On the road with the iPhone 3G

I spent most of last week in Los Angeles on business. It was almost my first full week with my new iPhone 3G, which actually made my trip a little easier.

Like millions of others around the world, I was anxiously awaiting the release of Apple’s next-generation iPhone, but it wasn’t the promised enterprise functionality that I was looking forward to the most. For me, three things about the revamped iPhone caught my attention–GPS, 3G connectivity, and support for the simultaneously launched MobileMe service.

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the iPhone’s built-in GPS feature was little more than a toy: I would enjoy playing with it and then, once the novelty wore off, I would stop using it. But it turns out to be more than just an amusing diversion–GPS helps me find my appointments, plan my day, and get me to restaurants.

I had one of those portable GPS units in the rental car–I always use one when I travel these days. But for this trip I also tested out the iPhone’s GPS functionality and the integration with the Maps feature. I don’t know why I was surprised, but the iPhone gave me the exact same directions as the in-car GPS.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it made me feel good that the iPhone was giving me the same information as a device that I have trusted for a number of years. If my subconscious plan was to trick the iPhone into giving me bad directions, it didn’t work.

Los Angeles and the surrounding area is spread out, so getting from one place to the other does take some time, especially with traffic. The iPhone 3G’s GPS features helped me when I wasn’t in the car by letting me check how far my next appointment was from my current location and how long it was going to take me to get there. I could then make sure I was out of one meeting and on my way to the other with time to spare.

Here’s another thing that’s quick and handy with GPS: When I walk down a street like Hollywood Boulevard and I want a coffee, I can bring up the map, type in “coffee” or “Starbucks” (or better yet “Tim Horton’s” if I was back in Canada) and the Maps app shows you all the coffee shops around where you are.

MobileMe was another feature I was excited about.

I don’t know about you, but whenever a meeting changed or I needed to add information about a contact, I would usually forget to sync my iPhone to the computer. That could mean, I show up late, early or not at all.

Yes, MobileMe had a rocky start, but by the time I hit L.A., the service worked flawlessly for me. While on the road, I would make adjustments to my schedule for the next day and by the time I got back to the hotel, those changes and additions were already synced to my MacBook Pro. No more double-booking because I forgot to sync.

As for 3G connectivity, Apple warns you that 3G could reduce battery life. It definitely did for me, though I’m not sure if it was 3G or constantly watching the flashing blue GPS blip on my iPhone screen that reduced my battery life.

Whatever the reason, the combination of the two can run your battery dry in no time.

Using the iPhone under normal conditions on the road–checking e-mail and surfing the Web–battery life was respectable, lasting most of the day. Everything would have been fine if I had a car adapter to charge the iPhone while I watched the GPS at work.

3G is certainly speedy. I didn’t realize how much time it took to load a Web page using EDGE–I guess I was probably used to mobile Internet being extremely slow and accepted that. Now I don’t have to.

All told, I love the iPhone 3G and have already recommended it to many of the people that e-mailed me since its release looking for advice. The addition of GPS made the iPhone much more effective for traveling and MobileMe is a godsend.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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