John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

GPS on the iPhone

One of the things missing on the first generation iPhone (which I previously owned) was a GPS. So when they added it, it was one of the things that made me consider getting a second generation. But in the end there was not enough new.

I now have an iPhone 3GS, so I was excited about playing with the GPS. So let’s cover off the basics first. The GPS draws a reasonable amount of power so will effect your battery life. The GPS is no where near as sensitive as say a SIRF III chipset which I now consider the benchmark. I have had a few occasions where heavy cloud cover has caused the GPS to be unable to lock up. The unfortunate thing about this is because Apple have continued to provide only basic bluetooth capability it means you have no choice. Use the internal one or nothing.

So what are the things you might want to use a GPS for? GPS logging, location awareness, mapping/navigating? Well prepare to be disappointed.

Built into the iPhone firmware is Google maps. As in the past this is one of the weakest links of the package. It requires a data plan and connection so if your in a rural area where you may need the maps the most your shit out of luck. Also Google maps does not include a usable turn by turn direction that follows you or remaps as you make wrong turns etc. So don’t think about using this for navigation. And no text to speech so you have to fidget with it constantly to use is for this purpose. Google maps also is missing latitude support so no ability to find your friends or have them know where you are with live tracking. So all in all poorly done Google.

iGo and a few other have released iPhone versions of their mapping and navigation programs including text to speech. They also keep all of the maps local which would mean you can operate them without a data plan or cell coverage. They are some of the most expensive ones in the App store I have seen at $79.95 with no trial version. Here is a Comparison of iPhone GPS navigation apps.. And another comparison of iPhone GPS apps. This last one seems to have found that the GPS updates are too slow which was also something I noted.

Next up GPS logging exercise mapping … Again, almost useless. Apple do not allow any programs not written by Apple to run in the background so this means as soon as you need to check an email, change the song your listening to or do anything else this stops. If your logging where you are or have been for the purpose of mapping … here comes a dead zone in your map. And you better remember to press the power key on the top to lock it, and don’t press the big home button or your logging stopped.

I used two programs in this category. Map my ride and MotionX. Previously I have used RunGPS (on Windows Mobile) which I love.

I first found Map my ride. The portal on this is fairly well done. The program is free. It works reasonably well but has a few limitations. You can only use this for mapping, not for navigating while you are out and about. Second it needs to upload the tracks each time it completes. So if you are out of range and have a past track your out of luck. I also ran into a bug that often when it went to upload it would fail repeatedly. Eventually it goes but it is very frustrating. In the end you get a basic map with essential data but no frills. The GPS update frequency seems to be quite low, perhaps trying to minimize battery use.

Next up I found MotionX. I was excited about this program and it looked promising. It includes mapping, navigating, storing tracks, waypoints etc. They have even been clever and included an interface to the camera and iPod to reduce when you might need to leave the program. Quite well done except … I found for some reason this program would regularly lock up the GPS requiring me to reboot the phone. It locked the GPS up so bad other programs could also not get near it. Too bad.

Enhanced location aware works quite well with the GPS and is quite usable. Apple was quite forward thinking and even ground breaking to include this at an OS level so Aps can draw on it. A wonderful level of invention from Apple.

Checkout The list of all GPS’s i’ve played with to date!


August 11, 2009 - Posted by | iPhone Stuff

1 Comment »

  1. […] rides etc. Just don’t press the wrong button or you just interrupted your logging. See my rant on the GPS for more […]

    Pingback by App store on the iPhone « John Galea's Blog | August 20, 2009 | Reply

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