    Why not utilise their own OS? Open their own app/content/music store? More effectively control an OS for all their phones, rather than having Google decide which model can have what.

    Of course if Samsung used their own OS then they can sell more new phones to customers still on older models with Android, after all Samsung ship out new models very quickly and the Android OS ones could then look quite tired.

    Which brings me to the developer POV, as any developer who has developed for Android (and the various OSes on various Android models) then has to look after all those permutations for some time into the future as well as for a new OS – from the world’s largest smartphone company – silly not to. Now, in the Western world, if Android contracts to the remaining smaller-smartphone-players that’ll be a lot of ongoing work for far less revenue.

    But a bottom-line is that if Samsung moved to their own OS, designed to Western standards and UI, then they will earn more and add to their power base against Apple.

    We may be a little circumspect at RouteBuddy, but not without good reason. (And I’d still say an iOS device is the safest buy for now!)

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    • Neil,

      We may look back at the launch of the Galaxy 4 as a watershed moment. Samsung clearly have their sites set on higher revenues and more bespoke development. They will role out new and unique features and challenge the Android world to meet its demands rather than the other way around.

      The one thing that fascinates me is the way that Samsung does not really do western markets. But does this matter? Read the US tech blogs at the moment and you can see them saying that Samsung doesn’t really get what USA culture and users demand. That might be so but then spectacular growth in the rest of the world may well make things look very different. When economists talk about the changing centre of world power this is the kind of practical thing they are talking about.

      We are in a kind of weird world of interdependency.

      Some 20 years ago I was at a small expert seminar in Holland and I spent two days sitting next to one of the main innovation gurus of Phllips. His attitude to the Japanese back then was interesting. Philips developed CD technology but they could not exploit it commercially without Japanese technology. But the Japanese could not market their products without the US. A few months later I was in Hong Kong. The big deal at the time was to try and get Sony to license CD player manufacture to hong Kong but the Japanese were playing hard to get. The business model of Japanese electronics then was to farm out component manufacturer to to keep hold of new technology manufacturing in Japan for as long as possible. Just 15 years later the whole look and feel of the electronics industry had completely changed and Japan no longer had any kind of monopoly over development. What remains is the importance of the US market. No new product can really emerge if it does not first play to the US. But that might change and it might change very quickly.

      To my mind Google is not any better insulated from these trends and changes than Apple. Apple is finding it more difficult to develop new sales technologies — witness the slow progress of Apple TV — but it still has the luxury and cool tag and that might see it through. But only if it continues to innovate and re-invent itself and that is a very difficult thing to do.

      One of the most majestic buildings in Detroit is the old Rail Station designed I think by the same man who designed Grand Central. This wonderful building ceased to operate in (I think) the mid to late 1980’s. Detroit the car city had finally killed it off. But at the same time Detroit’s motor industry was well on its way to collapse although that wasn’t apparent at the time to most. And today it is Detroit that is dead with some 32% of its land lying derelict.

      It could happen again!

      • Great post Phil – with some excellent, and debatable, content (I do have somewhere detailed and interesting stats on what Android users vs. iPhone users ‘spend’, a fascinating topic in itself).

        In the whole article, to clarify my comments, I think we need to talk about brands ‘that use the Android OS’, rather than ‘Android phones’; and if Samsung, who ship the biggest numbers, do actually jump ship. Yes Android will survive in some form or another but will it then have the same market impact as iOS, and/or what Samsung choose to be ‘their’ OS replacement across an entire range?

        You can imagine, from a prior developers point of view, how frustrating and costly this could be, in needing to add and then maintain another mobile OS (as well as the ones before).

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  4. As a user and a reviewer of software for its functions and practicality in the outdoors rather than the commercial viability and possible long term future of the companies I chose Android for a number of reasons. The first was simply that I could change the batteries on several different Android phones and I couldn’t on the iPhone, which ruled it out for long distance walks as I wanted to use the phone as a GPS unit with mapping software. Four spare batteries weighed less than any portable charger and carried more power.

    Also, I have always used a PC and Microsoft so I wanted compatability (I know Apple and MS work together now but this is relatively recent). Google and Android provides this across different devices – PC, tablet and smartphone – and does everything I want at present. That Android is different on different devices isn’t a problem for me, though I can see it could be for developers.

