GPS.........kinda

The two major hardware changes to the iPhone are the inclusion of a 3G cellular modem and support for Assisted GPS (A-GPS). Despite what many have interpreted the name to mean, A-GPS is not in any way an inferior type of GPS, it’s simply a bit more efficient.

The deal here is that A-GPS relies on cellular data as well as an assistance server to help pinpoint where the A-GPS receiver is, when conditions are less than optimal. The standard iPhone can get a general idea of where you are based on what cell tower you are connected to, but the iPhone 3G with its A-GPS support can actually pinpoint you with much greater accuracy.

The fact that the iPhone 3G’s GPS is A-GPS isn’t its shortcoming, it’s the software that’s the problem. Like the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G ships with a version of Google Maps that works incredibly well with the iPhone’s multi-touch interface. Google Maps on the iPhone is almost as useful as a standalone GPS thanks to the speed of the interface, the problem is that you need a second person using it if you’re driving as it will give you turn by turn directions but won’t speak them to you.

The iPhone 3G unfortunately doesn’t fix this problem - the Google Maps software is identical to what shipped on the original iPhone. The iPhone 3G’s A-GPS will pinpoint your exact location, but it won’t combine with the turn-by-turn directions to automatically guide you to your destination. You still need to manually advance the directions. If you’ve got a someone with you, this is enough to make the iPhone 3G an even better car-navigation tool but if you’re alone it’s not much better than the old iPhone.


No GPS


GPS in action, precision baby

With the app store and the 2.0 SDK there’s a great chance that someone will come along and develop a voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation system for the iPhone 3G, but there is always the chance that it’d be something AT&T would want to sell as a service. Given that Apple has already ceded power to AT&T with the way the iPhone 3G is sold, I doubt there’s much Apple could do if AT&T really wanted to charge for such a thing.

The A-GPS is also currently used by both first and third party applications to help improve the experience. If an app tries to use the A-GPS you must first tell it that it is allowed to use your location (a process that is honestly very Vista User Account Control-like, but I get the security benefit). The iPhone Camera app can use the iPhone 3G’s A-GPS to tag your photos with geographical data, while applications like Urbanspoon can use it to help find restaurants nearby.

The only other major complaint I have about the iPhone 3G’s A-GPS is that it appears to be a CPU hog as the entire Google Maps interface stalls a lot more with it active. Thankfully it doesn’t appear to remain active after you’ve quit Google Maps (hooray for no background tasks?), but this is further proof that Apple needs more processing power in the iPhone. Intel had better hurry up with its Atom strategy, the iPhone is ripe for such a powerful core...

Battery Life Please Get This Thing a Faster Processor
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  • cleviticus - Saturday, July 19, 2008 - link

    A basic one-line plan with Cingular (I know they go by AT&T now)without ANY extra features runs you $45/month and that is with just enough minutes to tell people that you'll call them back after nine. Unlimited internet and data runs $45, last I checked, and that somehow doesn't cover much texting, something I do a lot of. Texting is another $10. So to get service and data BEFORE tax you spend $90. My provider offers unlimited voice/data/text/GPS/e-mail for $100 with coverage that exceeds AT&T's.
    That fact alone is enough to keep me away from the iphone for good. I admit that the interface is unbeatable but the functionality of the phone is not. That being said I don't think it deserves as much attention as it receives. Also coverage varies drastically from city to city. In NY my phone works great but in Vegas it blows. In Chicago I'm golden but anywhere between Arkansas and Virginia- forget about it. I used cingular for two years and their coverage was only good in large metropolitan areas. As soon as I got out of the inner city my reception was weak and I couldn't even text. I think they are a horrible company but since they bought up most of the old bell empire- they're here to stay.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    Wow I wish I had first comment here so I could get a response.

