Apple iPads are growing in popularity not only for recreational purposes, but also as a tool for students to enhance their learning experiences. iPads are particularly useful for students interested in projects that require visual analysis and immediate access to information. Here, I am conducting a GIS/GPS related field project using the iPad not only for data collection, but also as a means to connect ecological, historical, and sociological perspectives regarding local forested landscapes.
This post will be the first of a series of blog posts where I will identify the most effective and useful GIS and GPS iPad apps based on price and versatility. Every test run will occur on the Skidmore College campus so that you too may use these tips to explore our campus!
Our first app is the MotionX GPS HD by MotionX ($1.99). Last week, we tested out its basic functions in the North Woods adjacent to the stables. We looked at 1) ease of locating ourselves on the map 2) ability to create new data (tracks and waypoints) 3) ability to export points as KMZ.

The following is a series of screen shots with my commentary.


Here’s a shot of the completed track. Overall, the GPS was accurate. The base layer map shown above is a satellite image from Google, however, users have the option between choosing road, terrain, hybrid, or marine experimental maps.


Another interesting feature is shown above. Here users can keep track of distance, time, or speed in real time.


Users have the option of adding waypoints by selecting a point on the map, entering coordinates, addresses, or using their current location. Also, I was able to directly add a picture of the location on the spot. Downside? It takes quite a bit of navigating to get to the waypoint page and to add a picture. This could become problematic if on a hike with other people (i.e. getting left behind!). A one-click waypoint option would be a great improvement.


The app has a “Sharing,” option so that we can visualize our track and waypoints on GoogleEarth. By entering an email address (up to six) and hitting the share button, the app sends to the email(s) a text summary of the track and waypoint, as well as a .jpg, .kmz, and .gpx file. The only issue here is the fact that each waypoint must be emailed individually. There must be a faster way of sharing all the waypoints at once, however, I have yet to find it.


Once the waypoints and track are downloaded (kmz file), they are ready to be opened on Google earth.


Each waypoint also includes the picture you took with it!

Thus far, the MotionX GPS HD appears to be a great, versatile app for its price! Locating ourselves on the map, creating new data (tracks and waypoints), and exporting points as KMZ were all a breeze. In the future, we’ll see whether or not we can load in new data (maps, shape files, and/or raster maps) on to the iPad.

If you have any field mapping iPad apps that you’ve looked into or interested in knowing more about, tell us in the comment section!