    • Chris,

      I’m sure that in the future you’ll still be able to get the same type of phone (with removable batteries) but it could well run a different OS – if it’s a Samsung phone.
      (If your phone is from HTC or other then these smaller companies may well stick with Android due to lack of options.)

      But Samsung do have the power to change the game plan; And Google may well be fearing that they will jump ship.

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      • Neil, my phone is an HTC Desire S. My tablet is a Google Nexus 7. The two work well together. I will watch what Samsung do but I’ll only change if I can see some advantages for outdoor use.

  5. I’d be quite happy to pay for mapping (and other) software for Linux, no problem there.
    Compared to Windows, Linux is fast and efficient and doesn’t need huge amounts of hardware resources. That’s the attraction – the free stuff is a pleasant bonus.

    I can’t comment on other Operating Systems apart from my HTC phone (Android) which makes and receives phone calls and text messages quite well, and is a useful and effective mobile internet access point.


    • I wish there were more like you John, it would be nice to see RouteBuddy on Linux. 🙂

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  6. JJ,

    If I had to plump for one improbably outcome that might just happen it would be the rise of Ubuntu.

    I have a friend who’s son is an IT wizard and big in Ubuntu. He loves his job and sees a great future for the product mainly on the back of growing markets in the developing world especially with the development of Ubuntu mobile.

    I keep an eye on Ubuntu and have thought about installing it on my machines as a second OS. It is now a very nice and mature OS. What lets it down is the commercial or main software suites many of which are public domain. The stuff works OK but it just isn’t as fully featured or as professional as other packages on other platforms. But I suspect the only issue here is that which Neil flagged up, i.e. the lack of incentive for developers. However, stranger things have happened and this might creep up on us faster than we might imagine.

    In my view the very best and bravest thing that Jobs did when he returned to apple was to quickly move to OSX and kill off legacy OS systems — OSX was built on top of Unix. Jobs realised that there was a mass of unix modules out there to use and many programmers who were conversant with it. It was a relatively small jump for these guys to take the relatively small step to Apples GUI. Apple maintains a very strong commitment to open source along these principles because of this very reason. UNIX allowed apple to survive — just look at the relative mess of subsequent Windows development.

    But if UNIX helped create a major breakthrough in OS usage that many felt was impossible (given the domination of Windows) we should not rule out this happening again!

    A few year ago many saw Facebook as becoming the default electronic publishing media for the net but now you do wonder. We are getting bored with it. Notionally free products have to monetise as best they can but it is so easy for use to get angry and frustrated with the various strategies to shove advertising at us. I think the facebook lifespan may be dramatically short and I wonder if in 10 years time it might have become the next My Space — but with an even more dramatic demise!

    There is a real quandary for developers. The best markets will be those where people are happy to pay for products. Maybe ‘free’ may not be the best way forward, and certainly not the most lucrative. As Google closes projects and tries to lead us to use new services we might also fall out of love with it.

    Increasingly I feel that fragmentation of platforms and markets is not right for the consumer and that compatibility and common data standards will be critical for the way forward. When it come to maps OS could have done so much better and could still — through the use of licenses — facilitate the easier move from one platform to another. I’ll save this issue for another post.

  7. Wow what a topic! As I am mentioned, I thought it would be rude not to dive in (sorry Andy / Neil, the OS mapping comment will have to wait!)

    My declaration – I have never used an Apple hardware product (other than the original ipod shuffle). I discovered ViewRanger very early on (in fact I had to get a Bluetooth GPS unit as my Nokia didn’t have one built in). I switched across to my first Android phone just as ViewRanger released a beta version for the platform. To me the choice was obvious – I used Google services and not Apple ones! Just to clear up the excitement Andy mentions I had at Apple announcements.. it was more dread – what fantastic new feature would I envy (or get mocked for not having)? But for the last few announcements and recent adverts I have felt…. nothing…. a bit faster…. a few more pixels…. but nothing I am jealous of. For the first time I honestly think my Android (S3) is more exciting and innovative.