    In Anand's otherwise near-perfect review, he talked about Exchange support but didn't cover my #1 iPhone question: does Exchange support work without the $45 Enterprise Data plan? I can't for the life of my get a conclusive answer if the Enterprise plan is required for exchange, or just required if the iPhone is going to be purchased or paid for through a business.
    Reply
  • araczynski - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    i'm still holding out for the day the iphone comes with some real screen resolution.

    if the N810 can do much better than this, why can't the almighty apple?
    Reply
  • sleepr0 - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    Lets see:

    - The 3G doesn't fit the old cradle and the cradle is not included - $15.
    - Old cover doesn't fit - $20.
    - Unlimited data up $10/month.
    - Text up $5/month.
    - Cellular triangulation works nearly as well as GPS.
    - 3G not significantly faster than Edge and all the new users will take a load off of the Edge network, freeing up bandwidth and making Edge a bit faster.
    - Battery life worse.

    I'll wait for Version 3, thanks.
    Reply
  • wvh - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Why do you buy a new phone when you are happy with your old one – it has pretty much the same functionality anyway? What is wrong with all those people who buy something just because Apple (or whoever) releases it? All these morons queueing up, did they all accidentally happen to break their phone the day before?

    It's a nice in-depth article, no remarks there, I've just heard enough already about this consumer hype. It's just talking people into fake needs.

    Blast me for being negative, but you know I'm right.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    The problem is that people aren't happy with their old one, and it doesn't have the same functionality, so that is why they queue for the iPhone. So essentially all your base assumptions are wrong.

    There is nothing wrong with these people; there is something wrong with the RZRS et al they already own, because they were broken the minute they bought them. No accident, they were just made that way.
    Reply
  • Giacomo - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    No, actually you aren't right. You could be, if we were here to make free-philosophy, but that's not the case, we're here to talk about hardware (and related).

    So then, you are accusing the mass of an excess of "hype" around the iPhone, and well, while it's definitely true that many of those people will buy it for "trendy" purposes, there are surely others (like me) who are about to buy it because they just like it and could benefit from it. In my particular case, I have lost my iPod Mini (...) and my cellphone is at its 4th year of life, with the keyboard almost died (intense 20.000+ sms usage in these years). The iPhone, by simply being, to me, an iPod which calls and writes sms, is great to have both the devices in the "main" pocket.

    Full comfort over the whole year (no matter what clothes I'm wearing, the front/right pocket does ALWAYS have my cellphone inside, and thanks to the iPhone, the iPod as well), a brilliant keyboard for my heavy SMS usage, and I could be happy without anything else. Plus, there's something else actually, and I'll surely enjoy.

    If we had to think like you in your post, we should all tell you: Why do you read Anandtech? You can live with a 5 years old PC without problems nor upgrades, if you just use some Office, browse the web and check your mail. If you game, well, that's energy consuming, money-wasting, time-wasting, and you should quit. But, of course, none in here would say that to you, neither would I.

    Regards

    Giacomo
    Reply
  • scottwilkins - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    First, I've had AT&T for years. Never stepped in a store, and never talked with them about a purchase. They were very helpful and darn quick about replacing my wife's phone when it died. AT&T is the easiest to work with (and I work with most of them because I support a lot of folks on different networks) Plus, the AT&T signal in the places I go beats out all others hands down. So for you to say their signal is bad is very objective and quite stupid, since you did it only probably in one room and not overall.

    Also, your indications that other phones can't do what the iPhone can do are all false. One thing the iPhone CAN'T do that many many other phones can do is change. It can't change it's interface to suit other purposes, it can't change it's battery, and it can't change carriers. The 3G's only add over the old iPhone is 3G and GPS. All other features are software, and now available on the original iPhone. So an upgrade is useless until you contract is up.

    Apple is a closed box. I prefer freedom.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Uh, with a soft interface and touchscreen, the iPhone is just about the only device where it's interface can change as needed; you get two buttons when in Camera mode, 20+ in Calculator mode, 26+ in note-taking mode, etc. Reply
  • Ryl3x - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    I will buy at lunch. I read alot of reviews over the web including sites that dedicate themselves to phones. I found this to be one that i could relate to. Thanks. Reply

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