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: