Thursday, February 19, 2009

G-Map the first to feature Turn-by-turn on the iPhone?

The most recent feature list of G-Map, version 1.2, mentions "Turn by turn arrow on the navigation screen". You can make youself a picture of what that means by looking at the screenshots in the AppStore.

Unfortunately, I can't test it at this time as I am not situated in the U.S. :-(

If you already have G-Map 1.2 and are willing to answer my questions, please drop me a line!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GPS Kit 3.0 available, including awesome features

GPS Kit 3.0 is out and it's got some real awesome features. Those include also (but not only):
  • offline caching of Google Maps tiles
  • usage of the proximity sensor to switch off the display (saves energy while carrying the iPhone in your pocket or something like the Otterbox Defender)
  • export and, more important, import of waypoints and waypoint sets (making GPS Kit the only "real" GPS application to feature waypoint import!)
  • a ruler for distance measurement (very cool feature!)
  • ...and many more improvements
In my opinion, this makes GPS Kit the best GPS application available in App Store at this time. Beside that load of awesomeness, there still are some features I'd love to see soon:
  • usage of own maps (Google Maps are nice but have too many missing paths/trails)
  • direct upload (waypoints/maps) via WiFi (e.g. via FTP or WebDAV)
  • using waypoint sets as routes
I'm quite confident, the guys from Garafa LLC won't let me/us down ;)

If you haven't tried out GPS Kit yet, NOW would be the right time to do so. GPS Kit can be found here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

[Update] A guide to Assisted GPS

Well, it seems that there is a lot confusion about AGPS that mobile equipment (like the iPhone) uses. I even read once that AGPS was GSM-Based only. Of course, this is completely wrong.

So, what is AGPS? To answer this question, we have to have a brief look at "normal" GPS. An usual GPS receiver uses statellites to determine its position. To do so, it receives signals from different satellites at a time and compares the runtime difference of them.
In order to compute a position, the GPS receiver has to know the exact position of every satellite. As the satellite orbit may vary, orbit data is provided by the GPS satellites. This is the so-called almanac, which can be downloaded from the GPS satellites.

The longer your GPS receiver was not used, the longer it will take to acquire your exact position. Having moved far away from the position you used GPS the last time will make this worse (e.g. after travelling by plane).
Depending on your GPS equipment and view of the sky, a so called cold start will take one minute or more.

Okay, back to AGPS then. AGPS is a GPS, that is "assisted". You could think of it like your car's brake system. Your car's brakes just work, but they might be "assisted" by a system like antilock. The system just assists your brake system, making it working better in some cases, but doesn't change the way your brake system works.

Same thing on AGPS. The GPS receiver in your phone gets some assistance, but it still will work without that like a GPS receiver without the "A".

How does that work? As I said, you need almanac data in order to aquire a position. Depending on conditions, it may take a minute or longer to get this data from GPS satellites. So, AGPS just downloads the almanac data, using the cellular network, which is way faster than using the satellites.
Also, knowing your raw position will quicken the process of getting a GPS lock. AGPS aquires a raw position of the device by triangulating adjacent cell towers.

So, all AGPS does is using certain techniques that will speed up the process of acquiring your position using a GPS device by using certain cellular network features. Nothing more, nothing less.

Acquiring positional data by triangulation, like the first generation iPhone does, has nothing to do with AGPS and espechially not with GPS.
Beside that, every AGPS device should work as a normal GPS device if cellular networks are not available. Unfortunately, depending on the way the GPS is implemented (by means of hard- and software), it might be possible that you fail to aquire a position using an AGPS device if there is no cellular reception, but this is an issue of the device used, not of AGPS in general.

So, consider AGPS just as "GPS plus", not as something different!

So, what about the iPhone?

Well, the iPhone's behaviour is a little strange relating to AGPS. The iPhone will not be able to acquire a position while flight mode is being used, but it still will be able if the SIM module is being removed.

So, it might be possible that flight mode just turns off GPS. It also might be possible that AGPS still is able to receive emegency data and thus be working without a SIM inserted. Unfortunately, I don't know that because there are many resources about AGPS but they don't mention emergency procedures. It still is somewhat likely that they exist as AGPS is also being used in cell phones in order to locate them quickly on emergency calls.

Anyway, I still think the iPhone's GPS will work standalone. There was a guy who used it on a boat off the coast without cellular reception, so I think flight mode just disables GPS in general. Unfortunately, I can't find his report at this time. Will keep you posted.