    But that’s just me… I thought it might be interesting to look at the mobile traffic on shareyouradventure.com for the last month (this is general browsing traffic not specifically outdoor use). In total there were 81 different mobile devices (all IPhones counts as 1) from 16 manufacturers. Apple has 1.5x the traffic of Android (other platforms barely registered) – Samsung had about 1/3 of all Android traffic. There were 19 variants of Android (although vast majority of traffic had 4+).

    Samsung is a big Android player but IMO not enough to kill android should it choose an alternative OS (Android was after all gaining market share before Samsung and remember Nokia who were once the dominant player). Also in my experience what makes the S3 a good phone is the speed and performance of Jelly Bean on the device (certainly not the S apps which are poor siblings to Google’s versions) – the S4 will I am sure be a fantastic phone…. once you replace all Samsung’s apps with market alternatives. As a slight aside – over the weekend I stuck Jelly Bean on my old Motorola Defy + and surprised myself with how much faster the old girl was!

    The stats above relate to all traffic on the site rather than actually users outdoors – I don’t have any specific evidence, but based on a feeling (scientific I know) I would estimate 2/3 Android to 1/3 IPhone for phones used for outdoor sharing. As Chris says – being able to change batteries, better battery management (airplane mode not switching off GPS), cheapness and availability of waterproof (outdoor proof?) phones makes Android a better choice for anything beyond casual use.

    There seems to me to be a big difference between the generic profile of an Android user and the outdoor enthusiast android user, especially in terms of spending money on good apps relevant to their passions – I cannot believe that an Android hiker is any less likely to pay for an outdoor app or service than an iPhone hiker! Fragmentation seems another myth – certainly based on the stats above – 4 versions (all v4+) accounted for the vast majority of traffic.

    Also in the same way I only moved fully to Android when my two favourite apps were available (ViewRanger and Audible) – I will not move to another new platform without the apps that I use on a daily basis. Windows and Blackberry arguably have good OSes (finally) but I wonder whether the lack of apps we now expect is why they failed to gain any traction? Would developers want to build apps for another OS (when some are still not developing for the biggest platform ?) Perhaps a more likely direction for Samsung is a Amazon style layer on top of Android with their own ‘Samsung store’ – not necessarily a bad thing for Android (or developers).

    Sorry Neil but I think Android is here to stay for a good while yet*

    (* unless Google do a ‘reader’ on Android – but then I seem to remember reading that their mobile revenues from Android are all good).

    For what it’s worth – I am looking in the direction of the Firefox phone and a future where the vast majority of our interactions with the internet via our devices is powered not by apps but by HTML5 (the web) (I actually built a web app a few years ago for pinging location from your mobile to Social Hiking – it worked great except OS limitations meant the browser had to be active permanently for it to work… a bit of a battery killer!)

    • Great post Phil – with some excellent, and debatable, content (I do have somewhere detailed and interesting stats on what Android users vs. iPhone users ‘spend’, a fascinating topic in itself).

      In the whole article, to clarify my comments, I think we need to talk about brands ‘that use the Android OS’, rather than ‘Android phones’; and if Samsung, who ship the biggest numbers, do actually jump ship. Yes Android will survive in some form or another but will it then have the same market impact as iOS, and/or what Samsung choose to be ‘their’ OS replacement across an entire range?

      You can imagine, from a prior developers point of view, how frustrating and costly this could be, in needing to add and then maintain another mobile OS (as well as the ones before).

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  8. Sorry to be a wet blanket. But honestly, how important is all of this?

    • Does that matter 🙂

      You do learn the odd thing is these obscure posts …

      Anyhow, off for a weekend of guitar playing and song of which you would approve. 🙂

    • Jay, if you need maps and/or navigation devices – and, as an outdoorsman, it’s fair to presume you do, then yes it is worthy of comment. Because these changes and moves affect us all in the mapping industry – and from there on we do work to serve your needs!

      Maybe I am more passionate than most about maps for those who enjoy the great outdoors, but all of these changes, at high-levels, do affect us, and the customer, down the line.

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  9. When you consider how many Operating Systems / Platforms there are out there I think it’s very important.
    Just look at the number of Apple Macs / Windoze / Linux / Android machines there are – all requiring different programmes to do the same or at least as similar thing.
    Just my opinion of course….

