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
POST A COMMENT

56 Comments

View All Comments

  • DeesTroy - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    My younger brother works for Garmin. You almost certainly won't get voice directions, at least not for free. The licensing agreements with the few companies that make the maps used in mapping software (e.g. Navteq) are very specific about what you can and can't do with the maps they provide. The mapping companies currently charge significantly more if you want to do voice directions. Nokia's purchase of Navteq makes a huge lot of sense given what one can do with maps, a GPS, and Internet all in one package. All of this is probably part of the reason that Garmin is getting into the phone business with the nuvifone. Reply
  • cocoviper - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Well I think it depends on how we define free. Since you're paying so much for the iPhone's plan one would think they could (or should) include it at some point.

    The Instinct does turn-by-turn voice GPS and it's included in the phone's plan.
    Reply
  • jcal710 - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Anand,

    You talked about the problems with contact syncing on Exchange. How configurable is it? Does it automatically default to your top level 'Contacts' folder in your Exchange mailbox, or can your point it somewhere else? Do you have the option of choosing whether or not to sync subfolders?
    Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    I'm glad I didnt go for the first iphone, that way I can appreciate my 3G more(besides the fact that it wasnt sold until the 11th of july in this country and I would have been forced to import one and jailbreak it).

    Anand, your friend with the huge lips doesnt listen to the name of S.Tyler by chance? :P
    Reply
  • ViRGE - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Anand, do you know if Apple's A-GPS implementation requires cellular network access? Some do, others can revert to traditional GPS operation if there's no cellular network to offer location assistance. I'm curious which of this it is Reply
  • Obrut - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    So how is it even remotely possible that there hasn’t been a real iPhone competitor in the year since the original’s release?

    Nokia N95 8GB is far superior to iPhone and it was released even before the first iPhone.
    It's right to say there's no competition here. Apple need at least 3-4 more years to be truly competitive to Nokia. I think iPhone is better solution for americans. In Europe you need 3.5G or 4G phone to be truly connected.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    You're serious aren't you?

    Let us count the ways then:
    iPhone screen resolution is 2x the Nokia screen resolution
    iPhone is nearly half as thick as the Nokia
    CPU of nearly twice the speed

    The Nokia's one physical advantage is the 5MP cammera (which is only possible because the Nokia is twice as thick).
    Reply
  • Obrut - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    OK, let's count, Michael...

    1. Screen resolution is bigger and it should be simply because the display is much bigger. The display is much bigger because it's a touchscreen, though not big enough for my fingers.
    2. iPhone is thin and that's because it has merely 4 buttons and a low profile, low-end camera. By the way how do you play games without buttons?
    3. Speaking of games how do you play OpenGL games? I play Quake 2 with full lighting effects and FSAA at 40 FPS. What about the JAVA games?
    4. N95 8GB is a dual CPU solution (2 x ARM 11 @ 332MHz) hence no lower performance here.
    5. The 5MP camera of N95 8GB is more that just megapixels - it has Carl Zeiss optics, decent flashlight and can capture movies at 640x480@30FPS. In addition - correct me if I'm wrong but I don't see the front camera which every decent 3G phone has. How can I make a video call with iPhone? After all this is one of the best 3G features.

    I can continue counting the battery, office productivity and so on, but this is not the place. I don't want to engage in a Nokia vs. Apple or N9x vs. iPhone battle here. I just don't like statements like "there's no competition", "best phone ever" etc. The most accurate thing to say is that iPhone is the best touchphone to date.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Why talk if you dont know what you're talking about? 3.5G is called HSDPA (an extension to UMTS) in europe, which is supported by the iphone 3G. 4G isnt even available yet, think 2010 for commercial use, so why mention it?

    Why is there no competition? Because none of the competition has a smartphone that comes with this usability. All the other phones can do the same or more, yes. But all of them feel clumsy like a brick when using them. That is why there is no competition. And this comes from somebody who truly doesnt like apple and its godfather jobs...

    Reply
  • cocoviper - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Speaking of not knowing what you're talking about...

    HSDPA isn't 3.5G, it's definitely AT&T's 3G and that is what the iPhone 3G supports. That's the 3G that Anand complained is not really that much faster.

    If there were a "3.5G" in AT&T's portfolio it would be HUPSA (the one that they just upped the offered speeds on.) However AT&T currently doesn't offer any phones that are HUPSA capable. They only have a couple of Aircards for laptops.

    And yes, 4G is available in many parts of the world besides the US my friend. WiMax alone is deployed 119 countries currently. LTE is the only 4G that's "not even available yet," and that's because it's yet to be developed. (LTE isn't even into the whitepaper stage yet.)

    So don't slam other people especially since there's always someone that will know more than you.

    sources -> http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/RDM.Tech.Q1.07/93...">http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/RDM.Te...A0BF6-62...
    http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/wow/index.cfm/20...">http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/wow/index.cfm/20...
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now