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Archive for the ‘GPS’ Category

iPhone Navigation in an iPhone 4 / iOS 4 Age

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photoAs I have mentioned before, I seem to collect Navigation apps for the iPhone. Back in the days of my 16GB 3G, I only had room for one at a time on my iPhone. With my new 32GB iPhone 4, I have them all loaded on there temporarily, while I sort out which one I like best and will keep on the device. And, since Navigon was slow getting to the iOS 4 upgrade, I seem to have added another paid app, and, oh, I picked up another free one as well (why not?).

iOS 4 has added a whole new dimension to turn by turn GPS. No matter what other app you have open…iPod, Phone, Maps, Around Me, etc, etc. you nav app will continue to keep track of where you are on your route and give you turn by turn instructions. In fact…you can’t shut it off unless you open the App Tray and specifically quit the app. The Home button just puts the app in the background. Sounds simple, but it is truly revolutionary!

So right now I have the following Navigation apps on my iPhone 4 (in the order in which I acquired them).

Navigon North America (iOS4, $79.00 + lifetime traffic subscription charge)
CoPilot Live  (iOS4, $19.99 + yearly traffic subscription charge)
MotionX GPS Drive (iOS4, $.99 + monthly turn by turn and traffic charge)
Magellan RoadMate (not iOS4, $59.99, no traffic )
TomTom USA (iOS4, $39.99 + yearly traffic subscription)
MapQuest (free with free traffic)

Let me say up front that any one of these apps will get you where you are going relatively painlessly, most of the time. With the exception of MapQuest, they all have similar basic feature sets. MapQuest is the odd app out in that it does not have destination up mode, which for me is a deal breaker, no matter how good the rest of the implementation is or how cheap it is. That said, each app brings at least one or two unique, or at least rare, features to the navigation experience…and one app (not, interestingly enough, the most feature rich) has definitely emerged as my favorite for day in day out navigation.

What you can expect from all of them: audible turn by turn instructions with at least one voice that does text to speech and reads street names. Music controls with in the app (though is is far less critical in iOS4). Routing with at least some customization. 2D or 3D map display. Day and Night modes. Navigate to Contacts (the most problematic feature on any Nav app). POIs. All the apps that offer live-traffic (that would be all of them except RoadMate) also offer live local search (generally via Google).

So briefly, app by app.

Navigon Navigator: on-board maps.  The first turn by turn navigation app on the iPhone, and still the clear leader in the features war. Now fully iOS4 able. Not only 3D maps but Panorama View 3D, with elevations (hills, valleys, mountains, etc) mapped in a realistic landscape. You have to see your road wind up a mountain pass. Way cool! The most comprehensive speed limit information with speeding warnings (Caution she says, gently but firmly). Excellent lane assist on major highway intersections. Well implemented traffic and local search. And, very unique, a my route feature that maps 3 routes for you to choose from and learns from your choices. The life time traffic and local search subscription somewhat mitigates the high initial cost of the app.

On the down side, the most complex, awkward, and slow UI of any navigation app. Maxes the processing ability of any phone less able than the iPhone 4, and pushes the limits there. Noticeable lags in typing, choosing, searching, etc. Occasionally, in my experience, makes questionable routing decisions. Only reads one of the possible choices for a street or road name with more than one name on the map…and often not the most logical or helpful. And, another little thing, the text to speech voice has no way of saying “continue on this road” so she is always telling me to keep left when she means go straight ahead.

I pretty much trust this app, and really like the slick Panorama display…but I find that I do not use it due to the slow interface, if I have an alternative available.

CoPilot Live: The second turn by turn app on the iPhone, and always among the most affordable of the apps with on-board maps. I really like the look of the maps…colorful, cartoonish, fun…however this is not an door to door app. It gets you to a section of a local street with a range of numbers and that is as close as it gets. Also, in my experience, the maps are, by a narrow margin, the least accurate of any of the nav apps. And there is no real lane assist for most intersections. The turn by turn voice gives more complete instructions than Navigon. Despite its limitations, the price is right for a app with on-board maps, and it will do a credible job of getting you there.

