Friday, 11 August 2017

Battery tips

An obvious concern with using any electronic device for satellite navigation is the lifetime of the battery, particularly given the high amplification levels needed to use weak GPS signals from space.

For mobile phones, there is a cheap solution:  USB "power bank" (external batteries) can be purchased for as little as £5 and are small enough to slip in a pocket.

Even the cheapest ones should last a walk but for around £20 you can get something that has many times the capacity of the phone's internal battery (over ten times that of the iPhone 6 battery, for example) so with those you really can walk all day long and probably all night (some include a torch!).   The flat ones are convenient as a phone can sit on the top and be secured by a couple of elastic bands! Amazon category: portable power banks



Battery monitoring in the iWalk app

During the walk, the iWalk app will monitor how fast your battery is draining and estimate how quickly you are likely to finish the walk based on your current walking speed.

Saving battery during planned stops

If you decide to have a long stop during the walk (e.g. for a swim or meal), you can use the "Pause GPS" button which can be found by pressing the extended menu button "...". This will temporarily stop receiving location updates which allows the phone to shut down the satellite receiver to save battery power. Don't forget to un-pause it afterwards to re-enable location tracking before you resume the walk!



Battery safeguarding measures

If it looks like the battery is definitely going to run out before you finish the walk, the app will warn you so you can connect an external battery.


If that happens, the app also offers you some options to conserve battery power if you are "caught short" and need to eek-out your battery.

 
      

The first step is to switch off WiFi and Bluetooth as these use a fair bit of battery power and you don't need them to do a walk. On iPhones you can do this by swiping 1 finger upwards from the bottom of the screen to show the toolbar.


You can also dim your screen as much as you can get away with as this is another large drain on the battery, although for viewing outside you'll need it brighter than for inside, particularly in the sunshine.  During the walk, you can also switch the screen off entirely by pressing the power button during long stretches between directions.  The iWalk app will continue to run in the background, even when your screen is turned off, so will still beep/vibrate when there's a new direction to follow.  On Android you can use a free app to disable the screen lock during the walk so you don't have to unlock your screen each time you press the power button.

If all of that is still not enough, the app will warn you again:

   

The first emergency measure you can use is to disable GPS tracking when the app is in the background (i.e. when the screen is turned off).  This means you'll have to switch on the screen and allow the app to get a GPS fix to check your position, but for potentially long stretches in between your phone can be using minimal battery.  If even that is not enough then the app offers you a last resort - to suspend GPS tracking entirely:

       

This means you can still use the directions text and map, just like a walk book, and you can switch on the GPS just for a moment if you're not sure where you are on the map.


Friday, 4 August 2017

Staying on track


Whilst we try to make the directions as clear and unambiguous as we possibly can, there are times (especially when chatting) when everyone takes a wrong turn.



There are a number of things in the app you can keep an eye on to ensure that you're on the right path.  The easiest way to check is via the map screen:



Another thing to watch out for on the summary screen is if the distance to the next direction is INCREASING!!

...   

Where it can, the app will attempt to warn you if you are wandering off-route:



However there are certain directions where it won't do this when a legitimate divergence from the route is anticipated as "likely", for example to explore the beach (where being nagged would be annoying):



A quick glance at the map or the distance to the next direction is the guaranteed way to avoid any long backtracks.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Distance and speed tracking in the app

When you're walking, it's often handy to have an idea how far it is to the next direction so you know whether you need to pay attention or you have a few minutes to natter to your friend before worrying about navigating.

Therefore as well as the displaying the text for the current direction, the summary screen of the app provides a real-time countdown of distance to the next direction as you are walking along.


There's also a distance remaining for the whole walk to deal with any "are we nearly there yet?" although feel free to use artistic interpretation!  The distance is based on a (flat) map.  In reality it will be a fraction longer due to the extra (height) going up and down hills but because Cornwall is not the Himalayas then that's pretty small.

The app calculates your average walking speed over the last couple of minutes to estimate how long the rest of the walk is likely to take.  We do this rather than averaging over the whole walk because your speed varies with the terrain (where possible, we aim to get the steeper bits out of the way in the first half) and also as you get a little more tired towards the end of the walk.    The speed measurement ignores any periods where you have stopped or are moving very slowly so pausing to take a photo or have a picnic shouldn't mess up the estimate of the time remaining.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

App reviews

If you've used our app to do a walk, we'd be really grateful if you could leave a review in the app store if you haven't already, as more reviews help to give other users confidence.  In particular, any visitors from "up country" won't have encountered iWalk Cornwall before and there is a lot of amazing stuff awaiting them here if they give it a try.

If you have an iPhone, open the App Store, search for "iwalk cornwall" and tap the iWalk Cornwall entry in the list. Tap the Reviews tab and then tap "Write a Review".  Select the number of stars, fill in the title and the review text.  Press "Send" and enter a nickname that is likely to be unique.  If all is well a "Sent" box will flash up.  



