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Apple iPhone Sets New In-Car Navigation Standard

As thousands and perhaps millions of people prepare to rush their local AT&T or Apple Retail Store to secure their very own iPhone on June 29, there are a few features of this new multimedia device that may help change the way in-car communications take place. In fact, after just a bit of review, it’s clear that the iPhone may set a new standard for mobile communications – and I’m not talking about mobile phone use, either. I’m referring to navigation overall.


A Few Talking Points
The iPhone is a completely new kind of mobile device. Apple has studied all of the things we hate about our mobile phones (functionality) and has developed a device that will, hopefully, allow us to trust the device we use – and heaven forbid, actually love it for what it is.

Note that from an experience point of view, I’m a mobile device junkie. I’ve been on a quest for find a device that actually works and is logical. I’ve owned all kinds of PDA/mobile devices, the latest being a Treo 700 running the Palm OS and the Kinoma Player for media. Frankly, I hate the bloody thing. But, no more so than any other device from my past, and the Treo does work overall, even if I have had to learn a new communications language, unique to the phone and quite foreign from what I do every day in ordinary interaction with man or machine. My quest has not, to this point, been fulfilled.
The iPhone has several specific capabilities. It is obviously a mobile phone. It is also perhaps the slickest version of the iPod yet revealed. It offers a wide screen and will automatically swap views from horizontal to vertical, supports true push email via Yahoo Mail (not to mention Apple Mail), a two-megapixel camera and more goodies than most phones dream of when they’re built. The iPhone will be available in two flavors: 4GB for $499 and 8GB for $599. It’s exclusive to the NEW AT&T (formerly Cingular).
Touch me, Touch me!
The iPhone is all touch, all the time. This is similar to several existing in-car navigation systems, but the iPhone manages to use the touch process in a unique and very intuitive manner. flicking your finger across the screen executes various commands, and the visual presentation is easy on the eyes, is logical, and allows you to pre-define most of the things you might need to find. There are those who have slammed the lack of a keyboard, but these poor souls have not seen the device or learned how it works. Most critics are suffering from premature exclamation or perhaps a bit of fear that their personal favorite may no longer be the hip trick on their block.


The iPhone Goes For the Fast Lane
Because the iPhone uses Google maps, you can quickly and easily find any location you need, while on the go. No need for DVDs, CD-ROMs, etc. in your trunk or glove box. And, as you can see in the illustration below, you can swap between a map view and a satellite view. Very cool.

The process for dealing with location is really easy. There are multiple options, but let’s address just one of them here: zip codes. Enter a zip code and the Google map displays. Tap on the screen and you can zoom in. slide your finger and you can scan. A single tap on the appropriate icon and you can swap from map view to satellite view. Enter a destination and you’re off with turn-by-turn nav support. Add a destination to your favorites and it’s just a tap or two away. Try that with your BMW, Audi, GM, Mercedes, Ford, or nearly any other in-car Nav system.
Better still, the iPhone supports real-time traffic. Yup – find out if the road is clear ahead. And, if you create a route to follow, the iPhone will report on the time required with traffic. I’m constantly on the edge of being late due to traffic and I can’t wait to use this system – and I will, too. Clear routes are shown in green, slow routes in yellow and incidents or blockages in red.

The 3.5 inch display has a fantastic 320x480x160 pixel per inch resolution. That’s better than any iPod released to-date. The display is bright and reading maps, following directions, or watching video will be very easy on the eyes, even in sunlight. And, because the iPhone syncs with iTunes, you can grab a rapidly growing list of movies, not to mention music…

Widgets and the Web
The iPhone also supports “widgets” – a small mini-application. Widgets are available for standard Macs running the UNIX-based Mac OS. As the iPhone uses the same OS (with restrictions), the advent of certain types of applications showing up is fairly logical (and exciting). Apple will control the release of widgets and this is actually a good thing. Developers often get upset when they can’t just release whatever they’ve written, but they also don’t get the angry support calls (for the most part). Apple is very specific about making certain the iPhone functions as a phone, not a computer. Good point.
But make no mistake, Apple will work with vendors to deliver widgets of value. The first one worth noting for the iPhone is not intended for in-car use (well, for the driver), but it’s very neat: YouTube videos are all being encoded using H.264 allowing them to run in the iPhone. Apple has made a major move with this relationship and it will help sell more than a few iPhone devices.
The iPhone also includes a mobile version of Safari, the Apple-authored web browser. Safari on the iPhone is very cool, working with the adjustable view screen and allowing for zooming, scanning, and very crisp display of web pages.
OneTrip is designed for Safari and was introduced just a few weeks ago. It is the ultimate shopping list device (according to author Neven Mrgan). A quick test reveals a very useful tool that does support the gathering of household goods. As we typically drive to the market, it’s just one more reason to consider the flexibility and functionality of the iPhone.

The New AT&T
If there is a major drawback to the iPhone, it’s got to be the New AT&T. A number of people in our office (not to mention my peers) have been using Cingular for several years. I’m not a fan of any mobile service, but in the U.S. Cingular was better than most. I was able to travel through more than 30 states recently and even in the middle of the country, on lonely winding roads, there was great reception.
Now that the logos are swapping, so is the service. I cannot make a call while driving from my home to the office without the service dropping. Voice mail is screwed up – meaning it doesn’t work properly. If someone leaves a message on Saturday morning, I get notified on Monday around noon. Fun, don’t you think? I don’t know how it happened, but this is an experience shared by others, and we are all frustrated and frankly, pissed. From my vantage point, the New AT&T is just like the one they want you for forget.
First Generation Blues a Thing of the Past
In the past, the first generation of any Apple product was considered a “test drive” by the Apple faithful. But recently, the first round of products from the Cupertino computer maker have been reliable. Witness first generation MacBook Pros, MacBooks and Mac Minis. We’ve had all of them without problems.
The iPhone, if you think about it, will be second generation when released on June 29. The display over the screen has been upgraded from plastic to glass. The battery, initially a source of concern (a user cannot replace it), now supports up to eight hours of talk time, seven hours of Internet usage, and nearly a week of standby time.
Personally, I’m very excited about this device. For me, it means that for once, a mobile device will arrive that functions the way a phone should. No mystery languages to learn, odd icons to decipher, or weird combinations of menus to click and wait for. And, to make things even more exciting, it’s a cool iPod. But, for me, the clincher is the use of maps and navigation widgets. Now, the iPhone can contain all of my travel details and my spouse can have her own phone with her travel details. As we move from vehicle to vehicle, so do our destinations, routes, to-do lists, etc.
Apple has been notoriously slammed throughout its history for not meeting the needs of consumers. Time and time again, those critics have been silenced by the millions of people who benefit from the product offered. The iPod was slammed, but changed the way people review, consider, purchase, and listen to music (and now, video). The iPhone has an opportunity to do the same thing for mobile communications. By the way, if you’d like to take the iPhone tour, you can do so by clicking here. We’ll report back on our opinion of the iPhone after we’ve field-tested it for a few weeks. Stay tuned.

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