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iFootpath Expert: The Joy of GPS

In the early days of iFootpath I was often asked, ‘Isn’t that just a gimmick? It’s just an electronic version of a walking guide book…’ But, of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There would have been no point creating digital walking guides unless they had distinct advantages over leaflets and books, and the main advantage can be summed up as ‘The Joy of GPS’. This iFootpath Expert article explores the many ways that the iFootpath App exploits all the benefits of GPS, meaning you can always be sure of exactly where you are relative to the route map…

GPS Map Button and ScreenLet’s start with the simple facts…

iFootpath walks include GPS Route Maps, specially developed smart maps to help you navigate. This may sound like an obvious thing, but we know there are many people that don’t initially realise the map feature is available within the App.

You can access the Route Map for any of our walking guides by tapping the word ‘Map’ in the top right of any of the directions pages. This will show a map of the route (a red line) and will also show your own current position (a blue dot). It’s like magic!

Here we explore the science behind this magic, why we think iFootpath GPS Route Maps are the most accurate out there and some other handy ways to use the iFootpath GPS feature to make your life easier (both whilst walking and in everyday life).

THE BASICS

satelitte pair imageGPS (or Global Positioning System) has been around since the 1990s. It powers cars’ Sat Navs and is used for both military and plenty of civilian activities including fleet vehicle tracking, cartography, surveying and tectonics. It is a space-based navigation system, using satellites managed by the United States (although China, Russia and other countries run their own similar systems). One myth that people often confront us with, is that they think GPS technology relies on mobile phone signal (generated from mobile phone masts). This is not true, GPS technology works from dedicated satellites, and is entirely independent of any internet or phone reception. GPS satellites continuously transmit their current time and position. A GPS receiver monitors multiple satellites and solves complex equations to determine its own precise position.

For GPS technology to work you need only three things. A GPS receiver (which is built into the vast majority of modern smartphones – you just need to enable Location Services), line of sight to satellites (so, unless you are in a cave, you should be fine whilst outdoors) and to not have been denied access by the US Government (so, best not to fall out with them if you can help it).

So, now you know the basics, how can this help you as a walker? Well, there are two main ways that the iFootpath App uses GPS, plus a few handy extras that you may want to consider.

CREATING THE ROUTE MAPS

bluedot on waypointA Route Map is a key part of any walking guide. The quality of route maps varies enormously, some people still just include a hand-sketched map, some have flashy graphics showing nice images of trees and sheep and some show an exert of an OS map with the relevant paths highlighted. What all these map types have in common is that they are NOT based on accurate location data.

Every iFootpath walk is created by a guide author actually walking the route and capturing the GPS location data along the way. There are no hand-drawn estimates in our world. Even with GPS maps, the quality of these varies enormously. This depends on how often a GPS location point is plotted – many Apps simply plot a handful of points on each route. The iFootpath Tracker captures an exact location every 7 seconds – so our maps have hundreds of location plots. It’s for this reason that we think the iFootpath GPS Maps are the most accurate walking maps out there. Our maps, superimposed on satellite images, show which side of the canal you should be walking, where you should cross the road or which field boundary you should be alongside. You will even see if the walk author took a quick break in the bushes!

FOLLOWING THE ROUTE MAPS

bluedot on redlineHaving an accurate Route Map is only half the battle when it comes to navigating with confidence. If you don’t know your own position, then knowing where you are meant to be is absolutely no use. When you follow an iFootpath walking guide, simply tap ‘Map’ in the top right corner of the directions pages and the Route Map will appear on your phone.

Better still, your own current location will also be shown on the same map. With this live information in the palm of your hand, your task is simple. You need to keep the blue dot (your location) along the red line (the GPS Route Map) and then you will know you are on the right route. If you find the blue dot veering away from the red line, you will know you have taken a wrong turn. Combine this with the written directions and the photos, and the chances of getting lost is vastly reduced compared to traditional walking guides.

SOME USEFUL EXTRAS

There are some other useful ways to use the GPS functionality to make your life easier. If you are trying to find the starting point of a walk, the post code will get you in the right general area, but usually can’t pinpoint the exact car park. Open up the iFootpath GPS Route Map for the walk and let that guide you to your exact destination (marked with ‘Go’).

Even if you don’t feel confident enough to create your own walking guide to share with other iFootpath users, the GPS Tracker within the iFootpath App can be handy little thing. If you fancy exploring a new woodland, simply ‘Open Tracker’ within the App and tap ‘Start’. You will then see the App draw a red line as you walk – like a virtual digital trail of breadcrumbs that you can follow back to the car when you are ready to head home.

One other trick I always use is when I visit large country fairs or open-air shows. Anyone that has attended these events know that the helpful high-vis marshals carefully guide you to a parking spot, and you leave your car as one of thousands in a large field. Finding the car afterwards can be quite a task. Instead, as you get out of the car, start the App’s GPS Tracker and track the route from the car to the showground, save this route and you can use it to guide you back to the car without a problem. Job done!

We’d love to hear from anyone that has found other innovative ways of exploiting the Joys of GPS…

So that’s it for this iFootpath Expert article. More myth-busting plus tips and tricks to follow next month.

20 June 2017
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