Update: According to a comment on this post, GPS usage is possible without cellular reception. This corresponds to what I had in mind about GPS on the iPhone and hints to disabled GPS while using flight mode.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sort of Turn-by-turn navigation

Well, yes, there is some sort of turn-by-turn navigation software available. But (and this but will be a big one), you will have to jailbreak your iPhone, which it ain't worth it. Yet.

xGPS, as far as I know, was developed mainly for the first iPhone to work with external GPS receivers (or at least the project started there). It is based more or less completely on Google Maps: maps, route calculation and turn by turn directions. So you do have to have an online connection all the time.
Well, perhaps not all the time as xGPS incorporates an offline mode. There even is a map downloader mode so that you could prepare your trip by downloading all maps needed first and then go offline, but you won't have route re-calculation then (altough you can save routes once calculated for offline usage).

Beside that, turn-by-turn directions are text-only and also available only in english. Unfortunately, the text is so small that you can just read it holding the phone in your hand but surely not while driving your car. Apart from that, the UI is very tidy, which is a good thing in general.

Watch the video:

As you can see, the directions are quite small and hard to read. If you haven't found them yet, they are at the top of the screen.
Beside that, you won't get any acoustic feedback, ever. No "beep" or whatever when you arrive the next turn and also no warning sound if you leave the route or head in the wrong direction (there will be a big, red, flashing sign, though).

If you leave the route or take the wrong direction, re-calculation will take ages. Well, okay, not quite as long as that but definedly much longer than what is OK while driving a vehicle.

All together, xGPS is quite nice (espechially if you don't have an iPhone 3G), but it is far away from being a usable turn-by-turn navigator.

If the developers would add acoustic feedback and maybe a screen that would display a big arrow in the direction of the next turn alongside with the driving directions text in way bigger letters for let's say 10 seconds before the turn, xGPS would become way more usable.
Anyway, that would still be far worse than what you get on every personal navigation device today.
I don't want to nag around, the guys from xGPS sure have done a great job, but it sadly is far away from usability and not worth the effort (of jailbreaking and so on) yet. But I think they're already working on it ;)

CoPilot and other turn-by-turn news

First of all: no 3DVU software yet. The biggest change I have seen so far is an Apple Logo on their website written "iPhone" next to it, but that's basically it. Don't expect to have their software on the iPhone in the near future. Or in the far future. Or ever, whatever.

I already mentioned that X-Road's G-Map has hit the Apple Store. Unfortunately, it seems that no one ever bought it yet, or if so, no one wrote a recfcension yet. That's a pity, espechially because it makes me think (and maybe also X-Road) that there is no need for this software which could lead to have their European version cancelled.
Funny thing though: they say that the European version of G-Map is for sale in the App Store, which it isn't.
Check out the videos!

On the CES, ALK Technologies demoed their CoPilot software running on an iPhone. Although I almost gave up, I still hope that this indicates some sort of development that will end up in something beyond just a spark of hope.

Remember FreeMap? The real-turn-by-turn-but-unfortunately-israel-only-software? Well, they are called waze now. The software looks much more mature than the first time I tried it. Unfortunately it is still in hebrew and I still quite don't get it. Too bad.

So, as you can see, there sort of is no news to turn-by-turn on the iPhone. :-(

The perfect companion on the trail: Otterbox Defender

Do you use your iPhone for navigation purposes when you are "out there"? Are you afraid something "bad" could happen to it, like scratches or even a crack in the screen because you've dropped it?

Well, I do and so I got myself an Otterbox Defender case for my iPhone 3G. I chose the black and yellow version, although I have a white iPhone, because I think the white version would look grubby in no time using it outdoor and the black version would be too inconspicuous (imagine your accidentially drop your iPhone somewhere in the high grass or so).

Looking nice, ain't it? :)

So, what do you get for you money? The Otterbox consists of four pieces:
  • The back of the plastic case,
  • the front of the plastic case,
  • the silicone skin and
  • a belt clip.
The belt clip is as big as the screen and the case fits in it in both ways, so you can use the belt clip as a screen protector. The clamps that attatch the case to the belt clip are very tight so you don't have to worry that the case will seperate from the clip, ever. This, on the other hand, means that it could be a bit hard to get the box out of the belt clip from time to time. So, if you need the iPhone more often, you'd probably have it in the belt clip with the screen facing away from the clip.

The screen itself is protected by a plastic film that just seems to be thick enough to protect the iPhone but not too thick to affect its usability (in fact, I have an adhesive-type protective film on my iPhone's screen, which I didn't remove to use the otterbox - still worked perfectly).

