smart phone GPS compared to traditional recreational GPS, what’s the deal?

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.



Having a lifelong enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits definitely adds interest and excitement relating to GIS. Whether it be map reading, route finding, fishing different watersheds and regions, navigating back roads of the vast Canadian wilderness, or just trying to find that next untracked/unexplored region, we use GIS applications to get there and get home.

If not in our personal lives, sometimes we are thrust into the world of GIS at work. When working in the forest industry I was handed a GPS unit, some maps, and then was let loose to find how to get there and get the job done. Without the advancements of better mapping and up to date satellite imagery, the job would have been much harder, and less efficient.

Everybody had access to better geographic information with the advent of improved maps and mapping services, handheld GPS units, smart phones, Google Earth and a plethora of online and handheld resources. Use these resources and venture to the untracked, or less tracked areas of the earth.

Online tools, smartphones and apps, Google Earth, GPS navigation, online National Topographic System maps online ….is there any more room for the Backroad Mapbooks?

I have a long history with the backroad mapbooks, whether it is for work or for personal exploring. Although they are subject to getting crammed into any space in the truck, written on, dirt and water damage, or just being lost, I still like to have it ready for handy reference and navigation.  Maybe it’s the feeling of being able to flip through pages and find other cool little features, rather than looking at a 2×3” screen, I mean a full 8.5×11” is a bit nicer. Or the fact that I always enjoyed looking at the outdated atlas of Canada and the world (which I presume my parents still have, it might have even been cold war era with USSR and not Russia), flipping through pages of maps is fun.

But with all the new technology these days at our fingertips, will we see a reduction in people using this great resource? The ability to do trip planning and investigation while zooming around Google Earth might take over from the ole mapbook, one doesn’t have to carry around many maps of the different regions of the provinces, and Google Earth doesn’t cost anything to get. They both show similar features, with roads, camping spots, and other features good for the explorer in all of us, handy for investigating new areas. Smartphones also turn us away from the mapbook and to Google Earth, with the handy convenience of being in hand while traveling.

Backroad Mapbook