Offline Topographic Maps – a new iPhone application – we interview the developer

Bit Map is an iPhone application that allows you to store and view your specialised topographic maps offline on your iPhone. Load your own maps onto your iPhone, and when you visit the outdoors while hiking, backpacking, bushwalking, cycling or trekking, you can view your own maps without cell or mobile network access.

If you have created your own specialised outdoors maps in JPEG, PNG, TIFF or GIF format you can use Bit Map to install them on your iPhone and then view your current location or navigate off your iPhone screen, using your own digital maps.

In this post we interview Nik Sands, the developer of the just released  Bit Map iPhone application, and hear directly from him about this unique iPhone app. 

Map view Bit Map

Map view Bit Map

How about a bit of background on yourself. Live where? Work  where?

I live near Launceston, Tasmania, which is of course the the worlds greatest bushwalking state. I work at the University of Tasmania as a Systems Administrator (Unix), which has been very useful for gaining knowledge of a variety of IT/computer systems and practices.

What is Bit Map, give us a simple run down

Bit Map is the only iPhone application that allows you to use your own large maps for viewing and navigation. Instead of using Google Maps, Open Street Maps, or any other fixed map set, you can use whatever maps you wish. This is particularly useful for detailed topographic maps used by bushwalkers and hikers for navigation. You can scan in your own paper maps, or purchase digital images of maps from your government mapping agency. Bit Map can read several standard image file formats, including JPEG and PNG.

Bit Map - Settings

Bit Map - Settings

How did you come up with the idea for Bit Map?

I really just wanted to be able to use my own maps on my iPhone for bushwalking and navigating in the Tasmanian wilderness, as the built in maps application requires network access which is not available in most of the locations I want to use the maps, and the maps are not detailed enough for the navigation I want to use them for. I was very surprised when I could not find any suitable iPhone app amongst the many other mapping applications. There are many that use Google Maps, Open Street Maps, or a fixed set of maps, but I couldn’t find any that would allow me to use my own topographic maps.

The only solution was to write such an app for myself.

How techo do I need to be to use the application?

Using Bit Map is dead simple, as with most other iPhone apps. You drag your finger across the screen to scroll you maps around, and pinch to zoom, etc. If you have multiple maps covering the same area, with different scales, Bit Map will automatically switch between these maps as you zoom in and out.

Bit Map - Manage Maps

Bit Map - Manage Maps

There is one tricky part of the application, which I’m hoping to improve on in future versions. If you want Bit Map to be able to follow your location on your maps, you need to let Bit Map know precisely which region your maps cover. This is not difficult, but does require a bit of knowledge about map grids. The map files must be named in a precise format to specify the map datum, grid and coordinates region covered.

I plan to make this simpler in future versions.

What uses does it have? hiking? biking? backpacking?

Bit Map is very useful for any activity that requires maps that are detailed or specialised, or which requires maps while no network access is available. I’ve used it to navigate while bushwalking (hiking) off track in the Tasmanian highland lakes, and it was fantastic. I’ve also used it to navigate in my car (to find my way to the start of bushwalking tracks, of course). If mounted in a charging cradle in the car (or any other power source), Bit Map will prevent the iPhone from sleeping, so that you can continue using it for a long period of time when not relying on battery power. I would think that if would also be useful for biking and touring, and if you use marine maps in your boat, you could also scan these into Bit Map (but don’t drop your iPhone over the side!).

Do you need phone / cell service for it to work?

No, you do not need any network access to use Bit Map for viewing your maps, or for following your location on the maps. Network access is required to install maps on your iPhone, but this is a once-only event for each map you wish to install.

Are there any specific plans for new features in future versions?

The next version of Bit Map will include the ability to store Waypoints, both automatically and manually, and to import and export routes (series of waypoints). It will also be able to trace routes on the map view. I’m also investigating methods to make it easier to prepare and install maps, which is currently a tad tedious. Perhaps something like the CDDB (or GraceNote) for CDs might help, but I’m not sure of the ideal solution for this yet.

So if you are an iPhone user and love playing around with your own topographic maps it might be worth checking out the application and experimenting with it’s functionality. This is the link to the site: Bit Map . Having known Nik for a few years now, we are confident he has worked hard to create a sound product that will be very useful in the outdoors – we’re off to purchase and check out a version ourselves!

Nik is also the founder of Bushwalk Tasmania  a great  “online community for friendly and helpful discussion of topics of interest to bushwalkers and repository of bushwalking related information submitted by bushwalkers, for bushwalkers.” (bushwalkers in Australia are hikers, backpackers, outdoors people, trekkers and trampers!) If you are thinking of a trip to Australia , check it out!


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