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High Tech Treasure Hunting – Part 2

 

Geosphere

Part one (October 3rd) touched on Geocaching using a Mac and a GPSr.   Part two is about using an iPhone for Geocaching.   Apple has included GPS capability starting with the iPhone 3G model.   Prior to the 3G, location was derived from cell tower triangulation.   Adding a GPS chip allowed for a more accurate determination of location, especially if you were in a location without cell coverage.  

There are several geocaching apps available for the iPhone, geocaching.com has one, which attempts to mimic the web experience, iGeocacher (which used to be my favorite), and the one I'm writing about today (my current favorite), Geosphere ($7.99).

My wish list for a geocaching app:

  • Substitute for a GPSr if needed.
  • Provide the ability to be 100% paperless.
  • Easy to import data.

Geosphere can substitute for a GPS, although it is the general consensus that the GPS capabilities of the iPhone (any smart phone for that matter) are not as accurate as a dedicated GPS device (such as a Garmin).   I seldom use my iPhone as a GPS, but occasionally when I do, sometimes it is right on the mark with the same readings as my Garmin and sometimes it is off by 20+ feet.   I'll attribute the differences to the inferior antennae of the iPhone (which is a complete guess on my part).  Geosphere provides the typical compass layout pointing in the direction of the cache, but just like a dedicated unit, it must be ignored because it isn't accurate unless you are moving 10 miles an hour or faster in general.   The yardage indication is a better indicator.  Note the sample screen saying you are 407' away from your target, but it is only accurate +/- 328 feet.  You need that to be around +/- 30' or it is going to be a long fruitless day!

The 100% paperless requirement is easily met with this application and is a huge improvement over the days when I used to print out the listings of what caches I'm after, the hints, maps, etc.   There was nothing more frustrating that shuffling 20+ sheets of paper on a windy day trying to find what cache is next, do you sort by cache name, cache ID, or the order you are going to attempt to find them?   I invariably made the wrong choice and paid for it in time and frustration.    Using the iPhone, I can do a search for cache ID, cache name, see what is closest in list format or simply display an overhead map of what is nearby.   All the cache information is at your fingertips, including the description, hints, and the latest logs.  Incidentally it is a good idea to check the recent logs in case the last 3 or 4 people said they can't find it or found pieces scattered.  It may not be worth your time just to come up with the same result.   There is a need to take notes from time to time (to write the owner about how clever they were, to mention it needs a new log, condition of the cache in case it is wet or something, etc.).    In the old days I would scribble something on my printouts, or keep a separate paper log.   An added bonus with Geosphere is that you can take "field notes" and upload them as a group when you go to log your finds.  The geocaching.com website will let you know that you have field notes that are active and you can turn those into the actual log narrative if you desire, which is very handy.  The following thumbnails show some of the search screen information and "actions" that you can take once you have selected a cache to view.

Cache List By Proximity Cache Info Cache Info Actions

 

Cache Info Actions Cont. Description               
                                             

 

The following thumbnails show a log, a map to a couple of caches in the area and the same map with a satellite view.   The satellite view comes in handy when you want to have more clues when dealing with terrain (i.e. if you want to know which side of the creek the cache is on).

 

Log Map Satellite View

 

The ability to easily import data is what separates this app from all others in my opinion.   The other apps I've tried always involved either tethering to your Mac or setting your mac up to share files as a web server.   While those steps allowed me to go paperless, the steps always included downloading the GPX file(s), extract or unpack the ZIP archive, renaming them, move them to a certain location, import them, etc.   With Geosphere you can import via the following methods:

  • AOL Mail
  • Gmail Mail
  • Yahoo Mail
  • GoDaddy Mail
  • iDisk Public Folder
  • Box.net File Sharing
  • Dropbox File Sharing
  • Geosphere Mobile Downloads

Since I receive my GPX files via my Gmail account, that made the most sense to me and it has worked out great.  I pick the Gmail Mail option, it connects to my Gmail account, I scroll down to the message that has my GPX attachment, click on the GPX file (it will have a .zip suffix), and Geosphere will process the data.   All you need to do is tell it what group to put it in and it does the rest.  Dropbox is another good option for storing and retrieving GPX files.

In summary, Geosphere is a great companion to your GPS for geocaching.  If you don't have a GPS,  Geosphere will help you geocache with your iPhone.   The publisher http://www.gbhometech.com/Geosphere/Home.html has some videos on his website explaining how to use some of the features in more detail.  Happy Hunting!

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