iPhone Road Trip Part 2– iPhone As GPS

On September 25, 2008

During my brief “road trip” last week I discovered how incredibly useful the GPS/location feature on the iPhone 3G can be. Thanks to its simple interface and an increasing number of apps that leverage the location-feature the iPhone 3G
Unsure about the accuracy of the iPhone’s GPS, I grabbed my wife’s GPS from her car before leaving. I didn’t need it.

Sure, unlike the stand-alone GPS, the iPhone doesn’t have turn-by-turn directions (At least not the kind that I consider Turn-by-Turn– you know… "Turn left in 500 meters"). I missed this feature, but quickly discovered that the iPhone works just fine without it. I was able to enter my start and end points and within seconds had accurate directions.

Our stand-alone GPS unit is a small basic unit. At the time (a couple of years ago) it cost well more than the iPhone 3G does. It is no more accurate, and is far more complex when trying to input waypoints, than the iPhone. The iPhone, with its much simpler user interface and superb accuracy (in my experience) is far far better!



So I got in my car, plotted my course and started driving. I was able to track my progress in real time by tapping the “current location” icon in the bottom left of the screen. Watching the little blue dot progress was great although it was a constant reminder of how much I still had to go.

Updating my information so I had an idea of how much further I had to go and how long it would take, was as simple as tapping the “Edit” button at the top and changing the “Starting Point” to “Current Location”.

Note to Apple- The buttons on the GPS are too small and require too much precision to hit them- PLEASE MAKE THEM LARGER. And while you are at it, can you make a simple way to update directions so that the destination remains the same but the starting point becomes the current location. We really should be able to do that with a single tap.
When I got lost (due to human error, not the iPhone) getting back on track was simple thanks to the iPhone. A bit less than five hours after I started I got to the inn where I was staying for the night. It was on a dark, poorly marked street but the iPhone got me there without an issue.

iPhone As Handheld GPS–

After checking into my room I realized I was hungry. The inn was a good ten plus blocks from the downtown “strip“. The inn keeper offered me a map. I’m lousy with maps so I politely declined. Instead I pulled out my iPhone and, for the first time, used it as a handheld GPS unit. AWESOME!

I didn’t know the town but thanks to my iPhone I never got lost. I found a great restaurant, had some mexican and a margarita and then, without so much as a single wrong turn, was back at the inn.

Sure the iPhone works well as a handheld GPS but the killer feature is the fact that it is always with me. That alone makes having upgraded to the 3G worthwhile.

iPhone As "Points of Interest" Device– 

The next day I got up, checked out and, thanks to the iPhone, got to my destination an hour later. When I headed home I used the iPhone again and, a short time later, discovered another excellent use of the GPS.

I had not been paying attention and suddenly realized I was out of gas. Seriously, the car must have been running on the remains fumes.  I did not have the option to wander around until I could find a gas station. Instead, I pulled out my iPhone and started the app Where.

I had tried Where when it first came out but at that time, prior to the 2.1 Firmware, it crashed constantly. No longer. Now it loaded without an issue and, within seconds, showed me a nearby gas station. Phew! After filling the tank I realized I was a bit tired. I went back to Where and, this time, it showed me a Starbucks a quarter mile away. I’m a Dunkin Donuts kind of guy but this was good enough. Both my car and me refueled, I set the iPhone’s GPS to ”Home“ and away I went.

I do wish I knew about WikiMe during the trip since, having never been to that part of Delaware, it could have quickly and easily given me all kinds of useful information.

A day and a bit less than 600 miles later I was home. Yes, a feature allowing the iPhone to tell me when to turn would be great. But even as it stands now, I am totally sold on the iPhone-as-GPS concept…

Final note: There is no question that if you plan to use the iPhone as a GPS unit you need–

–a windshield mount (otherwise it is dangerous)
–a car charger (otherwise it isn’t just fuel that may run out of gas)