The notches that need to be open in some way (speakers and microphone) are protected by some kind of fabric that looks a little like the mats you might know from glass fibre repair kits. It looks very fine-meshed, not even dust will be able to pass trough.
Then there are the earphone and data socket and the "silencer" switch. They are covered by some sort of "silicone lid" that can be opened easily, so all of your iPhone features are easily accessible while it's in the Otterbox (except for the SIM module).
Closing the lids is a little fiddly, though. They all have sealing lips that prevent dust from entering the case, but you have to pay attention to fit them in the right way.

The Otterbox adds a considerable amout of bulkyness to your iPhone, about 4-5mm in every dimension, so the Otterbox might not be the right choice for every day. Beside the bulkyness, there is the silicone skin. It gives some good protection, shock absobance and so on, but I don't like those silicone skins anyway because they always are like a dust magnet... not only can you see every little piece of dust that sticks to it, but you can't wipe off the dust with your hand or a piece of cloth either.
So silicone cases (in general) are a bad choice in my opinion, espechially if you use to carry your iPhone in your pocket.
On the other hand, it sure adds quite a lot of extra protection. I think that the iPhone could survive a 30 feet drop easily in the Otterbox. It also gives you quite a good dust protection so you can take the iPhone also on the beach or so. Please note that the otterbox is NOT waterproof (altough it will give you a limited amout of water protection).
There is another nice feature: you can lock the belt clip. I don't know if it was intended for this purpose, but you can put the iPhone on your table in quite a nice angle, making the Otterbox a perfect stand e.g. for watching movies.

Unfortunately, the mounting- and unmounting procedure is quite intricate, so you don't want to use it just for taking a walk outside. But if you are on a holiday trip that will take you "out there" for a few days or weeks, there's no better protection for your iPhone (other than leaving it at home, but who could possibly want that?).

List price is $49,95 but if you have a look at the usual places :-) you should get it for around $35 easily.

Maybe you also want to have a look at this video to give you a better impression of what the otterbox is like:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Finally: G-Map hits the road!

Well, at least this time, XRoad kept their promise to release G-Map "in mid December 2008". As for now, a version of the western US is available trough the AppStore for the reasonable price of 20 US$.

The Screenshots also look very promising and also the feature list is neat. Unfortunately, there is no demo version available at this time. On G-Map's support site, there is a web form that has a dropdown list which mentions US east and North America, so those are likely to be released very soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Navionics Viewer, now available to US customers

"You can see your GPS position, tap the screen to zoom in and out, scroll the chart, query objects, find your favorite marina or ski hut with their phone number, find the trail best suitable for your skill level or your hottest fishing spot, and so on."

This is what they say on their website, and unfortunately, that's it. Navionics will bring you Maps. All you can do is look at them and have your current position displayed by a red circle on the map. That's it. To me, this is very disappointing.

Maybe the focus were naval users, at least you get a very strong impression that they were.... the "land" maps are not usable to hikers or bikers or whoever. Maybe that's the point, but I still don't get why there is nothing more to navigate other than displaying your position? You can't even set a destination and plot a course.

Although the Navionics packages have a greate map coverage each than the Charts&Tides packages, I wouldn't buy them at all, altough both cost approximately the same. Not only will you get "real" navigation with Charts&Tides, but also will Navionics' packages cost 99 $ after the introduction phase. No thanks.

Navionics should do their homework first. In the end, their application offers nothing more than the "Water Map Navigators" at this time for a multiple of the price. So why should anyone want to buy something like this?

PathAway coming to iPhone next year!

PathAway, a software that may be known to GPS users that use bitmap charts for biking, hiking etc. on their PDA in particular, will come to the iPhone some time next year (which is - awesome!)!

PathAway is a powerful chart plotter that is capable of handling everything you might ever want to use. This includes custom charts, tracks, waypoints, POIs, routes, proximity alarms and all that other fancy stuff you might get from a GPS device, ever.

There also is a "Professional Edition" that will add wireless services to the already comprehensive feature list of the "Standard Edition" like life tracking or downloading (Google) maps over the air.

The regular price is 59,95 US$ for the Standard Edition and 95 US$ for the Professional Edition.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New features to Garafa, LLC's "GPS Kit"

Garafa, LLC have released the best GPS suite available in the AppStore at this time: GPS Kit. It features almost everything you would expect from a proper GPS device like tracking, waypoints and even map plotting.

But all this is subject to becoming even better with future releases. According to tech support, the next update will feature GPX import (yes!!!) and they're working on a version that should be able to cache maps so that you have them ready in areas without a network/cellular connection.

Altough this is great and it definedly is a step in the right direction, I'm still missing an application that would allow me to use my own maps AND has waypoint and route import via GPX.

In other news, well, there is no news on G-Map or 3DVU yet ;)