14/10/2014 07:23 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 05:59 GMT

European Apps Take Outdoors by Storm

There's always an irony in playing around with fantastic outdoors sites and apps on the internet. Many of them are very good, and in the case of Google Street View, some come close to replacing the need to ever unplug. For cyclists, runners and snowsport enthusiasts, GPS-enabled apps have been on the agenda for while, mostly around peer-to-peer racing and tracking. This winter we'll see if other mobile apps can crack newer technical problems: connected devices, 3D mapping and object identification.


Across hardware, we're seeing greater and greater connectedness through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and regular cell signal. Entertainment has played host to one major area of innovation for the 'internet of things', and soon your kitchen shall operate in sync. Beyond visions of the connected home via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are the more ambitious applications of connected devices through cellular, radio and satellite technology.

Launched as a spin-off from 10 years of research at ETH Zürich, Uepaa! Outdoor Safety allows smartphones to communicate even in areas with no mobile reception. Once the app is installed on your smartphone, it acts as a kind of router, connecting messages from one 'sender' device to another 'recipient' device in the area - the doings of multi-hop peer-to-peer (mesh) tech. Uepaa! have been working with rescue teams to use the app in emergency situations and even went as far as demoing the product at the world renowned UK & Irish Mountain Rescue Conference in Aviemore last month. So long as the tech works, Uepaa! will need to focus on extending their list of 450 rescue partners and 50,000 users to ensure the app becomes a trusted tool for anyone going off the grid.

Another category of mobile apps involves visualization. Much in the same way that Google now allow us to scout a weekend retreat, other technologies are entering the market offering a whole new 'game-ready' level of detail.

This winter, London-based FATMAP are set to launch their super-detailed mapping technology, gifting off-piste snowsports a tool to scope out routes in seven European ski resorts, Chamonix, Tignes, Val d'Isere, Les Arcs, La Plagne, Verbier and Zermatt. Because they take data points using a 2m elevation grid, FATMAP's level of detail far exceeds that of Google Earth, who work off lower resolutions of data in mountainous areas (generally between 30m and 90m). Given the advancements made by technical ski and snowboard equipment in the past decade, it's fitting that their attention to detail is now being replicated in mapping.

For botanists and people like me who get excited by the changing seasons, there's a new item worth checking out by the name of PlantSnapp. Entirely mobile, PlantSnapp lets you upload a photo and send it to them for identification. The tool is simple, and doesn't use any impressive computer technology but real, breathing experts who identify your image. Though answers don't come back instantaneously (I waited 12 hours for information on Ulex europaeus - Common gorse), but plant profiles are detailed and fascinating. For those who want to spread their new-found knowledge, you can gift your identified plant to a friend through a local nursery. It's opening up a new dimension of detail - we're waiting for PlantScent to drop.

Organisers of high profile events have long been releasing mobile apps and sites for audiences who have the time to wait for sluggish, untested loading times. Only recently have these apps become any good as they incorporate two key aspects of networking through mobile, social and geo. New for October, the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 app launched as the fleets prepared to set sail from Alicante. Over 28,000 fans signed-up in the first week, giving them access to a stunning news feed that publishes stories direct from the deck. The app might just provide enough stimulating content to turn London's waterwash into a virtual racing scene - keep an eye out.

PlantSnapp, Uepaa! Outdoor Safety and Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 are currently available for download, with FATMAP due in time for the winter season.