Thursday, July 24, 2008

What goes down...

...must come up?

I think I'm going to lose more hair on this project than any other I've done to date.

Good and bad news.

First the bad. I've had some further discussion via email with the groundspeak guys, and there will be no changes. I can't do anything particularly useful with the geocaching.com site other than display it.

However, the good news is that I can keep the app in the app store. As long as I don't infringe on their terms of use we will be okay. (Geopher Lite as-is is not currently breaking their terms of use) That includes things like auto-entering coordinates. (Sorry) I can tell already that this will be the number one unfulfilled request. It's a pain, but there is little I can do here, at least in the short term.

This means a few things for geopher and geopher lite. One is that geopher lite may become geopher full, simply because I won't be able to do what I'd like to do with the data. I understand in a way why groundspeak is so protective of their data. It's hard-earned. As a geocacher I am disappointed that I won't get any sort of functionality like geocache navigator on the iPhone. (And I didn't even know that that software existed more than two weeks ago) Regardless, I am going to continue to work on Geopher Lite and continue to update it, both with functionality and bug fixes. If they will actually merge I haven't decided, but this makes that a much greater possibility.

As I am back in town I will be picking up my iPhone 3G tomorrow, assuming the AT&T store isn't closed for a state holiday that falls on the 24th of July. That would be just my luck. =) However, as it's a state holiday I have tomorrow off of work and plan on spending it for the betterment of Geopher Lite. Look for an additional post tomorrow about what I have done, likely in the evening.

If you have purchased Geopher Lite, please leave feedback on if you are having problems with the arrow not moving problem that has already been mentioned. I have only been able to test this with a first generation iPhone, however the arrow has moved properly for me when driving around in a car. (cell towers don't get me that reliable of a fix on the first gen iPhone) I would be interested in hearing more on this. I know of a possible workaround to force updates more often in the code, but it's not recommended by apple and according to their documentation what I have currently should "just work".

I would also like in general to have feedback for the application. What you do and don't like, complaints, concerns and praise are all accepted. I won't promise I'll fix your personal gripe, but I will promise to read it and ponder why you are saying what you are saying. =)

Also, to answer a few questions / comments.

I will not be allowed to directly access .GPX or .LOC files regardless of premium or not status. That is against the terms of use. (I can't even grab the target coordinates off of the web page and pre-fill the text fields with that information... I am pretty restricted on gathering the data)

To enter coordinates you can use decimal coordinates or hour and decimal minutes coordinates. Geocaching.com uses hour and then decimal minutes as a format, that is the default that is displayed in Geopher Lite. Look here for more on how this works. I should also mention that full hour, minute, second input and display is on the list as is an option to choose the default coordinate style. Also you don't need to enter the degree symbol, just use a space there. The text field will auto-format once you are done and that will help give you feedback on the data you enter here.

Miles versus kilometers is on the list. It's not a high priority, but it's there.

Additionally someone on the app store reviews inferred that the compass itself not rotating was an issue. That is on the list.

My highest priority is saving the target information between sessions. That's an annoyance that should have never been there and I apologize for that.

One last thing. Would it be more harmful than helpful to put a link up inside the app to the google maps directions based on the currently selected target? What do you all think?

9 comments:

Brandon said...

Hi again,

Good to see there's been some resolution, even if it's not ideal.

I'm glad you're asking for feedback because after making my last post, I had a chance to take my iPhone out and try it in the field, and I do have some suggestions.

Firstly, I'm glad that you're working on having the app store data between sessions. I hope this also includes Geocaching.com session cookies and the current cache page. I'd even be happy to have the app store my login and password and auto log in whenever necessary, if this is possible and doesn't violate the ToS.

I would also DEFINITELY like to see a link that would open the current cache in Google Maps. While trying it out today, I had to revert to Google Maps because the cache wasn't where I thought it would be and found that I was a block off. The overhead map, especially with satellite imaging, makes it very useful to find the general area. I tried clicking the Google Maps link on the cache page within Geopher, but it didn't seem to know how to handle it, whereas Safari did.

The compass pointing north rather than in the direction I was heading was the first thing I noticed once I started traveling toward the cache. Anyone who is an experienced Geocacher should be able to tell which direction is North, but I would still have the compass rotation enabled by default. It seems like a fairly important feature, not just for caching, but for general navigation as well, and makes the app much more accessible.

My favorite feature of the app is that it finds your current coordinates right off the bat and then gives you a search based on that. If I had an app that did only that, I would still pay for it, so I'm glad to see it in there. One issue with it, though, is that when I first launch the app, it hasn't quite centered in on where I am, so it'll display search results that are a few miles off from my actual location until I search a second time. If possible, an indicator of accuracy would be good to have on this screen. Another thought would be to have a timer of when it last received GPS data, as there were a couple times while I was caching when I wondered if it had lost the signal and stopped updating my location.

The think the interface could use some tweaks for usability. Some of the buttons don't properly describe what they do, in my mind. For example, "Set Target" on the home screen may be better described as "Choose Cache", since it's going to first bring you to the list of caches. The viewable screen when looking at Geocaching.com is also very small, and trying to center on the cache coordinates puts them underneath the top part of the UI.

Here's how I might fix these things: I would put a much thinner bar across the bottom that gave access to all the necessary functions with icons or tabs and remove as many of the text buttons and fields from the general layout as possible. Have a tab for tracking mode (the compass and Google Maps), a tab for Searching which displays Geocaching.com, and a settings tab for changing options. When viewing Geocaching.com, have latitude and longitude as a two inputs above the tabs in a single row, and have waypoint entry as a toggle in the options.

