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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  • cocoviper - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    *HSUPA not HUPSA :-P Reply
  • robinthakur - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    And naturally, the 'competitor' that you chose, the N95 supports 4G does it? Don't make me laugh. I used to have an N95 and I upgraded to the iPhone after having used one and being uber impressed. The N95 might have a longer spec sheet anda better camera, but for usability the iPhone is so far ahead its almost comical. People seem upset that Apple got something right pretty much first time which all the other manufacturers still can't do. Just look at the mess that is Windows Mobile. Reply
  • Obrut - Friday, July 18, 2008 - link

    Robin,

    1. I'm talking about N95 8GB and not N95, there is a quite big difference. But nevermind - you can pick N96. It even has built-in TV-tuner.
    2. I never said N95 supports 4G. I was talking about the differences between North America and Europe for example. 4G is for my laptop and stationary phone.

    Besides I never said that iPhone is a bad phone at all.
    Reply
  • Obrut - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    For the clumsiness - I agree.

    4G is available here (Bulgaria), though we're the only country in Europe with 4G coverage (yet). I mean nation-wide WiMAX coverage over 4G equipment.

    As for the install base - compare the number of Symbian applications over iPhone apps...

    A-GPS - I've been using this for long time and I can't even imagine that the first iPhone is lacking this. So A-GPS - no news, welcome to the club.

    Accelerometer - welcome to the club also.

    Photo - 2 MP means no camera at all

    Flash support - this feature is mandatory for decent browsing experience.

    Battery - how usefull is a phone which you should recharge twice a day (in case you're using it for more than talk and that's the big idea with iPhone)

    FM Radio, Java, etc... just read this: http://www.gsmarena.com/compare.php3?idPhone2=2088...">http://www.gsmarena.com/compare.php3?idPhone2=2088...
    Reply
  • rubbahbandman - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Epic review. This phone looked like a steal at $200, but man it really is spendy once you do the math for those 2 year contracts. For now, I think I'll hold off until I can find out what's in store with the Google phone. Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    There will be no "google phone". You'll just get whatever the various manufacturers do with android and last but not least the telcos feed you - no magic google bullet that will make everything glorious.

    And yet, there are already dark clouds on the android horizon. Open source they said? Why is it that only a handful developers under NDA get SDK updates and the rest is forced to use outdated, bugged versions?

    More about it and a petition can be found here:
    http://tinyurl.com/6hn7m7">http://tinyurl.com/6hn7m7

    With that in mind, android could face some major delays... big chance for nokia (and their newly founded, open symbian alliance) and apple to steamroll over googles android parade before it really took off.
    Reply
  • shortylickens - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    With the phone, that is. The article is exactly what I've come to expect from Anand, nothing less.

    I will admit I am normally an Apple hater. I lady I know at work made her husband get her this as soon as it came out. She was showing it off to everybody on Monday. I admit it was pretty darn sweet and had a ton of useful features. When I went to the AT&T site and saw I could get the 8 gig version for 200 bucks I was astonished.
    Of course, AT&T will probably have some way to leech a ridiculous amount of money from me with the service, but the phone itself is great and a really good deal right now.
    Reply
  • Bremen7000 - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Maybe the webpage load times are specific to your area? Ars's findings were significantly more in favor of 3G: http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/iphone3g-r...">http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/iphone3g-r...

    And I agree with the above posters, you should know better than to complain about a specific carrier's reception without heavily qualifying it.
    Reply
  • GTaudiophile - Wednesday, July 16, 2008 - link

    I refuse to buy one until I can use it (legit) with T-Mobile. Reply
  • Arc 0V - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    Same iPhone should be on more carriers than AT&T but oh well. On the other hand I love my Verizon service. I travel a lot with family and friends, and my cousin and a friend have T-Mobile and the other has AT&T, and I can not count how many times I have service when they don't (wow lots of ands). By travel I mean like out of state constantly either driving or flying. Reply

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