Motion X GPS Drive: another absolute bargain, even if you pay the monthly subscription fee for turn by turn and traffic. However, this app depends on a live internet connection (wifi or 3G) for maps and routing. No on-board maps.  While in most urban situations, that is not a huge drawback, where I often travel it makes this my back-up app of choice, but not my primary choice.

The UI is among the slickest and quickest, the POIs are, of course, since they are always live, the most up-to-date., address entry is the simplest and most logical of any app…you type in the address naturally…number, street, city, state, zip…rather than the reverse pick one at a time method all the other apps apply. There is a lot to like. The Bing maps as quite good. If you are on a budget and don’t travel where 3G gets thin, then there is really no reason to spend what an on-board map app would cost you. Motion X will get you there just fine.

Magellan Road-Mate 2010. Don’t go there. Slick interface, but slow and limited turn by turn (no turn now for instance, just a beep). The least accurate rendering of where you are on the maps. No iOS 4 ability. Just don’t go there. A real disappointment from one of the leaders in stand-alone GPS.

MapQuest: a great app for free. No destination up mode (North is always up, which means you are traveling across the map horizontally much of the time). Not for me.

TomTom USA: So, the last is, imho, the best. This is the app I use 99% of the time, and the more I use it, the more things I find to like. Fast, logical, elegant and attractive UI that is a pleasure to interact with. Excellent maps. Comprehensive lane assist. The most complete turn by turn directions of any app by far: she reads all the names of streets or roads with multiple possible names, just in case…gives audible warning of close second turns, directs you toward signed landmarks, tells you when to go straight on, gives multiple warnings of upcoming turns, gives audible lane guidance (in addition to the excellent lane assist diagrams), etc. etc. The first time she said “at the end of the road, turn left onto Ridge Road, State Route 6 , Maine Street, toward Lancaster College, and keep in the left lane…” it was love. This lady knows how to tell a fella where to go!

Though the speed limit system is not as comprehensive as Navigon’s (less rural roads and village streets), the warning system (visual and audible) is great. The maps are attractive and, in my experience, remarkably accurate…and TelNav (supplier of the map data) maintains and easy site for users to submit updates. I have submitted three and gotten responses confirming my input and promising revisions on the next issue of maps.

Live traffic is handled well. Traffic and time of day is taken into consideration in all routing, and, when a  route slows down enough for there to be a quicker alternative, you are offered the option of taking it.

And routes are highly customizable. The app computes the most logical and fastest route (if that is what you ask for) but you can tell her you want to go via some POI or address (including an address from your Contacts) and she will reroute you that way. You can also call up a map of the route and touch to select an alternative routing, and she will obediently send you that way. This is a great way, by the way, to test alternative routes. Very very cool. (And that is in real time…there is a Planning mode that allows you to do all this at your leisure and save the route for when you need it…amazing!

Finally, like Navigon, TomTom is integrated with Around Me, my favorite alternative to Google search on the iPhone for finding specific types of POIs by category or name…restaurants, convenience stores, drug stores, doctor’s offices, etc. Around Me will often find an obscure POI like a state or regional park when nothing else will, and you can instantly send the destination to TomTom for routing. I use it a lot.

I have now used TomTom in rural Maine and urban California, and it is yet to let me down. I trust it. It gets me where I am going, and makes the trip as stress free as possible.

I have, almost literally, tried them all, and TomTom just does what I need it to…which is, basically, to get me where I am going…better than all the rest. Motion X GPS Drive will stay on my iPhone for backup, but TomTom will be the app I keep on board for all my day to day navigation needs.

There. that is done. Now I can take about 6 Gigs of apps off my iPhone!

Written by singraham

August 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Real-time on the Social-web for the World Series of Birding

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Suppose, just for fun, that there was a 24 hour event happening, covering the whole state of New Jersey from end to end, and you, single-handedly, wanted to document it in real time, using the social web…twitter, blogs, and associated tools…so that anyone who wanted could experience it from, shall we say, ground level? Suppose. What tools would you use?