  10. Talk about timing! – this news report gives a brief summary:

    ‘Samsung To Ditch Android For Tizen: Report’
    [http://ow.ly/jjs6w ]

    This will have knock-on effect throughout all app levels and for all developers.

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    • To be fair the headline is not exactly accurate – “Samsung to dip toe in water with Android alternative” is more accurate. This has been expected for a while (seeing as Samsung co funded it) – there are a lot of ifs and maybes for it to be anything more than an also ran.

      • Not so sure Phil; This looks like there’s much more in it for Samsung if they build and use their own OS and, at the moment, the big barrier to the Chinese market is Android on Samsung phones. (Which I think is uppermost in Samsung’s mind, along with greater ‘own OS’ profits and control.)

        The Chinese don’t like Google/Android either [http://ow.ly/jjzfp ] and that’s market Samsung do want (the rest of the world can follow along behind perhaps).

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        • Windows and Blackberry wanted ‘own OS’ profits and control.. and are both now bit players. Nokia was the dominant manufacturer before making terrible OS decisions (I still think a decent Nokia android phone would sell like hot cakes).

          Talking generics is all very well, but back to the original theme of the outdoor world – I would argue that there is a large (and growing) market of outdoor enthusiasts who are investing (emotionally and financially) into the Android app ecosystem (yes ‘on average’ android users spend far less on apps, but then 75% of the population earn less than the average wage….) .

          Casual users (like my partner who has never paid for an app or online service – she even has £20 of ViewRanger maps not even downloaded) will shift OS and choose the best phone for them, but the users that buy and use apps will not switch so easily unless there are the apps available or a game changing feature. On this basis Android will flourish for a while yet as I can’t see another OS building a decent app eco-system with only the non spending casual users as a market.

          • Phil,

            I think that Samsung could force people’s hands as their phones get older – and if Samsung offer the best models (on Tizen) and at the right price, could that not be the point at which a customer moves from an old phone to a new one? Would the lack of Android really make them not move, and would a phone user really truly care?

            I take your point that this isn’t going to happen overnight, but it will complicate engineering for developers to be sure (which is the point I’m making). And at what cost to the customers remains to be seen.

            As far as another OS building a decent app eco-system, then I think we all could have pointed that finger at Apple a few years ago, when Blackberry, Symbian and Windows dominated the market.

            For Samsung it all depends on design, usability with Western style and UI; For having seen many flawed products and supporting software from the Far East at CES and CeBit, in Las Vegas and Hannover, then I would say those items are the first threshold they must cross to get the foundations right.

            Time will tell! 🙂

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          • Hi Neil,

            Don’t forget only Apple commands such loyalty! If I had got my phone a few months later, it would have been the waterproof Sony rather than an S3! If Motorola make a new rugged phone – it will likely be my next one!

            You are of course right that general users (my partner, her daughter etc) don’t care what the OS is – but anyone who downloads apps (free or paid) beyond Facebook, will be much harder pushed to change OS.

            I would argue that no one really had an app eco system in the same way we have now until Apple came along- even Android took a while to catch up (and as Andy points out the Android tablet app eco system still have obvious gaps).

            For me, a power user but not particularly app centric, I would need at least: Kindle, Audible, Evernote, Dropbox, tracking app, OS mapping app, Twitter client, Audioboo, Google (G+, music, maps, calendar) –

            All available on iPhone and Android
            Audible available on Windows (but not blackberry)
            Dropbox available on blackberry (but not Windows)
            Only Evernote available on most mobile devices (Google integration in Blackberry for calendar not great, don’t know about Windows)

            Not actually sure what OS mapping apps available outside iPhone and Android.

            Essentially it would require a new OS to gain a lot of developer traction (more than Windows and Blackberry have) for me to move – and most of those apps are pretty main stream with a lot (millions) of users (with the exception of OS and tracking).

            Also interesting that 99% of what I use those apps for could in the not too distant future be done completely via a browser with html5…. a risk to Android and iOS!

            Cultural translations 🙂 I went through two Sagems – a French make. The translation was terrible: ‘please confirm erasement’… very quirky phones!

