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Garmin Chirp: Genius or Criminal?

October 23, 2010

The recent release of the Garmin Chirp has brought a whole new innovation to geocaching that lots of people are talking about. On first impression it looks to be a great new toy that will add to the geocaching experience. From the Garmin release:

Geocachers now have a new trick up their sleeves – and in their caches – as we’re introducing chirp, a unique wireless beacon designed specifically for the outdoor adventures of geocaching. Affordable, durable and waterproof, chirp can communicate with, and be programmed by, any compatible wireless-enabled Garmin handheld for a more interactive and enjoyable geocaching experience. Cache creators and seekers alike will enjoy the benefits as chirp stores hints, transmits multicache coordinates, counts visitors and confirms the cache is nearby.

It has even managed to get some good reviews very early on. The Chirp brings to they actual cache a level of technology that I think technology crazy geocachers crave. My first thought when I found out about the Chirp was “I want one”.

But my second thought on the Garmin Chirp is that it’s downright criminal.

Firstly it appears that they went ahead and released this new toy without letting Groundspeak know about it. In my experience there is only one reason you do this – you know the company won’t support it. But if the product is already in the marketplace the geocachers are buying it and beginning to use it then it forces Groundspeak into supporting the innovation or facing the wrath of the technology crazed cachers.

But the evil genius of the Chirp doesn’t stop there. The most criminal aspect of the Chirp is the reliance it creates on Garmin GPSr’s. In order to set up and place a Chirp you have to own a compatible Garmin GPSr: Garmin GPSMAP62/78, Oregon (300, 400 and x50) and the Dakota 20. And in order to find it you need to have one of these units. The beauty of this, from Garmin’s point of view, is that it creates an exclusivity within the traditionally caring and sharing Geocaching/Groundspeak community. As soon a Chirp is placed locally the geocachers in the area will want to find it and in order to do so they will need to have the appropriate Garmin. Automatic increase in Garmin sales.

Obviously many who want to find the Chirp cache may elect to borrow a compatible Garmin unit or go with someone who has one. Hopefully Chirp cache owners will be willing to supply information to non-Garmin owners if the chirp info is required to find the cache…but then that defeats the purpose of having the chirp doesn’t it? Being a resourceful bunch I’m sure geocachers will find a way around these things. My initial hope is that geocaching software, like Cachesense or’s apps, will be able to add Chirp functionality, in the least for the finding side of things.

I’d also tend to think that there were some fairly grumpy people at Groundspeak when they found out about the Chirp and for two reasons. The cynical one is that Groundspeak have been fairly protective of their business and like to make sure that they have a slice of the action. Garmin have muscled their way in here and it’s unlikely Groundspeak get to cash in on it. The non-cynical reason is that Groundspeak have largely seemed to foster a community here and much of that is based around including everyone. They are trying to find the balance between ensuring they get to make a profit (and fair enough too) whilst providing geocachers with the best possible experience by allowing others to innovate. I would tend to think that Groundspeak would have insisted that the Chirp be accessible by any wireless device had they been involved in development.

Ultimately there is a good chance that the life of the Garmin Chirp is quite limited. With only a small portion of the geocaching community able to find and use them Garmin are relying on desire to drive people to buy more Garmin products. All that is required is for some person or company to take the Chirp and develop it further into something EVERYONE can use and the Chirp is dead in the water. Perhaps the wise thing for Garmin would have been to develop it this way to start with but add more functionality between the Chirp and the Garmin GPSr’s they wanted to push? Maybe this will be the way forward for Chirp 2.0?

Regardless of my gripes the Chirp is a great innovation and it will be interesting to see the ways in which geocachers use it to enhance the caching experience.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. GSV permalink
    October 25, 2010 7:45 pm

    Whereigo caches never really took off and you could do those with a Garmin OR a smartphone. The Chirp will take off if you could get an ANT Bluetooth conversion: that would open it up to phones and it’d be away!

    As for Garmin, perhaps they were a little ticked that Groundspeak teamed up with someone else for the Geomate jnr. 😉

  2. GSV permalink
    October 26, 2010 4:42 pm

    Ok, who’s a gun IPod coder then? These people sell an ANT receiver for the IPod that should be able to listen to a Chirp

  3. MrDotOne permalink
    November 11, 2010 6:04 am

    First of all, calling the device and the manner in which Garmin brings the tech to the playing field criminal is quite naive. Groundspeak does NOT own the geocaching game, and as a geocacher i am offended by those who think otherwise. Just because Groundspeak runs the largest and most popular website for the game, doesnt mean they OWN it. And to think a company has the right to tell a geocacher how they can play the game is just bad business. And rather than have Groundspeak tell us what tech they will support, i honestly dont mind seeing how Garmin went about this campaign.

