Gaia GPS: TOPO Maps App for the iPhone – Interview with Andrew Johnson

In this week’s GPS Bites’ interview we took some time out to talk to Andrew Johnson.  He’s one of the founders of Gaia GPS, an application for the iPhone, iPad, and Android platforms that lets users access TOPO maps on their device.  The Gaia GPS application lets you download maps straight to your device, record and track your progress, and also navigate offline if the phone’s signal is low or non-existent.  Read on to find out about the challenges faced by the company in the early days as well as their plans for the future.

1. Hi Andrew, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by GPS Bites. As way of introduction could you tell us what your involvement is with Gaia GPS and how the company first came up with the idea of GPS Topo Maps for smartphones?

My wife Anna and I co-founded TrailBehind in 2008, when we were dating and living in San Francisco. We started out to build the website TrailBehind.com, but we never made any money that way, and when the iPhone came along, we decided to make something that was less web 2.0 social, and more something we’d use on our hikes. Anna is our lead developer, and I do front-end coding, design, and business stuff.

Gaia GPS TOPO Maps on the iPhone

2. What were the early challenges that your company faced when first developing and launching the application?

Every part of starting a company is challenging – everything from learning how to live a balanced life, to developing good software, to understanding how to make money from your efforts.

There was a time when our products didn’t make enough to keep the lights on, and there were times when we wanted to give up and go back to a more normal life. If you ride out those times though, it starts to be a lot of fun, and you look back on the hard times fondly.

3. What’s the current number of users and maps that have been generated with the Gaia GPS applications and what are your plans to further increase those numbers?

Many thousands of users use Gaia GPS everyday, and that is growing faster this summer than at any time in its history. Gaia GPS and our simpler version, Offline Topo Maps, are the most popular USGS topo apps on iOS as of 2012, and we’re coming on strong in Android as well.

GPS Navigation on the iPhone

To increase those numbers, we have amazing stuff coming out in the next couple of months, and plans well into the future.

4. Is there a particular customer story or testimonial that highlights how people can change their lives around by using your GPS tracking application that you could share with us?

There are so many stores, and that’s what keeps us going! We love that firefighters, S&R, and other non-profits use Gaia to help people. Also, people will often write to tell us that Gaia got them out of a bind, a snowstorm, a dark lake, and many other sketchy predicaments.  Here are some examples:

  • Email from 2010 – Had a tornado hit my neighbourhood, this app helped me more than u could imagine,find personal effects. Thanks!
  • Email from 2011 – I have been using Gaia gps as a situational awareness tool during aerial recon of wildfires for the Bureau of Land Management

Screenshots from the Gaia GPS Application

We are also tickled when people use all of the apps, and conclude ours is the best, here’s an example: “This is the mapping/GPS app we recommend as the primary tool for use worldwide, to be supplemented by other special purpose tools noted below” – I have hundreds of emails and forum posts on the internet like this.

5. Are there any exciting projects, features, or developments that are in the pipeline for your applications that you think the GPS Bite readers would be interested in hearing about?

We were part of a really cool project to make an app that tracks great white sharks in real-time. That app will come out this week.  We also have a cool layered map feature coming out in Gaia this month, that will be unique among apps!


More Information on Gaia GPS: Many thanks to Andrew for taking the time out to speak to us. If you would like to know more about Gaia GPS and their applications please visit their official website.  If you have any further questions for him, please use the Facebook comments box below.

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