In my work life, I am the Observation Product Specialist for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, makers of binoculars and spotting scopes used in birding, and all types of wildlife observation. For 27 years we have sponsored a team, Team Zeiss, in the yearly World Series of Birding competition, and for 6 years we have been the sponsor of the Carl Zeiss Youth Birding Challenge. The WSB raises funds for conservation through per-species pledges to your favorite team of birders, who then go out for 24 hours, midnight to midnight, in the state of New Jersey (or some designated sub-section there-of) to count as many different species of birds as they can identify by sight or sound. It draws well over 200 of the best birders in the US, in over 50 teams, to Cape May, NJ each May. Most teams come in a few days (or weeks) early to scout the area where they intend to count…then there is the day itself…24 hours of driving crazy distances to hit the hot-spots and staked out birds…the Finish Line were, just before midnight, the teams bring in their totals for verification…and then, the next morning at 9AM sharp, the Awards Brunch where, after a lavish breakfast, the highest totals are recognized with various awards, and each team gets to briefly tell its best story of the day. It is marginally insane, considerably inspiring (if you are into birds…they have raised over $9 million for conservation in the 27 years of the event), and a whole lot of fun!

This year, I decided to try to document the whole thing in something approaching real time. I planned to be in a chase car, and follow Team Zeiss through some of the scouting and preparations, then through the 24 hours of the event to the Finish Line, and to the Awards Brunch the next morning. I planned to twitter and FaceBook the whole thing, with sound-clips, pics, and maybe some video…perhaps to do some live blogging on our WordPress blog…and, of course, to bring back enough photos and video for follow-up blog posts and web pages. It was only slightly more insane than the event itself.

You can see the results, all of the posts from the field, considerably expanded with images, video, and bit of commentary added after the event, at Team Zeiss: A Complete World Series of Birding Saga.

If you want to know how I did it, read on.

I have an iPhone 3G (not, unfortunately for these purposes, the 3GS with video), a Canon SX20IS which shoots excellent stills and HD video, an very portable Aspire Timeline 1810TZ CULV netbook/laptop, a Verizon USB mobile broadband doggle, a cigarette lighter power supply that puts out both 110 volt AC for the computer and USB power for the iPhone, and, obviously more enthusiasm than sense.

Experimenting before-hand I settled on the new Hootsuite app for iPhone for my twitter and facebook posts. I knew I would be twittering on 2 accounts: my own @singraham and the Zeiss account @zeissbirding_us. The facebook posts were going to my own profile. I needed an app that would post to all three simultaneously. Hootsuite looked like it would do the job. Since you can open it in menu mode, without downloading any streams, it is quick to post from. When I got to Cape May, I found that the Hootsuite app, on AT&T’s 3G network, was failing about half the time when I attempted to post a pic with the tweet/facebook update. Trying again sometimes worked, but I needed something more reliable.

I already have a Posterous blog set up, and have used it to post instant galleries of images via email when I have more than one image to post at the same time. You can set up Posterous to auto post to any number of twitter and facebook accounts, and if you make the title complete, it can act as a tweet or post in itself. You can even include hastags for twitter in the title. Posting from the iPhone is as simple as taking the pics with the camera app, opening Photos, selecting the ones you want to send and choosing email. You enter your Posterous address, and it is away, and posted to your twitter and facebook accounts soon after. The advantage is that Posterous automatically formats multiple images into a galley with an index and viewer.

Posterous will also take video, directly or as a link from YouTube…which is good, since I encountered the dread “caught in the processing loop” YouTube bug when attempting to upload video from Cape May. Not via 3G either…this was from my hotel room over a wifi network. I tired many times. Nothing worked. While Posterous video is not has high quality as HD on YouTube, it is certainly serviceable for my purposes with the WSB.

Posterous does have its own app for the iPhone, which allows you take pics directly and upload them into galleries on your blog, but I find that it is actually much easier to do it from the Photos App via email.

