Thoughts on Technology and the Outdoors

I’ve been designing and developing websites and apps for over 15 years. Looking at a screen for most of my working hours, I have been enjoying following the way technology has transformed nearly every aspect of our life. In fact, I’ve been documenting this journey now for many years on my personal blog LiveLifeLoud, if you care to dive deeper.

Apple just announced ResearchKit:

Medical researchers are doing some of the most important work in the world, and they’re committed to making life-changing discoveries that benefit us all. To help, we’ve created ResearchKit, an open source software framework that makes it easy for researchers and developers to create apps that could revolutionize medical studies, potentially transforming medicine forever.

Which holds awesome promise for the medical research industry. I love this stuff.

But, whenever a blog post like this one flashes by my Twitter feed I click, read in anticipation, and walk away disappointed.

Today on the Sierra Trading Post Hub blog by Josh McNair:

As a constant adventurer, I’d like to share my favorite iPhone apps for adventure.

Here is what sucks about today’s apps:

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Technology, in many ways, is at odds with the outdoors, especially electronics. Most apps, utilities, and use cases are being dreamed up by people sitting in air conditioned offices in downtown San Francisco, or some office park in suburbia of Silicon Valley.

You can’t really ‘check in’ at your favorite bouldering place, because you don’t have network connectivity.

People have always thrived in the outdoors due to technical and technological advancements throughout the years. Today, we use infinitely better materials, which are being made into  smarter products to help us stay alive on Everest, and other hostile places. Messner climbed the highest peaks in the Himalayas with a brand new shoes developed just for him. The Yosemite climbing revolution wouldn’t have been possible without Yvon Chouinard’s new and daring approach to pitons and other climbing gear. Today’s speed climbing records aren’t possible without the latest innovation in gear development.

It will always take an intersection between the people climbing the peaks and the ones developing the gear. The smart phone app revolution of the last few years has so far not produced much of value for the outdoor lover, other than a greatly improved point and shoot camera and the GoPro. Or am I wrong?

Yes, there are some novel ideas out there I shouldn’t diminish:

apps3We can use the iPhone to look at a starry sky and find constellations. My kids love that one.

Maps, maps, maps. Yes, there are tons of mapping apps, but are they really any better if you’re off the network? The somewhat popular ‘Peakfinder’ app has never worked for me properly.

Photo-sharing apps. Okay, I suppose when we’re back from our trips we get to share our awesome photos, and people like that.

But none of those apps make the outdoors really more awesome. They don’t keep us safer, make us more knowledgable or allow us to make smarter choices.

Perhaps I’m rambling a bit here, but I’m coming from the angle that I love technology. I’m not the minimalist who wishes that the outdoors stay completely untouched and wild, and that we need to hike barefoot and eat roots. I love technology and wish I would find a good use-case to take my iPad with me on the trail. But after using smartphones for many years now and having tried dozens of apps, I am disappointed with what’s out there. My phone is a good point and shoot camera, and that’s about it.

Perhaps it’s the lack of work life balance that creates this lack of innovation in outdoor related technology.

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Just today Patrick Pichette, CFO announced his retirement after working 7 years non-stop, basically burning himself out:

This story starts last fall. A very early morning last September, after a whole night of climbing, looking at the sunrise on top of Africa – Mt Kilimanjaro. Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer.

Tim Cook on stage at yesterday’s Apple event said he wished he would have time to train for a marathon, but he doesn’t.

The outdoor industry needs people that work in the field of technology who have funding behind them and are in a place to dream up the next awesome and innovative idea.

We don’t need another photo-sharing app.

So, let me have it. Am I off? What are your apps that are truly making the outdoors more awesome for you. I’ll try them out and write a review.

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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