Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Guest Post: Smartphone Birding Apps by Jim Lyons

Jim Lyons

A growing birding app page on Jim's iPhone
By way of background, back this spring, I had a chance to offer my impressions of the BirdsEye app for the Apple iPhone to readers of this blog. I had mentioned in my birder interview that I was looking forward to using this software, and host Robert Mortensen hit me up to do a review of that product. I learned some of the ins and outs of BirdsEye (learning a lot about eBird at the same time), and shared my thoughts in the guest post. But at that time, I recognized the whole category of birding software had more or less left me in the dust, that even though I stay pretty current on the hardware side of things, being an original owner of the Apple iPhone going back to its introduction in 2007.

So I promised Robert an update for his readers on the general category of iPhone birding software. Well, after a few months after further dabbling with the software, and acquisition of two new hardware platforms, I finally have a few things to report!

First off, I am not talking about Angry Birds! (The game Angry Birds is now the #1 iPhone app of all time, though it has little to do with field ornithology!)

Birding software acquisitions

As mentioned in the previous post, BirdsEye became mine as the result of a Christmas, 2009 gift, and I slowly began getting familiar with it this spring. Its biggest claim to fame is the integration with the eBird database, but it also offers reasonable multimedia field-guide attributes - bird descriptions, images and sounds.

Also as mentioned, I am more comfortable on the hardware side, but since my last post, I have acquired several new birding apps, specifically the iBird and National Geographic’s bird guide apps. I was able to adapt to iBird’s straightforward style (similar to the field guide component in BirdsEye), but am only beginning to master the National Geographic app, which seems to require more of a “start-from-scratch” approach for users. 

It should be noted that as someone who has spent virtually his entire career in technology, I have observed, over and over, two paths, or stages, in the adoption of innovations. The first is where a new technology mimics the old, ignoring many of the new technology’s benefits but providing users with a comfortable base from which to build. The second takes more advantage of the new technology, and exploits capabilities heretofore impossible with the old. The second approach, with the bigger ultimate payoff, is riskier too, in that the larger learning curve means lower likelihood of adoption. I see the iBird and National Geo apps as examples of the first and second scenarios, respectively.

June 2010 iPhone upgrade, July 2010 iPad acquisition

As mentioned, I had one of the original iPhones, purchased in 2007, and have been a satisfied user ever since. I had eschewed the two upgrades offered prior to this year, feeling I was happy enough with my old one and its more economical monthly service plan. But when the iPhone 4 was announced, I knew it was time, so I did the “stand in line” thing and became one of the first to get the new smartphone, in late June. And was it worth it? Absolutely! Better in almost every way, there is an appreciable difference in the birding apps. The much stronger speaker capability makes listening to bird songs easier, and also produces enough sound power for rarely and responsibly calling in birds, though of course I respect our avian friends’ energy budgets and use the “calling in” function very sparingly.

I also added an Apple iPad to my arsenal in July, and while the functionality is similar to the iPhone, the added screen real estate makes this a serious tool for a wide variety of information-based activities. So far however, there are no iPad-specfic birding apps* (which I have found, anyway) but those mentioned above, and others, based on the smaller iPhone screen, work just fine on the larger screen as well.
I will be providing examples from these hardware and software “platforms”, as the techies, say, in future posts, but for now here are several links that have helped me to get some background on the fast-changing world of technology-based birding.

*UPDATE: iBird just released an app specifically for the iPad.
Look forward to a review by Jim Lyons soon!

1 comment:

  1. If you are interested in a comprehensive listing app for iOS, check out Birdwatcher's Diary. It is a very useful tool for any birder, ornithologist, or field researcher who wants to count, list, map, archive, email, upload to the desktop, import, export, send to eBird or do any combining or other manipulations with their field observations. It's fast and easy to use, yet has a lot of powerful features for data sorting, searching, and customizing. An iPad version will be available soon.