As it happens, Hootsuite updated their iPhone app while I was in New Jersey, and the new version seemed to work much better with pic uploads, even when I lost 3G and had to work on EDGE in the far reaches of the state.

I ended up using both Hootsuite, and Posterous via email, as the situation demanded and as the spirit moved me. 🙂

When I picked up my rental car, the first thing I checked was the number of cigarette lighter sockets, as I anticipated having to use my iPhone part of the time as a GPS. The Jeep Compass they gave me has only one cigarette lighter socket…but low and behold, it has an actual 110v, two prong socket, just like your wall sockets at home. I could plug the Acer in directly, and, since i use a Kensington Ultra Compact Power Supply while traveling, which has its own USB power port, and was packing a Griffen PowerJolt Dual with two more USB power ports for the cigarette socket, I was all set for power. I did not even have to set up the excellent Radio Shack compact power inverter I always have in my laptop bag.

As it turned out, I never even plugged the Acer in. It was just too close quarters with 3 of us and all our stuff in car, I was driving at least a third of the time, and we made stops too frequently to consider the laptop useful. That meant that I did not upload any video until the event was over.

Most of the pics were uploaded direct from the iPhone’s camera. I am impatiently waiting the arrival of the 4G iPhone with what one hopes will be a decent camera (rumors say maybe even HD video), but you make do with what you have. Since I was shooting most of the time with the SX20IS as well, the pics from the field were more or less placeholders anyway…I replaced most of them with SX20IS shots when I built the blog post…though I hope the iPhone shots added at least a little to the experience for those following my tweets and posts in real time.

I did process a few of the more marginal shots using the Adobe PhotoShop app for the iPhone before I posted them. I used, until this most recent version of the Adobe app, PhotoGene, which I really like. PhotoShop is just a bit faster on most operations, at least on my 3G phone, and, in the field, where you are posting mostly while hurrying back to the car or between stops, even that little speed difference can be critical.

While I had not planned to do it, since I was using Posterous, it occurred to me on a hill far into the outback of Sussex County, New Jersey, moments after mid-night when the team was listening for high flying migrants in the dark, that I could post audio. I made a few recordings during the night at various stops, while it was still too dark for photography, using the built in Voice Memo app on the iPhone, and uploading them to Posterous via email. Of course, since the Team was using their ears, I could not play them back to see what I got. They went out over twitter and facebook just as they came from the iPhone.

It was not long into the dark night when Hootsuite and Facebook stopped cooperating. I never did figure out what was happening. The app gave me a “failed to post on Facebook” message about 2 out of 3 tries. This was from the hinterlands and I suspected the EDGE connection, but when I got back to civilization and 3G it was no more reliable. It could have been an issue with Hootsuite at that particular time, or with Facebook, or with the iPhone. All of which make me rely more on the Posterous connection than I might otherwise have.

I am hoping, of course, that the folks who followed the tweet stream in real-time got a sense of how the event unfolded that is never available in hind-sight. (Though, honestly, I am pretty sure no one caught my tweets posted from midnight until 4 am. 🙂 )

Tuesday, safe at home with the Acer firmly anchored to a desk, and my wifi connection humming, I processed all the images (Lightroom) and some of the video (NeroVision) I shot with the Canon SX20IS. I also used Tweetake to capture all my @zeissbirding_us tweets into a spreadsheet, where I could sort and edit them into something like a coherent narrative. Using the tweets as the skeleton, I added images and video from the Canon, and a bit of commentary, to fill out the story. I used a few of the original iPhone shots where I did not have something from the Canon, but when I did, I grabbed them from Posterous or into Picnic for a bit of improvement before posting them back to the blog.

I intend to do a more reflective and thoughtful piece on the whole experience, the WSB experience that is, not the technical experience, when my mind fully recovers from sleep deprivation. (If my mind ever recovers…) But for now, the post referenced above stands as one man’s view of the World Series of Birding as done by Team Zeiss in May of 2010.

Next year I hope to have an iPhone 4G and even better apps. (I also hope, of course, that AT&T will have improved service throughout New Jersey, though I have to say, there were very very few places where I could not tweet!) In hindsight, and maybe foresight if the technology does not change much before then, I would set up a unique Posterous blog for the event, and post everything there, with auto post to twitter and facebook. Of course with the 4G iPhone posting live to WordPress may be practical by then. Who knows.

Much may change by next year’s running of the World Series of Birding. Team Zeiss is already committed to doing it again…for conservation…and for the fun of it…and I plan to be there, making the best use of Social Media I can, to give those who can not be there a ground level view of the World Series of Birding. As it happens. In real time.

Which is one thing, certainly, the Social Web can do better than any other tool we have ever had to work with. It can only get better.

Maybe I can take pledges: So much per tweet for conservation. That will make the birds happy. 🙂

Written by singraham

May 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Magellan Roadmate vs Navigon Mobile Navigator vs CoPilot Live 8

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My stand-alone GPS unit is a Magellan. That, plus the positive reviews the new Magellan Roadmate iPhone app is getting, and a perusal of the Magellan web site, inspired me to give it a try. I have to say, right up front though, that Roadmate was a disappointment.

I already own two other on-device-maps nav apps for the iPhone. I bought Navigon’s Mobile Navigator right after it came out, while it was still the only turn-by-turn nav app available. I bought CoPilot Live 8 after one update (when they added the real iPhone keyboard for text entry and Text to Speech for street names on turns) because the price was right, and Navigon on the iPhone 3G, in that early release, had a very sluggish interface (though in all other ways it worked fine).

Along the way I also downloaded XMotion’s GPS Drive, and bought a month’s turn-by-turn voice prompts. Though I would not use a nav app that requires internet connection to download maps as a primary navigation tool, I figured, at the price it was a great back-up option in case whichever on-device-map app I had installed at the moment failed me.

My first hours of playing with the Magellan app at my desk at home were very encouraging. I really like the UI: controls are few and large, text entry is really aided by the enlarged keypads and smart typing (a Magellan feature from past stand-alone units which limits letter choice to as you type to letters that spell possible matching words from the data-base), it is relatively fast and responsive even on a 3G (except on start-up), and it has some unique features in the one touch view. The one touch control on the main map view brings up a new view with shortcut controls for commonly used features. There are several preprogrammed, but there are also more than a dozen that you can program yourself by setting them to search categories for POIs you use often or to favorite destinations. It has a very easy to use in-app music control (very useful on longer trips where you might want to play iPod selections).

One really nice UI enhancement is that, as it predicts locations you might be typing in the Address entry view, it orders them by distance from your current location. This actually, for most trips, speeds up Address entry considerably.

Another really useful feature is the tap anywhere on the map and go there thing. Wherever you tap it reads the location and pops up a control that allows you to instantly enter it as a destination…or, if it is a POI, to call.

I ran some test trips to destinations that have given me trouble in the past on other units, or where I at least knew the routing options, and the Magellan app did very well. It correctly located my own home (still problematic for CoPilot despite putting in 3 map correction requests) and my worst-case-address in Freeport Maine. I searched for POIs that I have had occasion to use in the past, and again, the app did very well, locating obscure hotels in Cape May NJ, state and local parks in TX, and National Wildlife Refuges. The POI list of categories is impressive and it appears to search out quite a ways from the specified location.

So, enough playing around. Time to take the Magellan app out for a drive…

Unfortunately, for all its impressive UI features, the app simply does not perform well on the road (at least on my 3G iPhone). It often falls behind the motion of the vehicle, especially when starting up from a stop. This is disconcerting to say the least. Also, just a practical matter, the voice prompts don’t come until you are already way too close to the turn (IMHO), half a mile or closer, and there is no actual turn now voice…just a little chime which is really easy to miss. It does not display or announce second turns when one follows the other closely. On several occasions, while it showed a turn on the map, there was no announcement at all. It does not display speed limits on local roads and streets, or provide speeding warnings (except on major highways). You have a choice of what it displays in the information corner of the map view, but there is no way to automatically cycle the display. Once you choose a display item it is there until you change it, and you can only display one item at a time. It does not display the road or highway you are currently on. The female TTS voice (text to speech, for announcing street and highway names on upcoming turns) is really annoying (my opinion: vaguely Jersey girl with attitude), while the male TTS voice is somehow slightly British empire. ???

Magellan does provide both a simulation mode (variable speed) and route overviews…both of which are valuable features…however it took me quite a time to find them, and I still have to think way too hard about where they are when I want to access them. They are, needless to say, buried pretty deep in the menu system.

There is not yet any provision for live traffic or for local search.

I would have trouble using this app for navigation, given the alternatives. And that is pretty sad, since, even on sale, $60 is a lot to have wasted on an app I won’t, unless they improve it dramatically in updates, actually end up using.

Which brings us to the alternatives. I have created a table, with what I feel are the best features of three on-device-map turn-by-turn nav apps that I have tried (so far). Just so you can see how they compare. Features are not in any particular order. You may have different priorities, but this should provide a starting point. All three, by the way, offer Contacts integration. Magellan is awkward. The other two easy…and none work well for specifying an address. All fail to find address from Contacts, which they find easily when the address is entered manually. Go figure.

Feature Magellan Navigon CoPilot Live
Map accuracy excellent excellent very good
GPS accuracy fair excellent good-excellent
TTS 1FM AM voice (annoying), 1M AM (acceptable) 1 voice FM (pleasant) 1M AM (acceptable), 1 Brit.FM (UK terminology)
Turn alerts few (dangerously imho) multiple multiple (user adjustable)
Lane assist yes (visual) yes (visual) no
Access to route overview multiple taps to access, hard to find easy (one tap) multiple taps to access, easy to find
On map display      
…2nd turn when close no yes yes
…speed limits no (warning on major hwy) yes no
…time to destination selectable yes selectable (or scrolling)
…distance to dest selectable yes selectable (or scrolling)
…heading selectable no selectable (or scrolling)
…current time yes (header & selectable) yes (header) no
…arrival time selectable selectable selectable (or scrolling)
…next turn name yes yes yes
….current road no selectable yes
Live Traffic no 1 time in-app purchase yearly in-app purchase
Local Search (google) no yes with live traffic sub.
customizable map views no no yes
2D/3D nav view yes (2D not for 3G) yes yes
control responsiveness very good good (latest update) excellent
route logic good excellent good
access to route profiles easy more complex easy
UI (access needed features) easiest, fast complex, sometimes difficult easy, fast
Customizable POI shortcuts 12+ 3 no
iPod controls very good very good excellent


I might point out that the UI features really only differ in how easy the unit is to program while in motion…you can work with any UI while sitting still…and programming while in motion is something all three apps make you agree not to do in their EULA on the start-up screen.

Among these three, Navigon is my current favorite, and the one that spends the most time installed in the finite memory of my iPhone 3G. It is my favorite, because, despite a somewhat complex UI, it just works. In actual navigation Navigon Mobile Navigator consistently and clearly provides the information I need when I need it. It gets me there alive and relatively unstressed. And that is what I demand of any GPS, stand-alone device, or iPhone app. I should also say that I keep reinstalling CoPilot Live. Even though it has some mapping issues, it has the fastest, most responsive UI of any of these apps, and I find that almost as important as house number accuracy. I keep hoping one of these frequent CoPilot map updates will cure the mapping issues!

Written by singraham

December 28, 2009 at 9:11 am

Further Adventures in Navigation Down Along the Boarder!

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Or how CoPilot regained its place on my iPhone.


CoPilot Live 8

Okay…after the disappointing performance of the actual maps on both Navigon and MotionX Drive (see the paragraph in brackets on maps near the end of the previous post) in use along Expressway 83 in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, a certain continuing disappointment in the responsiveness of Navigon in daily use (though I reported it was responding more quickly by the time I got to the Valley it was back, in most cases, to its old sluggish self), and some interesting quirks in MotionX UI, I felt it was only fair to reinstall CoPilot Live and see if they had a map update.


