Friday, February 1, 2013

Satellites and Vespas, iPhones and Nuvis, Senas and Me

I've been experimenting with the maps application on the iPhone 5.

I know that Apple got flack for some poor execution on it so I wasn't expecting much.

What I am finding is that in fact the turn-by turn instructions are quite decent and so is the display.

Even better is the Bluetooth implementation.

So far I'm only testing it in the car, but my new Sena SMH10 helmet headset should work the same way as with my Honda Civic's Bluetooth.

I get the voice prompts loud and clear on the car stereo, the display on the phone is as legible as my Garmin Nuvi, the iPhone multi-tasks nicely, i.e. it can navigate, play music and make and receive calls simultaneously without hanging any of the three functions.

The one function that does hang (or at any rate gets superseded, so to speak), is music playing through an app other than the iPod app on the phone.

For instance, suppose I am listening to music streamed by Toronto's Jazz FM radio station 91.1 via their iPhone app (which is excellent, by the way).

Everything is great, I get the music, and, when necessary, I get the voice prompts for the navigation, and all the while the screen shows where I am on the road.  The issue arises if I make or receive a phone call.  The phone call supersedes the music and the voice navigation prompts.  The problem is that when I terminate the call, music returns as do the voice prompts, but, the music that plays is whatever was last played by the iPod app.

To get the streaming music to come back, I have to access the iPhone, stop the iPod player, go back to the Jazz FM app, stop and restart the streaming.  None of that is safe while driving a car, I doubt it's even possible on a motor bike.

The navigation function recalculates nicely, though the voice prompt doesn't announce "recalculating" but the display does show it.

As far as I can tell, the shortcomings (other than the streaming issue mentioned above) are:
  • There isn't much you can do to customize the Apple map app compared to my Garmin Nuvi (such as display options, avoidances, time vs route, etc.);

  • The voice prompt is sometimes not quite naggy enough on an urban expressway with complex interchanges (i.e no "in 250 meters keep left" prompts, so you need to keep an eye on the display to avoid the suspense).   For instance on a recent trip to Ottawa, the voice prompt didn't give any prompts at the junction of the expressways to Toronto and Ottawa, whereas the Garmin Nuvi was quite helpful, telling me " in 400 meters, keep right" while Siri was silent.  The display made the direction clear though.

  • Other times the voice prompt is needlessly verbose.  Once the Ottawa-Toronto junction was cleared, the Garmin announced "continue 140 kilometers".  Siri said, quite unhelpfully, "continue on autoroute Félix Leclerc".  She managed to mangle this as she does most street names, calling Félix, felliks.  Siri is smarter than Brittany (the name we have given to our Garmin gal, since we chose the UK voice as a preference), because Siri knows to say the name of the highway and Brittany doesn't.  However, I add that Siri did this 'unhelpfully' because it was unhelpful information, particularly before the junction, since none of the overhead signs or the highway signs make any reference to "Félix Leclerc".  As far as I know, only the Quebec Department of Transport knows that this section of highway 40 is named for one of Quebec's most celebrated authors.  Apparently they told Siri, but no one else.

    Brittany was then content to let me listen to some really nice jazz, while Siri insisted (to the point of annoyance) on repeating, at what seemed like two-minute intervals, always as unhelpfully, "continue on autoroute felliks leclerc". She did this even though the only possible alternative I had while she was telling me this was to put the BMW X3's all-wheel drive on the adventure setting and try to perform a Steve McQueen by running up the embankment beyond the right-side ditch, in the hope of getting sufficiently airborne to clear the deer fence and set myself free to roam into the adjoining farmer's field.

    What the hell was she thinking?  I asked her, but she didn't get my drift.  "I don't understand what truck are you singing about" she said.  I then asked Brittany, but she wouldn't break her silence.  Mutual respect among thinking devices, I suppose.  Thank the lord the BMW didn't join the conversation, because it could have.  That would have freaked me out.

    This silliness continued until about ten kilometers past the Ontario border.  Once in Ontario, Siri changed her tune slightly to "Continue west on TC".  It took me a good five kilometers to decipher that useless tidbit.  Finally it dawned on me... pc? teepee? dc? ec? tc?... OMG TC!!!! I'm on the Trans-Canada Highway...

    Siri finally settled in for the drive and left me alone until I reached Ottawa.  She must have sensed my annoyance because she never again repeated useless prompts.
All the silliness aside, the iPhone's turn-by-turn navigation is so good that I'm debating whether to go ahead with a planned GPS purchase.

What I was hoping to find was a waterproof GPS with Bluetooth turn-by-turn prompts.

That seems only available in the Zumo series which is very pricey.

I think the iPhone is already so good that there's no point spending all the extra cash on the Zumo.

I'll just use a combination of my existing Garmin Nuvi and the iPhone since I have RAM mounts and power for both devices. What the iPhone currently lacks, the Garmin has, and vice versa.

I still need to find out if the iPhone uses network data to navigate or not. If it does that could be what makes the Zumo cheaper for my planned summer road trip with both US and Canadian legs.  Some say that the iPhone stops performing as soon as it looses cell signal.  Others say that it continues to give voice prompts, only losing route display.  Frankly, my testing hasn't progressed that far.

Any thoughts?  I encourage you to use the comments feature on this post to add your two cents (or shekels, drachmas, kroners, or whatever you have that passes for useless change).


Unknown said...


Your iPhone has a GPS antenna BUT it needs cell service, thus you have to use up data to get "the maps". Of course once it has the map, it is good until you move along and then it needs "more" of the map, then it will use up data again to get the "revised" map.

I believe the TOM TOM app for iOS you have the maps already installed in the memory of the iPhone, thus it MAY NOT need to be attached to the cell network but the app costs around $100. I also hear that your iPhone battery may dwindle down faster.

better to get a new Garmin GPS with bluetooth and use the Zip Lock waterproof method. All of my Garmins are old and the maps are outdated. Next time I'm getting one with "lifetime" maps.

Riding the Wet Coast

SonjaM said...

I don't have two cents to add but thanks for the chuckles. The first thing I did was shutting up Siri. I am a bad listener to begin with but I certainly can't have some computerized pseudo female voice tell me what to do.

On a side note Roland has been using Navigon on his iPhone4s and he's very happy with it.

David Masse said...

Bob, the problem with 90% of the Garmins with Bluetooth, is that they only allow your phone to use the Garmin as a handsfree unit. They don't send the turn-by-turn directions by Bluetooth to the car stereo or a Sena headset. The Zumo does, but man it's expensive.

I have to see if one of the GPS apps for iOS sends the directions out over Bluetooth. If it does, and if it doesn't chew up data, then that might be the best solution.

More homework to do. Then again, plan B is just to keep your Vee or Beemer in sight at all times.

David Masse said...

Sonja, and if you did have two cents, I think they might be illegal now anyway :)

Does Roland get Navigon turn-by-turn directions over Bluetooth to his Sena? Do you know if the Navigon chews up cell data?

As for Siri, I enjoy my budding relationship with her. I'm using Pavlovian techniques with her. I said thank you to her when she performed particularly well, and she answered "No, it is I who thank you!".

SonjaM said...

As long as you don't want to receive traffic news Navigon doesn't chew up cell data, and you only need to download the maps you are likely to use. It's money well spent, and yes it feeds via Bluetooth into his Sena... says Roland.

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