            Time will indeed tell, and it has been interesting to discuss (sorry Andy for taking over your blog) – now…. time to write that digital mapping comment…


  11. Thanks Phil, interesting as always. I daresay we could all get together in a pub and shoot the breeze over this topic for hours on end!

    Here’s to a good weekend! 🙂

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    • Mango Terrier says:

      Firstly, let me say that this is a fascinating thread – and thankfully free from grandstanding!

      It’s particularly valuable to read contributions from Neil and Phil, both of whom have direct experience. And, before I continue, I must declare an interest. Neil was kind enough to provide me with an evaluation copy of Routebuddy for Windows last spring. Routebuddy has two innovative features – the ability to present either Microsoft’s Bing aerial photography in tandem with the mapping, or a link to Google Earth’s imaging.

      Frankly the salient comment within this thread came early on from Chris Townsend. Chris has vast experience in wilderness conditions. My own, alas, is far less, but we share a common need.

      For an extended – as in more than ten-day – trip, the prime navigational aids will always be physical map, compass and altimeter. Any less is foolishness.

      Over the past ten years we’ve seen a plethora of GPS devices. Some of which carry mapping. I myself use a Garmin Etrex, which is robust and aloows me to get a fix on both UK and European data. As travellors we use GPS to either confirm our position or navigate to a pre-deermined point.

      Now let’s move to mapping software per se. All mapping software providers for the UK use the same base OS data-set. Outwith the UK, in France for example, they will use the IGN data-set. All providers will pay similar royalties. Each provider will then layer a variety of feature-sets on top of this base data. Some may provide extensive search-and-find capabilities. Others may provide their own flavour for route-planning, visulaisations and so forth.

      But in essence it’s all the same. There are no substantive differences betweeen any mapping software providers at a base level.

      But . . .

      Letr’s now look at this from the perspective of the end-user. And let’s narrow this down to the, admittedly very small, demographic who choose to go out into the hills for more than a day or so. Applying the principles of medical triage, we are probably not worth consideration. But if you think we are, read on.

      As a member of this demographic, I’m keenly interested in carrying a device that can combine GPS and telephony, and that can carry my existing electronic map data. And the nature of our endeavour means that we need a device that is independent of mains electricity.

      Yes, you got that right. We’re talking about smart-phones.

      The majority of smartphones – like iPhones 4 and 5, Sony Experias S, T and Z, are solid body phones, which means the battery can’t be swapped out or changed. In my opinion this makes them completely unsuitable for any extended trip.

      Both the Samsung Galaxy III and the HTC Desire S are open-body, and the battery can be changed.

      The fact that the current iPhones can only be re-chaged through a mains outlet makes them, in my opinion, wholly unsuitable for serious use within an extended wilderness environment. Whilst I recognise that there are both solar chargers and third-party chargers available for the iPhone these are bandaids. The reality is that the entire Mac hardware expierence is predicated on an urban environment. The same critique applies to the current Sony offerings, which are not fit for purpose in a wilderness context.

      Moving on from this brief look at hardware, we can see that any mapping software developer intereted in gaining market share within the outdoor community should strongly consider the Android platform. The Mac iPhone simply does not address our needs. It’s not the software – it’s the hardware that’s at fault. There are several high-end smartphones whose hardware supports our needs. They all run Android.

      Now let’s take a look at Android software. Android is based on a Linux kernel. It’s open source. There is a communality with Ubuntu, also Linux based. Currently I’m using a. Samsung Galaxy III on Jellybean 4.1.2 an a Google Nexus 7 on Jellybean 4.2. My current mapping provider lets me sync all my maps (UK North 1:50, entire TGO Challenge are 1:25K, entire French Pyrenees 1:25K0 across these two devices and my two networked work machines. For the Android devices the maps are either stored on the external SD drive (phone) or within the system storage per se (tablet).

      It all works fine, and frankly to me it’s an example of a mapping software provider understanding both the hardware and software needs of their customers.

      Would I rebuy software to move to a different platform? Yes, if it was in my interest. I’m a graphic designer, specialising in large-scale print production. Twelve years ago, when Adobe brought out InDesign, I threw away my Macs, bought a couple of Dells for the same money as a G4, threw away my previous software and spent some £2,000 on new Adobe software. Within four years – I buy new machines every two years – I was making substantial savings.