They did.

In addition, I discovered that setting the Language to English UK actually gives you another text-to-speech voice choice: Eleanor, a plummy female computer from GB. I Have yet to test her in actual use, so I am not sure how deep her UK bias goes…but I can’t imagine there are many navigation words that would be different on either side of the Atlantic. We shall see. I will report.

With the latest Map Update (which you can download from within CoPilot 8) as far as I can tell the exits on Expressway 83 are in the right places! and, I was able to enter all of my test addresses from the Rio Grande Valley without any problem. Two of the 4 were even in the POI database.

Though my Freeport ME worst case test address is still wrong, it is now only wrong by a singe house number. The Maine maps have clearly been updated since I last tested it.

I have to say, I missed CoPilot and its winning ways while down on the boarder. I am happy to say it has regained its place on my iPhone, and is once more my recommendation for the best resident map Nav App.

Written by singraham

November 27, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Adventures in Navigation Down Along the Boarder

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Or how CoPilot lost its place on my iPhone.


Mobile Navigator for iPhone

Let this serve as a kind of Public Service Announcement for any of you who have been following my reviews of turn-by-turn navigaion apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I have own three at this point: Navigon MobileNavigator, CoPilot Live 8, and MotionX GPS Drive.

MotionX is a great little app. I may do a full fledged review one of these days, but suffice it to say here that it does an excellent job of getting me where I want to go, has what I consider an very good UI, and is certainly a bargain with it’s purchase as you need it voice guidance (which includes live traffic info for routing). It has, at least were I have traveled so far, the most accruate and up-to-date map set of any of the apps I have tried (an opinion only slightly modified by my recent experience: see below). However, given that AT&T is my provider, and that I travel extensivley at the fringes of cell phone coverage, I would not want to to totally rely on a navigation app that requires an internet connection to download maps or calculate routes (especially not to recalculate routes…something my GPS has occasion to do at least once a trip in my experience (I do sometimes miss a turn or think I know better than the machine…). MotionX’s Drive does cache maps and routes (with a user selectable cache allotment), which is good…but I still have a trust issue when the maps are not resident on my machine. I consider it my back up nav app, and I do use it from time to time, especially for really difficult addresses (see below)…often enough to keep my voice guidance subscription up to date (at least until Google Nav hits the iPhone), but it will never be my full time nav app while AT&T still has the iPhone locked in.

Now, I only have a 16gig iPhone 3G, and I do have an extensive music collection, and quite a few other apps, so I only have room for one resident map nav app on my device at a time. I was using CoPilot Live, for all the reasons outlined in the review. I really like it, and it has some features that are still pretty unique among the iPhone nav apps: return routing, extended poi search, touch map addition of interum destinations, etc. etc. And they are right on the verge of adding live traffic. It is a good solid app, and I enjoy it.

However, this past week I was preparing for a trip to the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, right along the Mexican Boarder. I have been there before often enough to know that the area is a real challenge for GPS navigation. I don’t know why, maybe because it is barely in the US at all, but even by dedicated Magellian struggles there, and often provides inaccurate turn info, especially along the perpetually under reconstruction main valley route, Expressway 83, through Harlingen, McAllen, Mission, etc. Also, I am a birder, and I frequent some locations that are pretty far out, and do not really have complete addresses (PO Boxes don’t help). So…just to be safe, I decided to preprogram some of my destinations in before I left. I had 4 in mind: Bensten Rio Grande State Park, Estero Lano Grande State Park, Edinburg Senic Wetlands, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. I have been to each before, several times, so I do kind of know where they are, but, I am only there once a year and I do forget…and as I am often on a tight schedule, I like to use the GPS to gage drive times, etc. I always find that having the GPS on makes for less stress on the road anyway.

