A couple of nice posts (part one and two) over at Kew’s GIS team blog about the use of mobile, offline species distribution maps on Android phones. It still amazes me be guided straight up to individual plant specimens recorded on previous years field trips, even using basic GPS units, let alone mapped on a smartphone.
Forget exotic locations, there are still plenty of areas in the UK where poor phone reception makes pre-loaded maps essential. I use a free version of iGIS, on the iPhone, which has the option of preloading and caching custom background maps, and has a beta trial of a ‘pro’ feature to link photographs to records. It’s frequently updated and most recently added crosshairs for placing new points on the map, to get over the common smartphone problem of not seeing exactly where you are pressing on the screen.
Although mobile GIS has come a long, long way, picking a dry day for surveying and taking a laptop into the landscape, with a full GIS package, is often the best option for fine-grained gardens environments – especially where vegetation limits smartphone GPS accuracy. I can, however, definitely see the advantages in using a smartphone in the field, for discreet surveying in very urban areas, or just to carry searchable plant datasets around in your pocket.