If you find that the "Send" button won't work, this is because your nickname is clashing with that of another user (but there is nothing to tell you this is the case).  If so, copy your review text so you don't have to type it all in again, cancel the review then start again and use a different nickname.

With an Android phone, open the Play Store app, search for "iwalk cornwall" and choose the iWalk Cornwall app.  Scroll down to find "Rate this app" with 5 star icons below it.   Select the number of stars, fill in the title and the review text and submit.



Note that our average rating is above 4, so any genuinely well-meaning 4-star reviews actually have a negative impact: the ratings average feeds into the app store rank which determines how many other users find out about the app.

A big thank you to everyone who has left a review and their incredibly kind and encouraging words which have kept us going through some tough periods.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Free materials for accommodation owners

We've made menus of 5 walks available for 40 distinct areas in Cornwall that accommodation owners can print out to include in the location information about their area for their guests. For owners, there is no need to maintain printouts of directions - the menus stay in the accommodation, don't get grubby and don't go out of date when directions are updated.

All guests need to do is download the app via wifi and use this to scan the codes for the walks. Guests always have the latest directions via the automatic update mechanism within the app. Once downloaded, walks work completely offline without any need for a phone signal. Most importantly the GPS guidance means that visitors don't risk having a bad experience by getting lost.

We've recently updated our menu of 5 walks in Poldark filming locations for series 3, and also the walks in the Porthcothan area to include our new Bedruthan Steps walk.

All the free materials for accommodation owners can be found on http://www.iwalkcornwall.co.uk/accommodation-resources (on the desktop site).

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Walking with a dog just got better

Dog poo bags hanging from trees are not anyone's idea of attractive or pleasant. It happens because carrying around a smelly dog poo bag is no fun and, even despite best intentions, human memories aren't infallible. Sadly the impact on the environment and animals such as horses is nothing short of disastrous.

A mum in Newquay has come up with an elegant solution to this and set up a company called Duck Soup to manufacture it. It's a neat little bag made of wetsuit material that has an airtight seal so dog poo can be carried discreetly without pong until you find a bin, without any risk of leaving it behind. It includes a velcro strap and sturdy clip to attach it to a belt or lead and has a built-in dispenser for disposable plastic doggy bags. The bags come with an air freshener disc but surfers should note that Mr Zoggs Sexwax air fresheners are also a perfect fit.

She calls it The Dicky Bag as that sounded a bit nicer than the alternative names she could think of! A ranges of sizes are available depending on the size of your pack of dogs.

It costs between £20-30 due to the high quality neoprene, stitching and seal needed to keep the air fresh for you and passers by. Whilst there are cheaper, less good products on the market, this is designed to last: the first prototypes she made 8 years ago are still going strong and, of course, wetsuit material can be washed as many times as you like. Divide the cost by the number of years it lasts and it's very good value for money. You can also sleep soundly at night knowing you've safeguarded the environment, don't smell of dog poo, and that you've invested in the Cornish economy as they are manufactured in Liskeard.

The video clip is from BBC Countryfile (the BBC aren't allowed to mention brand names, but I think you can guess...):

They are available on Amazon and a little bit cheaper direct from the Duck Soup website.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

New app version with battery usage improvements

A new version of the iWalk Cornwall app (3.15.0) has been released which should start to appear as an update over the next couple of days.

In the new version we've replaced the geolocation component that runs when the app is in the background (e.g. when the screen is off) with a custom one that we've written. The new version is more reliable and has improved battery efficiency on iOS. There is also now a battery drain rate (in % per hour) displayed on the summary screen during the walk so you can estimate if the battery is likely to last to the end of the walk and connect a portable USB battery if not.

The app contains a number of other optimisations to minimise the amount of power it uses, for example it only re-renders the map - the most CPU-intensive part - if you've moved more than a certain distance. You may have also spotted the "Pause GPS" button on the menu at the bottom: that's the biggest win possible if you stop for a significant length of time during a walk (e.g. for a picnic) as that powers down the antennae. Just remember to switch it back on when you start walking again.

The power usage during navigation is almost entirely down to the device's GPS hardware: the GPS signals from space are based on 1970s technology and consequently very weak and need a lot of amplification. iPhone users suffer worse here because the battery capacity in an iPhone is often about half of the equivalent Android phone - a compromise for having a slim device. Some phone manufacturers are trialling a new GPS chipset which uses less power than the current generation. Also the European satellite navigation system, Galileo, is currently being deployed which produces much stronger signals. The result of all that is that in upcoming phone models the battery efficiency of the geolocation hardware is likely to improve.

In the next version of the app we'll be building on the new components released in this version to add a little more battery safeguarding functionality.