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.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

New app version released

We've released an update to the iWalk Cornwall app which includes a couple of new features. The Walks Shop page for each walk now includes a slideshow of photos from the walk and the map now has numbered markers.

You can tap to read the direction text, start navigating from that direction, or report a footpath issue there. Using the information that has been fed back, we've been working with the CORMAC countryside team to help them pinpoint and remove fallen trees, fix broken stiles and address overgrown fields where the cutting regime is not working.

We use the app for all our walk testing when writing new walks or checking older ones so we've been using the new features ourselves for a few weeks whilst this version has been in development. The new features definitely make it much easier to start the walk from part-way round the route as you can immediately see where you are and what the previous/next directions are.

This version also includes a number of small performance and battle-hardening improvements (for example it will detect if the phone's network requests are being intercepted by a "sign in" page for a public network so you can do something about it to get your internet connection working; it also contains some workarounds for bugs in Android 4.0-4.3 so any "vintage" devices still running these will benefit).

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Review of Trespass Walker Boots

Trespass - the UK outdoor/clothing company, do a range of walking boots and have bravely offered me a pair of their Walker boots to test to destruction. On over 3,000 miles of walking on sharp slate, abrasive granite and through saltwater, previous incarnations of my walking boots have had their soles worn all the way through, pieces of metal sheared off and had their waterproofing reduced to that of a teabag, so these are in for some punishment. When I say I get through boots, I don't mean that entirely figuratively!

Initial impressions

The RRP of around £140 is more than I'd normally pay for my "consumables" but at the time of writing they were on offer at 50% off which brings them into fairly close price competition with some of the half-decent boots of even the budget outdoor shops. A quick look on the Trespass website at the reviews left by "hardcore" hikers looks promising - people who use them day in, day out have good things to say. I don't really want to hop back across Penwith one day in half a boot so that is reassuring.


If you prefer to do your online shopping on Amazon (e.g. to combine with smaller items to qualify those for free postage), the men's Walker boots are also available from Amazon and so are the equivalent women's Serana boots.

First field tests

The boots are real leather which usually needs a little bit of breaking-in. Having said that the first time I wore these was for 3 hours and they were fine. On the second outing I walked for about 7 miles in them and they were comfortable enough to not think about apart from a slight rub on one ankle after about 5 miles but no blisters or anything like that. I’d recommend doing a couple of shorter walks or a bit of pottering around before setting out on a long walk with a new pair.

The boots offer plenty of protection against knocks from rocks which is ideal for moorland or coastal walking. However, the lack of external sensitivity means that I wouldn’t want to drive in them. If you're after boots for nipping in and out of the car then a more lightweight model would be more appropriate. If you're going to do fairly long walks then the extra protection is worth the inconvenience of changing footwear.

Previous boots I’ve had with Vibram soles have sacrificed grip for hard-wearing which has resulted in a few slips, slides and colourful language. In dry weather, these seem to have the balance about right - in dry conditions they seem as grippy as the boots I've had with the softer soles that wore through quite quickly. These feel a bit firmer so I'm assuming they will last longer but time will tell.

The long haul

After using them regularly for a few months:

  • They are still waterproof.
  • The soles show very little signs of wear.
  • The laces are not frayed. Some boots have quite sharp metal catches which can disintegrate laces. These seem OK.

My one criticism is that the Vibram sole doesn't grip as well in the wet as some other (non-Vibram) boots I've previously used. There's obviously a trade-off between making the soles hard-wearing for longevity and soft for grippyness. If you're going to use your boots mostly in dry weather then this is unlikely to be a problem. It's only really noticeable on wet, slippery rocks.

Care tips

I recommend applying dubbin wax to the leather as soon as the boots are worn in and then regularly to stop it drying out and cracking. This applies to all leather boots. If you leave it too long before applying it the first time, the outer layer of leather can crack which can reduce the waterproof quality of the boots.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Walking for health

Dolphin Holidays at Tencreek Holiday Park have recently published some ideas on some things to try in Looe for the New Year and that includes a bit on the health benefits of walking.