It saddens me to report that CoPilot Live could not find a single one of my destinations. In most cases it could not even get me close. Some of the roads/streets were simply not on the map, or in the data base, so there was no way to enter the address. And even roads that were there, did not have address numbers for the areas I wanted to go. In one case the CoPilot street numbers ended in the 700s and my address was in the 2800s. Not close enough to matter. Add this to the fact that, despite my submitting corrections three times, CoPilot Live is still off a full block on my home address, and totally misses my worst case test in Freeport Maine, and I decided to reinstall Navigon to see if it could do better.

It could. It found, with a little effort, all my target destinations and placed them correctly on the map. I had to enter the nearest intersection for one, since it too lacked street numbers for that section of road, but it got me close enough to see the intersection. And, I was totally amazed that my fresh install showed little of the sluggish behavior I had noted in my CoPilot review. It is not as snappy as CoPilot, but is usable. I have since upgraded to v1.3 (which introduces in app purchase of live traffic ($24.99 lifetime), and that is behaving just as well. What is more, my home is correctly placed, and Navigon found and correctly placed my Freeport wct. So, there you have it. CoPilot fail. Navigon as regained it’s place on my iPhone! I will miss the features that are still unique to CoPilot, and computer Frank’s helpful instructions, but, in the end, a nav app is all about getting you there!

(I discovered an interesting Navigon feature while trying to program a really remote location…if you can get close using road intersections Navigon opens a small map view with a tack at your programed destination. You can pick the tack up and replace it on the map! This makes really precise nav possible even when you can’t directly enter the address. I like it!)

Let me say that MotionX Drive was the only nav app to find and correctly place all 4 locations without any intervention or help on my part. I intend to test it on the perpeptually under construction valley route too. I will report.

[Report: unbelievably, the live download maps that MotionX uses are at least 2, maybe 3 years out of date on Expressway 83. Exits are placed incorrectly the majority of the time. Exits are pre-reconstruction. That means they are sometimes off by as much as a mile! During the reconstruction of the route, they switched on and off ramps, for one thing. Off ramps are beyond the overpass now…but MotionX has them where they used to be…before the overpasses. Ramps that are still before the overpasses were moved well back, sometimes as much as 2 miles, from the exit road, so that you go a ways on the frontage road. MotionX totally misses those ramps and exits. Not good. Unfortunately the Navigon maps are no better. They are also considerably out of date. In fact the only exits between Harlingen and McAllen that they have right are the few that did not change in the past 3 years. I find this hard to understand, and even harder to forgive. Major fail…not so much of any given nav app, since they all seem to have the same errors…but of the main mapping data bases all the apps use. Conclusion: If you are driving using GPS nav in South Texas…keep your wits about you!]

One general observation on iPhone nav apps. All the apps that I have tested have Contacts integration…and none of them work reliably to find an address from your contacts list. Even if you find a location and add it to your contacts from Google Maps, very often all three of my nav apps will fail to find it if I select it in Contacts from within the app. I suspect, in all cases, that it is something in the routine that translates the Contacts address to the fields the nav app needs, since, in all cases, the nav app is likely to dump you somewhere on the correct road, or at least somewhere in the correct city…but not at the location you expect. In every case so far, manually inputing the same address in the nav app has allowed the app to find the correct location and place it on the map. Very strange. However it makes me very hesitant to use the Contacts integration on any iPhone nav app, especially since, when the location does fail, none of them give you any indication that they are routing you to a compromise location. This can be very disconcerting in actual use! I know this from experience.

And, second general observation: I really like having a reliable turn-by-turn nav app on my phone. One less thing to carry. Relatively easy intergration with other apps on the device. Just a good experience, for me, all around.

I have no problem recommending Navigon MobileNavigator. Great app. I have no problem recommending MotionX Drive. Great app, and such a bargain! I would really like to be able to recommend CoPilot…but until they upgrade the maps a few more times…I just can’t do it. I will continue to test it with each map upgrade…unless of course Navigon works in those few really unique features and removes the temptation.

Are you listening Navigon…are you listening CoPilot?

Written by singraham

November 16, 2009 at 6:04 am