Sunday, January 03, 2010

Best APRS client?

In a comment to yesterday's post about APRS, Chris G4HYG drew my attention to an iPhone APRS app called PocketPacket. In my quest to find out more about it I stumbled across another APRS client for mobile phones called APRSISCE. Written by Lynn, KJ4ERJ, it's for Windows Mobile based phones not the iPhone, but as I haven't yet chosen a phone that's no problem for me. What's more, Lynn is porting it to the Windows desktop platform. It looks like this could become the best APRS client for Windows - and what's more, it's free!

The screenshot was taken from the Windows desktop version, which is called APRSIS32. It doesn't look pretty, but that's because it is a direct port of the Windows CE version, and Windows CE doesn't have all the fancy user interface widgets of its big brother version. On the plus side, the program is extremely lean and mean, which appeals to me.

APRSISCE/32 has built-in support for mapping, so there is no messing about installing maps for your area, and certainly no need to buy maps for your area because they are free. I did have an initial difficulty getting the program centered on my location, mainly because the zoom in/out slider on the left hand side works counter-intuitively for me - clicking + zooms out to show more area instead of zooming in as I expected.

The program has integrated support for APRS messaging as well as APRS email. Information about an object can be obtained just by clicking on it, and you can send a message to that station direct from the info box. Tracking a moving object appears to happen automatically if you click on it. As I say, the interface doesn't look pretty but it is very well thought out.

Now imagine this application running on a Windows Mobile device connected to the internet. In the top right-hand boxes which show dashes on the desktop version it will display your speed and distance travelled. The map shows your position, and the position of any APRS objects around you. It's really a very useful direction-finding GPS as well (obviously you need a Windows Mobile device with GPS built into it.)

APRSISCE/32 doesn't currently support communication with a TNC, so it can't be connected to RF. But Lynn is currently working on it.

I think this is probably the best APRS client for mobile devices, and the fact that it is for the relatively open Windows Mobile platform rather than the iPhone - which you have to "jail break" to install applications from a source other than iTunes - is a definite bonus for me. Plus of course the hardware is cheaper. The only difficulty is deciding which phone to get that will run it from the dozens of possible options.

The other thing I like about this program is that Lynn is actively soliciting suggestions for improvements from users via the Yahoo group which is also the download site for the application. (Pity it has to be a Yahoo group, but you can't have everything.) So if APRSISCE / 32 doesn't do what you want today, there's a chance that it soon will do.


Lynn (D) said...

Thanks for the kind words on my APRISCE/32 APRS-IS client! I was alerted to your blog by IW1AYD and was quite pleased with your positive comments.

My aim is to evolve the client to be one of the best clients available on the Windows Mobile / Windows desktop platform. I suspect there'll soon be features that are restricted to the desktop version (mobile phones only have so many horses under the hood), but I hope to keep as many features on both versions as I can.

Also, my goal is to keep the client free and freely available. If I ever tire of development, I will likely either a) try to find a developer to pick up the reigns, or b) open source the project so someone can come behind me to continue development.

I'd like to see APRS continue to evolve and improve, but the only way that can happen is if we can keep the software upgrading as the ideas come along.

Anyone that's interested in APRS on either the Windows Mobile or Windows Desktop platform, please join the APRSISCE Yahoo Group, download a copy, and post back your comments!

Lynn (D) - KJ4ERJ - Author of APRSISCE for Windows Mobile and Win32

Eric Söderman-ESN said...

I also have a HTC phone with Windows Mobile and I have been a contributer to Open Street Map for many years, so I got very intrested in this software. BUT, I don´t have a ham license yet (hopefully within a month or so...), so my question is if you know if the software can be run in "SWL-mode"? I just want to see the maps and maybe track down hams on street.. ;-)

g4ilo said...

I'm sure it can, Eric. You need a password, generated from your callsign, to send data to the APRS network. Without one you will be purely receive-only.

Eric Söderman-ESN said...

Thanks. I see if I can join the group without a call sign to be able to download the software.