Guest blog post by ADGIS student: Sean Fredrickson

First off: it is a generalization that smartphones have come into the mainstream use of everyday people. I think it is a fair generalization, I mean, look at how many users are dependent on smartphones to give them real time data, and the use of the coveted GPS (global positioning system) apps. From navigation in vehicles within towns or cities, to a wide variety of outdoor recreation uses, and even in work scenarios, we use these apps.

The question is; what are the differences between using your phone for GPS and a traditional handheld unit?

We all know the advantages of personal hand held GPS units (we’re not talking about carrying around a Trimble here to hike down a trail), interchangeable batteries, better reception, somewhat ease of use, and relatively good precision.

But the advancements of mobile phone GPS are significant.….At first it was AGPS, assisted GPS, in which a phone requires a connection for its GPS to work (i.e. a cell connection) whereas  new smartphones these days (eg. iPhone3G,  Nokias),  have proper GPS, so one can use them anywhere in a country or out on a boat.  No reception required.

It seems like the advantages of just using an iPhone GPS (or any other new smart phone GPS) are starting to take over the competition from the trusty hand held GPS device. Uploaded satellite imagery is probably one of the greatest tools, having the ability to see the actual overview image is unbelievably advantageous to the user. As well as the interface – we’re all getting used to and seem to be internally programmed to be able to understand (to a certain extent) our phones, whereas sometimes hopping over to the handheld GPS device requires a few mental reprograms in itself. Touch screens make it easy to make waypoints, select areas, make tracks, etc. as well as managing your inbox and text messages.

I was that old user of a plain flip phone, and a horribly slow text message writer.  While working in the forest industry I carried my flip phone and a Garmin 60cx (my stand alone GPS unit).  This was until a co-worker was packing around his iPhone showing images of the cut blocks we were going to, finding the best routes through the bush via old roads, cut lines, creeks, tree stand types from images, and really helping us move around easier. I then realized the potential.

It is up to the users to see where these applications are helpful and useful to themselves.

But, as a note from experience, it is a lot easier to change a couple AA batteries in a Garmin, than finding your way back to your truck to charge your phone.