What’s geocaching (on the mobile device world)?
Well the word says it all, is putting/saving onto local storage (whatever the device) geographical related information. For example, the location (coordinates) of a monument, a restaurant, hotel, etc. That’s mainly it. Since today mobile devices can do more than that, by way of geocaching, the devices can also store phone numbers, images, web site addresses of those locations, enhancing even more the user experience.
So far so good
Needless to say, the majority of geo aware apps (the ones the rely geolocation to function, including AR ones -of course-) present that information to their users, however they don’t do it via geocaching, they do it dynamically, by way of connecting to the server each time an information is requested, hence geocaching its used very little or not at all.
But, how come the apps do this? Why the need to connect to a server each time the info is requested, instead of having the information locally (on the device)? Doing it this way (geocaching that is) is more efficient on the phone network and on the users phone bill, since the network isn’t used at all, hence no need from the operator to charge. This is specially important when traveling to an area outside of the users local environment, in which using the phone network will incur on frequently exorbitant network charges to their subscribers, just for the luxury of using the phone for what it is: a portable computer.
So, why geocaching its not being used more often?
First and foremost it depends on the implementation of the app, which it depends on the philosophy on how the app will work.
Lets take for example NOKIA maps, an app that since its inception worked offline. The maps showed and used by the app didn’t need a network connection at all, just to open the device and use the app. However, the user needed to download the app and the specific map they needed. This last action, depended on the knowledge level of the user. For seasoned ones, it was a breeze, for the less knowledgeable it took a little more time to understand why the double download.
The previous approach is also used (out of necessity) by most tourism apps, in which the users previously downloads the app of the city (or place) they’re going to visit. Some apps do it on a per city app, other ones (like triposo for example) download the city information within the app itself. You mileage may vary. Also, it’s important to mention that tourism is relative. A person traveling to another city on their country certainly is a tourist on that city, but they still can use their home phone network without the implication of extra fees. So, geocaching or not, this is not an issue. The problem is when a person travels outside of their country, in which operators are going to charge roaming. Under this scenario, geocaching becomes a need rather than inconvenience.
Not to geocache
Now, lets take the other example of Google Maps. By its philosophy Google assumes that everybody is connected all the time, so when the time for their mobile maps app came, it was a natural extension of their mobile site, hence, needing connecting to the network every time the users needed a map. Under these circumstances, the user only downloaded the app once, but that was about it! It didn’t matter where the user was, it will show him/her the map relative to where they were. Naturally, this action required network connection and possible billing charges just by executing the app. But, it is far easier to understand and use than the NOKIA one. Today, geocaching is possible with Google Maps, but its not as complete as the NOKIA side. One way or another, the Google map application will need connection to the network.
One big important consideration for geocaching is memory, on the device (for storage proposes) as well as RAM of it. Using geocaching takes storage on the device itself and when used, it will also require hefty RAM space so it can be ready to display all these points on the phone.
On the not geocaching side, there’s almost no storage needed as the location information it is not stored on the device itself. As for the RAM usage, it should be kept under control, due to the information being shown to the user should be under the same amount of places.
Lets put it more simpler, if we have 3000 restaurants on a NYC map, NOKIA maps will need to store it and have it ready for display, where as Google Maps only needs to display the 5 around the user at that time, since those are the ones the user might be interested. Even if the user request for an specific restaurant far from where he/she is, it will only show that one. The app doesn’t need to worry about the 3000 restaurant present on the NYC area.
Also, from a developer point of view, by using geocache, each time the information on a map changes, the user will need to download the whole map again, where as not using geocache doesn’t require such a thing because in case the information needs to be updated, its done on the servers, not on the client, so in the end is transparent to the end user.
What about something in the middle? Something that stores where the user is, by way of the user manually capturing where they at, and then when they’re close to a WiFi (free) network, download the required information. Its quite possible -but as you can read-, it will not be easy for the users (specially the not seasoned ones) to follow all these steps in order to really capture where they are or were.
There you have it, two examples on how different philosophies help the user to locate themselves, each one having its pro’s and con’s.
And so, because of the previous scenarios, those might be the reasons on why few AR browsers (Layar, Junaio, Wikitude, etc.) use geocaching. Its technically possible, but its not as straightforward as other solutions, nor is easy on the users. On top of an already unknown field like is AR today. Yes, not using geocaching is a big limitation (we are well aware of it), however possible solutions are not straightforward either. At least up until this moment.
Nevertheless, the future is bright, and this future point to an scenario on which there’s connection all the time, everywhere (of course for a price 🙂 ). However, as time goes by and networks becomes more ubiquitous, prices to access them will continue to drop, regardless on how the operators avoid this from happening, it will happen.