~iPhone Does GPS?

I thought I’d write a quick post to discuss the pros and cons of the iPhone 3G GPS capabilities. By now everyone knows that the newest iPhone does GPS. Though I have used it most to quickly search Google Maps for something near my current location, I really haven’t used it for any serious directions, having a more than capable Garmin 2720 in my vehicle.

But today, as I readied the Garmin to travel to an unknown location several hours from my home, the Garmin let me down. Even though I had the street address, the Garman had no clue. So I tried a search with the name of the business. Nada. Then I tried a neighboring business in the same town. Still nothing. This location was in a very rural mountainous area of Pennsylvania but I was still surprised at the lack of information from the Garmin. After all, it was not a cheap unit at close to $600 US, I’ve updated maps since the initial purchase and it has been a very faithful travelling companion for the past several years.

So why not try the iPhone. After bringing up Google maps, I entered the address. Sure enough it located the address instantly, complete with business name, phone number and even the business’ website address, either of which were a simple click away to call or visit.

I then clicked “directions to here” and “from current location” and Google returned the distance and time to the location with it’s list of directions.

Of course I could do all of this on my original iPhone, but following those directions would require close attention and patience. But with the 3G? What a difference. With it’s built in GPS, the new phone is as accurate as my Garmin in displaying my current location. I watched while traversing bridges and approaching intersections and it was dead on. And the simpicity of moving around on the map and zooming in (double tap) and zooming out (two finger tap) put the Garmin to shame.

The text directions provided with each turn also exceeded the limitations of the Garmin. And it was easy to see the upcoming turns as you approached them with the current location beacon flashing and the next turn identified by an easily discerned circle.

GPS Beacon while underway
GPS Beacon while underway
Turn Identified by Circle Target Area
Turn Identified by Circle Target Area

And yes, the 3G took me right to the door of the business with no missed turns, which I cannot always say for the Garmin due to it’s sometimes lagging warning of an upcoming turn.

While this is all good, there are of course limitations to the 3G as a primary navigation device.

First, since there are no audible turn by turn directions, you must keep a close eye on the map as you get close to each turn.

Next, unless you are in a 3G network, you won’t be able to take a call and have the map on the screen updating at the same time.

And forget about an easy answer to the common “how much longer” questions -you’ll find yourself doing math calculations you haven’t done in years.

Of course detours, multiple location routing, saving and organizing routes are also beyond the current capabilities of the iPhone.

And the final caveat is watching your battery reserve depleted in front of your eyes. Running GPS and 3G together for any length of time will require an adapter to tap into your car’s 12 volt supply. Fortunately, that is an inexpensive and easily acquired (might I say required) 3G accessory.

Just one more note – this post was written completely from the iPhone using the WordPress native application now available from the app store, and which I reviewed in another recent blog post. And while I will most likely enhance it with a picture or link later, it provides for a great use of idle time while away from my computer. John

11 thoughts on “~iPhone Does GPS?

  1. Bill says:

    My wife and I used the iPhone to view the map to take the kids to the aquarium. She has a built in GPS in her R350 Benz, but it wanted to take us South then North, 30 minutes out of our way, when we should have proceded straight on Route 70. The iPhone offered turn by turn directions, but I just wanted the nice map that it provided. The Benz GPS was just too cumbersumb to try to do the same. The iPhone therefore showed me when to turn as we got closer and helped us more than the Benz, IMO.

  2. jbkendrick says:

    Yes Bill, it is amazing how well the 3G implementation of GPS works, and I have no doubt that one day we’ll see turn-by-turn and audible directions as well. I hope that Apple creates that application as I would like to see an implementation the fades the music in and out while the directions are spoken, and the ability to use other applications while the GPS keeps cranking away. Third party apps at present cannot multitask with other applications. Thanks for your comments. John

  3. ynthia Ballesteros says:

    I travel weekly for work, often to places I will not visit again, and am trying to decide on a mobile GPS device. Currently I have google maps available by BlackBerry but have found it to be quite limiting and often won’t pick up the excact location for starting points, but a few blocks away. If I don’t know the area this can be very confusing, and frustrating. So, I am now torn between the Garmin Nuvi 760 and the iPhone. I am also torn between the iPhone and the latest BlackBerry that is supposed to be out soon. Any advisement?

  4. Cynthia, as you read in this post, as long as you have a view to the sky, the iPhone 3G has great GPS. I do not live or work in a city with skyscrapers, so you may have less success in that environment. The Blackberry vs. iPhone debate will probably come down to how you want to access your corporate email. The Blackberry will have more tried and true access to your company’s network and data, however, I believe the overall user experience of the iPhone to be superior, although the physical vs. virtual keyboard is probably more left to personal preference. If you want all your personal information.e.g., music, video, contacts, photos, websites, and a vast array of applications at your fingertips, then there is nothing but the iPhone right now.

    As far as GPS is concerned, neither the Blackberry or iPhone will truly measure up to a dedicated GPS unit. While I have no experience with Blackberry GPS applications, they will most likely be similar to what is available on the iPhone. No turn by turn and no audible directions being the most important deficiencies. On the plus side, since Google maps is an online service instead of local maps, you will find that the mapping services and POI’s are generally more up to date on the iPhone than on your dedicated GPS units.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for reading, John

  5. J Edwards says:

    thanks for your comments on the iphone gps system. they were very helpful to me!! I had a magellan roadmate for a couples years and it died. I want the iphone but I NEED a gps even more. you’ve swayed me to buy the iphone. I know it has it’s shorting comings you’ve clearly mentioned that a gps does have but not being a gadget nut, and wanting as few electronics a possible, I simply buy the iphone and hope they or someone comes out with a holder for it in your car if you use it for the gps and of course provide the audio turn by turn instructions which is just a programming issue. Apple if your listening get to it!. thanks John.

  6. Hi John – thanks for your comments and for reading. I have had numerous occasions recently to use my iPhone for driving directions even though the Garmin was close at hand. I was in my truck a couple of days last week and didn’t have my Garmin with me, and the iPhone definitely did the trick. Coupled with the new voice search capability in the upgraded Google app, it was so easy, I actually preferred it to the Garmin. And for over a year now I have used my iPhone in a custom cradle made by ProClip in my Honda Insight. This cradle holds the iPhone inches away from my steering wheel making finger gestures with one finger possible without removing my hands from the steering wheel, and most important without looking away from the road. I have a pic in the post entitled, “A Day With the iPhone” available from the index or at https://johnkendrick.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/a-day-with-the-iphone/ Good luck, John

    1. Yes, not the first time, though the first time with the iPhone 3G. The first post was most likely while I still had the original iPhone, though I cannot seem to find another post dedicated to iPhone GPS capabilities. And there is likely to soon be a third, as I am getting to know the new GPS capabilities of the 3Gs and 3.0 software and applications. Thanks for reading, John.

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