Lastly, I've got to say that even I find it pretty puzzling that Groundspeak wouldn't allow you to pull data from GPX or LOC files, since any user can download those from their site and load them into a number of paid Geocaching apps, like GSAK. If the user clicks the link, it shouldn't matter if it's in Safari, or a PC browser, or your app. Technically, at that point, you'd be grabbing the data from the phone's memory, not their website. I can't believe that they wouldn't allow you to open those file formats in your app at all, since they don't own them. Would it be acceptable for you to open those formats if they were provided from outside the app, say, by downloading them in Safari or as e-mail attachments on the iPhone? I think that would still be a popular feature for a number of users, especially if it included Pocket Queries. Of course, at that point, you may want to build in yet another view that displays all the data in your own viewer. But that's something for further down the road.

PercyKittenz

Tobin said...

Have you considered getting cache data from one of the other geocaching sites?

I know geocaching.com like to make people think they own the hobby but it's things like this that should remind us they're a for profit company.

Glen's eJournal said...

Cheers for making this app! I bought it, knowing it wouldn't (yet) meet my expectations. I made the purchase to show my support for the application's development. Thanks to Brandon for posting his comment. I have to agree with everything he said.

Blair Athol said...

Many thanks for your efforts. I have bought this application today and given it a quick test. I like the way it gives me a list of caches in my vicinity - that's really useful because I always forget to check when I am out for the day doing other things. I look forward to any enhancements and new features to come.

Congested said...

Hey-

I am new to geocaching but bought your app to try it out today. To be honest I don't understand how to enter the coordinates. Is there a help/faq for the app somewhere? When I tried entering them in I got the wrong coordinates.... usually the first number is right but the rest turns into a bunch of zeros.

What I ended up doing was copying the coordinates from the geocaching website then emailing my self the coordinates with google maps links so I could just load the map from the email.

Also if the map can't load from the app I don't really see what the point of the app is, no offense. The only way I was even able to go to the cache locations (neither of which I was able to find, but that's probably my fault for not wanting to get dirty by walking off the cement pathway in the park I was in XD) was by using the gps dot on the google maps walking to the pin it drops in from the link in my email.

Since they wont let you enter the cache data automatically maybe have a way for people to copy/paste it from their computers before they leave? Typing in all those numbers is very confusing to me as I have no idea what they mean and I had to look up what the +'s and -'s were for.... like I said I'm really new at this.

I'm gonna' keep an eye on the blog and for updates and hopefully you can find a way around their policy to generate cache coordinates without having to type them. Also google maps links would be good.

Thanks and good luck. As I use it more I may comment again.

Congested said...

Sorry to double post, but another thing that occurred to me was that it would be great if you could have an option to save coordinates once you type them in, like a list of favorites.

Once copy/paste is on the iphone then one could theoretically just copy/paste the data in geopher lite into the coordinate boxes you have then save that point as a favorite. Then the favorite could be used both in geopher lite, or link back to google maps.

genshi said...

After following the progress of this app (and being completely new to Geocaching but been wanting to get into it for years) I went ahead and bought it last night when I thought it was going to be pulled from the App store and to support your efforts... and I got to say, I'm liking this thing. I even found a cache literally right behind where I live!

I really hope you are able to continue with this and/or maybe compete with the Trimble(?) people. Since they or Geocaching.com seem to be dropping the ball on getting something for us iPhone Geocachers, you should be allowed to spearhead the effort and they (at least Geochaching.com) should be giving you their full support.

Justin Walther said...

Thanks again for working on this app!

I will have to second most if not all of what Brandon said. Most importantly, I would LOVE to see a working link to google maps for the cache that is set as the target. On my dedicated GPS (pre-iphone), I sometimes use the compass arrow-type functionality to find a cache and sometimes use the map view on the GPS to find a cache. I would love to have both options on the iphone.

I would also like to second what somone else said...I would pay for an app that just finds caches close to my location. :)

Will said...

A couple of suggestions:

1. Since Geocaching.com is being so difficult, would it be possible to pull the cache coordinates directly from the Google Maps app? If so, Geocaching.com currently allows iPhone users to locate the cache on their Google Maps apps using their Safari browser. If there was a button in Geopher that did this automatically (as some have asked for), then retrived the coordinates from the maps app, technically, you would not be pulling the coordinates from their site, therefore, not violating their terms.
2. If Geocaching still considers this a violation of their terms, if I were you, I would investigate using other sites, like Navicache.com or Terracaching.com, during the development of this app. Certainly, if Geocaching.com comes to their senses, they could be added later, but it seems the single most important function of your app is to pull the data from a site for the cache. Why rely on them when others may be less stringent? I think the most important thing now would be to demonstrate your app by getting a fully functional version running, and leave Geocaching.com access as a future upgrade.
3. If we had this access, we would need to have some way to switch between Geopher, Google Maps and the Safari view of Navicache. I would look at an astronomy app called Starmap ($11.99 in the App Store). It uses a scrolling device along the bottom to lock multiple buttons in an accessible location.
4. I've seen some apps call their lite programs LE. You might want to consider having an LE version utilizing, say, Navicache information, and the full version accessing whatever geocaching website the user chooses. This would justify not having the Geocaching.com information in the LE version (the free version?), but allow you to explore developing all the functionality.

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DadGuy has been working with apple computers since the mac classic. I love games and puzzles and like to solve problems. I'm having a blast developing for the iPhone and iPad.