    Secondly, how is this ANY different than the whereigo caches which require WINDOWS only programs in order to create a module, and a whereigo-capable gps or a gps-enabled smartphone. It is Groundspeak once again telling cachers how they can and cannot play the game, and with what equipment they need in order to do so. I say, let tech prove itself out, if people like it, they will buy it and implement it in some way – with or without Groundspeak’s support 🙂

    Bring it on!!!

    • November 11, 2010 6:28 am

      Hey Dotty,

      I’ve never suggested Groundspeak ‘own’ the game. They did create the game though and are, by far and away, the home of geocaching at this time. By not consulting Groundspeak regarding the chirp they are effectively hijacking the game. This is now no surprise considering some of the information that has come to light in recent days about Garmin owning (see some of my more recent posts). My preference would have been for Garmin to collaborate with Groundspeak – this likely would have lead to a situation where the chirp might have been accessible by more people and not just be a vehicle to sell more Garmin units.

      I doubt most geocachers want an evironment where all new ideas can be tried and tested within geocaching before getting rid of them. Few want a return to a place that becomes overwhelmed with rubbish ideas that drown out the true spirit of the game – much like the virtual caches almost did.

      • GSV permalink
        November 11, 2010 6:54 am

        Technical correction there: Groundspeak didn’t invent the game either: Jeremy was just the first to provide a listing website service as an alternative to the original Usenet discussion area. They’ve consistently said that’s all they are: a Listing Service. But to get your cache listed, you have to follow their guidelines – developed over the years out of feedback from both players and landowners/authorities.

        Wherigo was a collaborative effort between Groundspeak and Garmin that was widened to the Smartphone range. The Chirp was Garmin’s first geocaching effort that didn’t involve Groundspeak, and now the alternate listing service is the second.

        Interestingly enough Jeremy had this to say on a recent blog about an idea he presented to garmin in Jan 2008 Sound familiar?

      • MrDotOne permalink
        November 11, 2010 9:37 am

        No, they did NOT create the game … Dave Ulmer has never been a part of Groundspeak 😉

      • November 11, 2010 10:34 am

        Technical correction acknowledged GSV, though I stand by my statement that Groundspeak (or to be ‘technically’ correct, Jeremy Irish) created the game. A few random individuals may have been hiding ‘stashes’ about the place and finding them but there was no central register, record keeping or rules until came along and the game really began. Much like William Webb Ellis did not create the game of Rugby, he just picked the ball up and ran with it in 1823. The game was created by three boys from Rugby School in 1845 who brought together all the variations and created a game out of them. Dave Ulmer created the activity (and all praise to him for doing so and seeing the birth of geocaching) but Jeremy Irish starting the website brought us the game.

        Of course that is my opinion! 🙂

      • November 11, 2010 10:41 am

        that is also a very interesting article about Noodle Nodes. I can only imagine that Jeremy Irish is quite annoyed at being cut out of the idea (and all that money!).

  4. November 18, 2010 10:49 am

    Here’s some interesting info I read on the review of the Chirp from’s website…

    “Nifty gadget, and I think we’ll be seeing a few of these in the field. Fortunately, the Oregon 450 I purchased at REI will allow me to play with these.

    Before buying one of these to use in a geocache, cache owners should be aware that the announcement of this product caught the folks at Groundspeak TOTALLY flat footed. Garmin provided no prior warning. Groundspeak has very quickly reviewed this gadget, and based partly on the fact that the receivers are sole sourced (only certain Garmin handheld GPS units can receive and understand the content of a Chirp transmission), have arrived at the following compromise in their use. Per Jeremy hisself…

    “Garmin didn’t tell us about this product. We only became aware of it, by accident, two days prior to the public announcement.”

    and per Groundspeak, the following will apply as of this morning:

    Here is the current plan:

    1. A new attribute for a “beacon” will be added soon. Any caches that use a Chirp (or any future similar device) should use this attribute.
    2. If a cache owner puts a beacon in a traditional cache and geocachers have an alternative method to find it without using the beacon, then OK. I remind you to use the coming attribute.
    3. If the cache owner insists on not providing an alternative means of finding the geocache, it must be listed as a mystery with the beacon attribute.
    4. Cache descriptions may mention the “Chirp” as long as the text doesn’t go on and on with “overtones of advertising, marketing, or promotion” as per our long-standing commercial guidelines.
    5. We do not plan to add a new cache type just for this.”


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