Geocaching With The iPhone

If you’re eying up the iPhone 3g as a device to guide you on Geocaching adventures then read on; This is not a general review of the iPhone and, as I am new to Geocaching and the iPhone is the only device I have used, I will be unable to draw comparisons between the iPhone 3g and other PDA-based or handheld GPS solutions.

However, I will look briefly at the iPhone 3gs strengths and weaknesses as a Geocaching device and give you some tips and tricks on getting the most out of it. I will be detailing only core functionality of the iPhone using no additional software or hardware other than a laptop computer from which I read co-ordinates and browsed for caches when planning trips at home.

To make our bank holiday Monday more than just an uneventful stay at home I decided to finally check out what all the Geocaching fuss is about and explore a few very local caches. These caches were, in order: Prison Break, It’s not a Micro, it’s a …….. and Roman Treasure. The latter two of these took us to places we had previously not been, but were practically on our doorstep.

First and foremost we tried out Prison Break. We had not planned this one, but happened to be driving past the area. I was able to load up Geocaching.com on the iPhone, navigate to the page for this cache, read through the comments and read the clue. Alas I had not yet got the hang of locating a cache and planning visits in advance so we ended up wondering aimlessly about in the wrong direction.

Finally I made my first iPhone discovery. After looking up the co-ordinates for the cache on Geocaching.com and entering them into a TomTom I copied them back into the Search field of Google Maps on the iPhone (Okay, that’s a messy work around to the lack of copy and paste). To my surprise it successfully zeroed in on the cache and provided incredibly easy to follow satellite photography of the area upon which I could clearly see the lay of the land including well-tread paths and the daunting tree-line beyond which the cache was hidden. Following several paths in google maps eventually lead us to our first cache which we would never have found had we not first read the comments on Geocaching.com; something that was remarkably easy to do in Safari on the iPhone.

After discovering Google Maps support of Longitude and Latitude based co-ordinates I decided to explore the possibilities of further exploiting the iPhones core functionality to make it a better and more functional Geocaching device. I found this functionality, unsurprisingly, in Contacts.

How to set up an iPhone contact for Geocaching

  • Create a new contact with a surname of Geocaching. This keeps all Geocaching related contacts tidily under G and prevents them interfering with real contacts. Alternatively you can use a surname like ZGeocaching to keep them right out of the way, but I personally like things to look tidy.
  • Put the cache name, or a memorable and unique name for the cache into the first name field.
  • Add the GPS co-ordinates into the first field of address details.
  • Optional: Add a hyperlink to Geocaching.com suffixed with the Geocache Code, eg: http://www.geocaching.com/?GCXXXX. You might wish to enter a more direct URL to the Geocache page here, this can be done easily by editing contacts on a desktop computer.
  • Optional: Decipher any clues and enter them into the contact notes (Add field, Note). This is especially important for caches that require riddles/clues to be solved in order to progress.

Using your Geocaching contacts

To navigate to a Geocaching.com page for a particular cache, simply find that contact and tap their “Home Page” line. If you entered the full URL to the cache than you need to nothing more. Otherwise you must then enter the Geocache Code at the end of the URL manually into the search field.

To find a Geocache waypoint in Maps simply start typing the name you entered for that cache. Alternatively you can type “Geo” (If you used my naming scheme) and get a scrollable list of all the Geocache contacts you have entered into your iPhone. You can also tap the little book icon and tap “Contacts” for, you guessed it, a list of your contacts.

After every successful find you will find it easy to post a comment on Geocaching.com with the iPhone, and if you get stuck it’s just as easy to read through the lists of clues.

Features that would further improve the iPhone as a Geocaching device

  • A better battery life. If you’re using the data connection and GPS on the go then the iPhone battery will not hold out for a day of Geocaching. That said with a quick charge at home and some topping up in the car I successfully used it for 4 caches. To conserve battery life simply keep it switched off and in your pocket, admire the views, and only whip it out if you need to get your bearings and for when you’re close to the cache.
  • Detection and highlighting of GPS co-ordinates in Safari (it does this with phone numbers) so they can be clicked and instantly entered into Maps. Alternatively a little copy and paste love would suffice.
  • Ability to categorize push pins in Maps into groups and draw paths between them for navigating tricky and disorientating terrain such as dense woodlands.
  • Ability to add notes and other pertinent information to bookmarked push pins. They can be used instead of contacts for storing cache locations but you can not store links to Geocaching.com or clues. They are best used, at present, to create virtual landmarks to help you keep your bearings and to mark out entrances to sites, micro caches and other clue locations.
  • Not necessarily an iPhone feature but Geocaching.com should provide co-ordinate downloads in VCard format for instant entry into the iPhone Contacts database. Just a thought!

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