I thought I'd add a bit more on that in case you have a New Year's resolution that involves undoing the effects of Christmas Dinner. Admittedly the weather this year may have delayed that being put into action. It has been said in the Cornish Dialect facebook group that February is the new January for New Year's Resolutions this year (me 'ansomes).

It's generally accepted that if you weigh around 11 stone, you burn around 100 calories per mile when walking on the flat (the more you weigh, the more you burn). You'll have noticed that most of Cornwall isn't flat so you can add on up anything up to 50% again depending on how hilly your walk is.

There's a bit of controversy over exactly how many calories equate to a pound of body weight, but it's in the region of 3000-3500. Before getting carried away and planning a 20 mile walk, it's worth noting that your metabolism stays raised for a period after exercise so the drive home also counts towards your New Year's Resolution!

The NHS has some sound advice about pacing yourself and all the other health benefits, although in of terms of staying motivated there are so many amazing things to see in Cornwall that really isn't a problem here! Apart from the odd steep hill, I completely forget that I am doing exercise when I am walking - there is too much to see and think about.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

West Pentire comes out as favourite walk

Parkdean holidays have produced an article on Cornwall's finest walks. As part of this they invited several authors of walks in Cornwall to share with them a favourite walk. Independently, two of us picked the same one - around West Pentire near Newquay. Due to those not intimately acquainted with the foibles of Cornish place-naming forgivably not realising that Porth Joke and Polly Joke were actually the same place, a little confusion resulted but has now been tidied up.

In the end it all worked out OK as the iwalkcornwall route is a little bit of longer to include Holywell and its Holy Well. So there’s now a long route and a short version to choose from!

Many thanks to Linda Sadler for her lovely photo of the wildflowers on West Pentire used in the article.

The wildflowers are at their best in June. Given the current weather, the footpaths will have had a chance to dry out by then!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Walks by AONB

The Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has the same status and level of protection as a National Park and is subdivided into 12 regions. The walks on iwalkcornwall are now catalogued with these regions (for the walks that fall into them):

  1. Hartland
  2. Pentire Point to Widemouth
  3. The Camel Estuary
  4. Trevose Head to Stepper Point
  5. St Agnes
  6. Godrevy to Portreath
  7. West Penwith
  8. South Coast Western
  9. South Coast Central
  10. South Coast Eastern
  11. Rame Head
  12. Bodmin Moor

The AONB region now appears in the "Walks nearby" section in the right-hand column of the walk page, so that you can easily browse walks in the same region.

You can follow the Cornwall AONB team on Facebook or Twitter for news of what's going on in these areas and they also have a blog. The also run a photo competition (closing end of Jan 2016).

Friday, 23 October 2015

New walks app release

Version 3.5 of the iWalk Cornwall app has just been released this morning:

The latest release includes a few extra features:

  • The summary page now includes links to tide times, bus times, ferry times, opening times, etc. specific to the walk. You'll need a wifi or 3G signal to access these, so recommended before setting out on the walk.
  • There is now a second-level menu (launched by "..." button) which includes a few "handy" items...
  • One of these is a new "Camera" button (thanks to Ryan White for the suggestion) so you can quickly photograph something on your walk (e.g. wildlife) before it disappears, without having to fiddle about switching between apps to use your phone's camera.
  • Another is a "Pause GPS" button. This allows you to reduce the battery consumption of the app during picnics etc. by manually suspending the app's use of GPS (which is one of the more power-hungry bits of hardware on most devices). The app has some other battery-saving measures built-in such as only re-doing all the CPU-intensive maths to recompute and re-render the map when you've moved more than a couple of metres since it did it last time.
  • There are a few other battery saving tips listed in the app's help screen which is also now more easily reached from the new menu.