Saturday, December 6, 2008

Getting the most out of iPhone Maps and Google Maps. iPhone 3G. The iPhone as a Mobile Office.

Business iPhone users who love being productive and efficient even while on the road eagerly anticipated the GPS functionality of the new iPhone 3G. I was dreaming of a real GPS navigation system that I could use like a Garmin NĂ¼vi (or a TomTom, a Magellan, a Navigon, etc). I saw that other manufacturers have also exploited this opportunity, for example Garmin has released Garmin Mobile XT, a mobile phone software for Blackberrys and Smartphones such as Palm Treo, Samsung Blackjack, Motorola Q, T-Mobile Dash etc.
The bad news is: the iPhone is not quite there yet. 
The good news is: iphone Maps still is a very useful tool in order to navigate yourself through unknown territory and it still is one of the best iPhone business apps. What is more, it comes pre-installed with your iPhone 3G. It's basically like Google Maps on steroids!

In simple terms, iPhone Maps works like this:
- it connects to Google Maps on the internet via a wireless (WiFi) connection or through your mobile provider's (e.g, Vodafone, Rogers, Bell, AT&T etc. depending on your country) mobile data network.
- it uses GPS to determine your current position.
- it creates "directions" from location A to location B. These locations can be manually entered by the user as addresses or pointed to by hand.
- it provides explanatory directions for each deviation of the way, such as "turn right at .... Street" or "take exit 25 and head towards Athens Center"

This is how I use iPhone Maps:
I press the bottom left symbol (the crosshair) to determine my current position. Then I press the Directions button.
The "start" field should be automatically filled with the words "current location". Now I fill in the destination address into the "End" field, such as "18 Akadimias, Athens, Greece".
I can pinch and zoom in the screen to see the map from up close. I can also press the "start" button for the iPhone Maps to give me step by step explanatory directions as in the above example.
Of course, unlike a proper GPS navigation system, iPhone Maps does not give you voice directions. The other downside in comparison to a Garmin, for instance, is that the mobile has to connect to the Internet in order to load the maps from Google. Real GPS navigation systems have the maps in their internal memory.
In order to avoid connecting to the Internet through your mobile data provider (and to possibly incur very costly charges or to deplete a lot of your monthly free data allocated by your coverage plan) a little trick is to zoom the map in to a level that is close enough so you can see where you are going but far enough so that iPhone Maps does not have to reload Google Maps every few seconds. Maps only reconnects to the Internet every time it needs a new portion of the map you are navigating.

Another trick, if you don't plan on connecting to the internet while on the go- for example because you're in a foreign country and don't want to incur extortionate Data Roaming costs- is to download the portion of Google Maps to your iPhone and view them offline.

Please note:
Below instructions require Mac OS X, a WiFi connection, and an iPhone file browser app like AirSharing, MobileStudio (previously "MobileFinder") or Discover.

- If you do have a Mac and an internet connection, but not a wireless one, you will need to create a wireless network with Mac OS X's inbuilt "Create a Computer-to-Computer Network" capability. Go to the wireless network icon in Mac OS X, press "Create Network", name your network, and press OK (I have not gone into any depth about setting up a WEP password for it).

First of all, assuming you use AirSharing, open AirSharing on your iPhone, read the IP address it give you at the bottom (for instance and in your Mac's Finder, go to the menu item "Go" and then "Connect to Server".
Enter the given IP address into "server address". Now your iPhone is connected to your Mac wirelessly. Do not exit AirSharing
Go to Google Maps on your Mac's favorite browser (e.g. Safari or Firefox), press "Get Directions", enter your starting point and your destination.
Press "Print" and in the print window will open. Now press the "PDF" button in the lower left hand corner of the Print window and "Save as PDF". Save this PDF directly into your iPhone (by selecting it in the "Shared" section of your Finder's side panel). 

This is a good idea when you're abroad. I navigated myself through Montreal on some occasions when I visited Canada recently without actively using iPhone Maps or having to connect to Google Maps. This is another great example of how the iPhone as a Mobile Office can increase your efficiency and productivity when you're on the go.

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