Pondering the 21st Century

I’ve been playing with the all new Google Maps app on my iPhone. There are some enhancements I’d like to see before I switch to it exclusively, but overall it’s excellent, especially for a version 1.0 app.  You know how they say never buy a car in its first year of production?  The same applies to software.  Both are often filled with bugs and glitches that haven’t quite been ironed out yet.  (Unless it’s Microsoft, in which case they’re never ironed out.)

Almost anything you can do with Google Maps through a web browser, you can do through the Google Maps app.  Almost.  I would like to see the ability to plan a route with multiple stops, especially for a bike trip.  But if I want to go to a particular place, I just need to type in the name, and the power of Google will find the address for me.  Or if I’m hungry, I can search for a restaurant, with a fairly good chance that the results will be accurate and not the 15 minute side trip to the end of a dark, dead end street my TomTom took me on once.  I would like to see a “night mode” like most GPSs and the MotionX nav app I’ve been using have, as well as the ability to see live traffic data while navigating somewhere rather than only in map mode.  So far I’ve been using whichever app is best suited for the particular trip I’m taking.

It’s gotten me thinking about joining the 21st century and using my iPhone on the bike.  I carry it with me, of course, but I mean actually using it en route, primarily for navigation.  Easy access to shoot photos or video might be nice, too, though not a primary motivation.  Bluetooth, however, would be a major benefit.  Again, I’m thinking mainly of having spoken directions sent straight to my helmet, rather than phone calls or music, although both would be theoretically possible as well.  And once I have Bluetooth going, for just a few dollars more I could get a second Bluetooth unit for a passenger intercom, or a friend riding their own bike near me.

So I’ve gone ahead and ordered a RAM Mount cradle holder for my iPhone.  It can replace my GPS mount for my TomTom, and I can power it off the bike with my existing cables and cigarette lighter plug setup.  I was somewhat skeptical of this design at first, being a simple spring loaded X, but there’s an impressive video on the web site of this mount going through some serious vibration testing – the kinds of sharp ups and downs you get on a motorcycle – and the iPhone, even without the rubber case mine has, didn’t budge a bit. That’s what sold me. I’ve been using it in my car for the past week or so, and it works great – better than the generic mount I’ve been using, which is perfectly adequate but not quite this good.  I may consider picking up a second one of these so I can use them in each vehicle.

For now – well, not RIGHT now, being winter and all – I’m just going to try the iPhone on the bike as-is.  I’ve gotten myself used to not using spoken directions on the bike, so it won’t be an issue to keep using it the way I’ve been using the GPS.  I do still have some concerns.  Will I still be able to operate it with my gloves on?  Will I still be able to see the screen in direct sunlight?  If it passes these tests, I’ll ponder adding a Bluetooth set to my helmet – either the Sena SMH5 or SMH10 most likely.  The SMH5 is likely all I need, since the advantages of the SMH10 won’t necessarily be of use to me for my kind of riding.  I could also get the SMH5, and if I find I really do want the added features, buy the SMH10 and keep the SMH5 for a passenger or riding partner to use. But that’s pretty far down the road.

But I’m not throwing out the old TomTom.  In fact, even if the iPhone on the bike works out wonderfully for me, I intend to bring it with me on my longer trips regardless.  Why?  Because the TomTom doesn’t require any cell signal from the outside world to function.  While I was on the Canadian border in Vermont, I was notified of an exorbitant data fee outside the US, and I intend to travel in Canada next year (I will need to buy Canadian maps for the TomTom first).  And these phones can sometimes be fragile, despite my best efforts at protecting them. It’s good to have a backup, especially if I’m relying on GPS navigation.

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