Putting My iPad’s Geocaching App to the Test, on a Vlog in the Woods

Today’s column is in video form, which is a first for me. I was out hiking with my dog Rhody in the Blue Hills Reservation south of Boston last weekend when a few realizations hit me at once.

1) I had my 3G iPad with me

2) I had my camera with me

3) I wanted to do a column about geocaching with the iPad

4) I wanted to practice video blogging, also known as vlogging.

So, in the spirit of killing several figurative birds with one virtual stone, I fired up a geocaching app on the iPad, put my camera into video mode, and shot some footage, which you can watch below. (If you’re reading this via an Xconomy RSS feed or e-mail newsletter, you can easily view the video over on YouTube.)

Groundspeak's geocaching app on the iPadThe video is a sequel of sorts to my September 2008 column, “GPS Treasure Hunting with your iPhone 3G.” In that piece I gave a quick overview of geocaching. For those new to the concept, it’s the sport of seeking out hidden “caches” using only the latitude and longitude data published at the website Geocaching.com. My big question at the time was whether the iPhone 3G was a decent tool for geocaching, compared to the dedicated (and very expensive) handheld GPS devices I’d used in the past. It was a relevant question because the iPhone 3G had been released only a couple of months before, and was the first iPhone with built-in GPS capability.

My verdict was that the iPhone performed very well, although I had to pull together data from a couple of different apps to accomplish the task. Just a month after I published that first column, Groundspeak, the organization that runs the Geocaching.com site, came out with its own soup-to-nuts geocaching app. Groundspeak has continued to improve the $9.99 app over time, and to my mind it’s the single best tool for geocaching, beating even the dedicated GPS receivers. That’s because it combines wireless access to Groundspeak’s database of more than 1 million geocaches around the world (assuming you’re within range of a data network, of course) with beautiful map and compass interfaces that guide you to each individual cache.

Groundspeak hasn’t released an iPad version of its geocaching app, although there’s word that one is in development. But the iPhone version works just fine on the iPad. In fact, it may work even better—and that’s what I wanted to test in the woods last weekend. You can click the play button below to see how my adventure turned out. A special shout-out to my friend Graham Gordon Ramsay for his help editing this 6-minute video. Apologies in advance for the Blair Witch-style bouncy camera work about two minutes in. (For geocachers only: the cache shown here is GCZMZE.)

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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12 responses to “Putting My iPad’s Geocaching App to the Test, on a Vlog in the Woods”

  1. So odd you did this…I was just explaining geocaching to my partner last night. It was great to have your video to share with her. (except for the vertigo-inducing segment at 2:18!) You should do more vlogs Wade. You have a great delivery style. Clear and nicely paced. And Rhody needs a RadDog Release and Run for the Blue Hills…no?

  2. Thanks for documenting your test run!

  3. Kent Decker says:

    Another geocaching app I like is iPlunder. The 2.0 version was just released for the iPhone and it was a huge improvement. I haven’t used my GPS since. Plus, it’s only $1.99.

  4. Mark says:

    “there are no devices that can guide you to within just a few feet”??
    My humble little Garmin Etrex H used get me to within 16feet every time even in dense tree cover, and my new toy the Garmin Oregon 550 gets me to within 10 feet of the cache!

  5. ErikaJean says:

    Uh-o. Shouldn’t have show the Geocoin number :-/ Great video though, I was interested in seeing how it worked. Love the large display, but out hiking I’m not sure I’m like to lug that thing around. I doubt the ipad is as rugged as a hand-held GPS

  6. Nicely done! I was wondering if the iPads GPS sensor was going to give better results that the iPhone. From your video, they seem to be about the same. The iPhone works great for urban caching, but I’ll hold on to my handheld gps for just a while longer. It’s waterproof and shock resistant and where I end up geocaching, those are really useful features. Thanks for the report!

  7. LAEd says:

    I have a iPad on order and am chomping at the bit to try out, iGeocacher and Geosphere as well as Geocaching.com’s apps. All apps seem to have plans to put out a iPad update soon. I am not sure of the size of the device issue on the trail.

  8. Ok, so here’s a serious question. Will the “poverty pack” 16GB WiFi (Only, not 3G) running the geocaching.com app actually use a third-party BlueTooth GPSr unit for the GPS data AND will the geocaching.com app actually store the locations of the file offline for use when away from a WiFi hotspot (or home, in our case) Thanks, Middo.

  9. dave says:

    I use my ipad all the time. The ipad gets me within a couple of feet all the time. I have even stood on a couple. More accurate then my Garmin Rino.