      As an independent graphic designer I’ve a wide coterie of professionals working within the similar environments. Without exception, we all threw away our Macs ten years ago. No-one to my knowledge in the UK creative industries uses the Mac operating system, with the exception of unfortunates within certain agencies whose accountants can’t understand the principle of straight-line 25% deprreciation. In my profession it’s the software that counts – Adobe CS6.

      If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for your patience! Peace and love, brothers and sisters, and thanks as ever to Andy for allowing us to have our say! None of what I’ve written has been intended as advisarial. I truly believe that sharing and talking benefits us all.

      • Some very interesting points – and I hope we get the chance to debate graphics on Macs and PCs sometime in the future – I think we’d be up to the wee hours! ;-))

        Just to be clear on my comments though, this is not about Android vs. iOS – but – Android vs. Samsung’s Tizen, viz. the same ‘type’ of phone, but a change from a major manufacturer, currently utilising Android, to a new operating system (and the cost-effect that has on developers and customers).

        As far as recharging phones goes then perhaps that is a moot point, carry batteries or carry a charger… but let’s face it the question truly goes beyond that – with what else the phone offers or doesn’t offer, which is all down to personal choice.

        It’ll be interesting to see what the future brings.

        – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

        • The battery point is important I think. Good batter life is better than frippery designers with OS in my view! It looks as if the HTC One is a decent phone but one that will fail because of poor battery life!

        • Agree with Andy and Mango (thanks for your interesting comment btw) on the importance of battery life for outdoor smartphone use (in fact I was even going to revise my ‘I would need a decent existing app eco system to move OS’ statement, to ‘I would need a decent existing app eco system to move OS, unless a phone came out with a substantially longer lasting battery life’). Although there are options to keep your smart phone running longer – solar panels (only found one person who advocates their use in the UK), powermonkeys or equivalent (often expensive, heavy and/or unrelaible), AA battery chargers (personally not even tried) etc – the best / easiest / lightest option from my experience is just to carry spare phone batteries, which rules out any phone where the battery is not interchangeable.

          I would be interested in seeing what mix of phones Social Hikers use (as they are recording/sharing location and media, battery usage is high) for day trips compared to multi-day trips.

          • I’m a bit annoyed at how Apple are using their battery technology especially as they see to have a clear technological lead here. By designing their own batteries Apple are able to make use of every bit of space in the phone for the battery. Their tactic seems to be to make lighter and sleeker designs than anyone else and anyone who has held the iPhone 5 will know what I mean. This is a very thin and light design which as comparable battery life to its predecessor. I’d have preferred them to have produce a phone of the same dimensions as the ipPhone 4 but with superior battery life. Perhaps, we will get there in the end!

          • It would also be interesting to see what type of external power options others use and what their results are. Depending also on hot and cold use.

            However, it would be nice if Apple did offer battery swapping, and SD cards and… 😉

            – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

          • I use a simple USB battery nit that I bought of Amazon, It ives me between 4 and 5 iphone charges and it cost about £25. Coem to thin of it I may have left it in Cornwall !!!1

      • Have you got the link for that charger on Amazon? It seems to me that 4 – 5 iPhone charges are pretty good…

        I wonder what the weight comparison of this USB charger vs. 4 – 5 Samsung batteries would be?

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  12. I feel somewhat overawed by this thread, as I am an unashamed technophobe! But I will add that re. spare batteries, my Samsung Galaxy Ace has interchangeable batteries. Ok, it is a budget smartphone but it has the ability to work as a GPS with downloaded mapping software to boot.

    I bought a Pico Freeloader solar charger that can charge my phone and even my Kindle to about 75%. Mind you, that was in glorious sunshine in the Pyrenees!

    • Sola chargers have a very poor reputation here in the UK for obvious reasons! Pyrenees summers are a different kettle of fish 🙂

  13. Paul r says:

    I use both a iPhone 4S and nexus 7 with view ranger. After initially buying the view ranger software and mapping for the iPhone I later discovered I could download my existing mapping between apple and android for free which is a great bonus so hats off to view ranger for not profiteering.

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