Technical Difficulties

Like a normal tech podcast, but broken.

This week's topic is navigation apps. From Gabe and Erik's earliest dedicated GPS devices to today's location-enabled everything, they break down the good and the not-so-good in today's market.

The Time Gabe’s Wife Almost Divorced Him On the Way to Ikea

In-car navigation has come a long way in the last decade or so. Gabe’s Garmin Street Pilot 2720 is a classic example of the big, heavy, dedicated GPS that straps to your car’s dashboard. Erik’s Palm OS based Garmin iQue 3600 was an early attempt at streamlining the device and expanding beyond basic navigation functionality, but the cost was almost unusably low battery life.


Part of the reason I thought the iQue was so cool (in 2003) was that it pointed the way towards increasing convergence in mobile devices. Let me know if these capabilities sound familiar to you:

  • Maps and Navigation (obviously)
  • MP3 Player
  • 320 x 480 pixel color LCD touchscreen
  • Productivity apps like calendar, contacts, and a to-do list
  • Third party applications for ebooks, games, and a bunch of other useful stuff

Garmin iQue 3600

The thing was basically trying to be an iPhone without the phone (or data, or the web, or usability, or battery life). There were limitations, but this was nearly four years before the iPhone’s unveiling, in a package that was basically the same size and weight (about .4″ larger in each dimension and about .4 oz heavier). It may not have been successful, but it sure was ambitious.

It’s easy to take for granted how much power your run-of-the-mill smartphone gives you in this day and age.

Car Navigation in the Modern Era

The field has both multiplied and evened out for smartphone navigation apps in the last few years. Here are a few key players:

Navigon TomTom Garmin USA Google Maps Apple Maps

“So I guess I’m going 24/30ths of the speed limit”

While accuracy has improved in recent versions, the GPS can never be any smarter than the driver.

There are a bunch of ways you can attach a phone to your vehicle. Erik has had great success with ProClip USA, which offers a wide variety of mounts and clips for pretty much any mobile device and vehicle.

Erik’s Previous Car Integration

Live in the Now

While I no longer drive around with an iPad mini as my car computer like the image above, I have had continued success using the Satechi Bluetooth MediaRemote velcroed to a non-airbag-obstructing location on my steering wheel.

Yes, I took this picture with an iPad

With judicious use of the handy on-off switch, its battery lasts about six months. The remote is very helpful at keeping my eyes on the road as I manically shuffle through Spotify playlists on the desolate highways of western Nevada.

Satechi Bluetooth MediaRemote

I’ve also moved on from ProClip’s excellent car mounts to the more minimal Kenu Airframe which works even with bulkier iPhone cases (in width, not depth – the Mophie Juice Pack Air is pushing it).

Kenu Airframe

Its low profile, rotating vent-grip, and easy removal makes it useful for taking on trips in a rental car. You’ll probably want to turn off airflow to the vent it’s mounted on, since your car’s climate control can make your phone ice cold or even hot enough for it to turn itself off.

Also useful is the Griffin BlueTrip for routing phone audio to vehicles (like mine) that lack Bluetooth Audio integration. Its one big failing is that the microphone is both greedy and terrible, so you’ll find yourself fumbling to connect via your car’s hands-free connection when somebody calls.

Griffin BlueTrip

The ability to disable the Bluetooth phone audio profile while keeping the media audio profile on a per-device basis is one of the things I really like about Android. It makes disabling the BlueTrip’s microphone as easy as checking a box.

Gabe’s shiny new Acura can even talk to his iPhone using the AcuraLink Connect app.

Going Farther Afield

There are lots of options in the outdoor GPS app space, and it’s no longer totally necessary to rely on Gabe’s old, clunky (but waterproof and self-powered) Garmin 60CS.


Erik likes using MotionX GPS, but any heavy use of the screen backlight and location services can drain your phone’s batteries quickly. You may want to consider attaching a Mophie Juice Pack to get through a day on the trail.

If you’ve got a non-case-mounted external battery pack, you might also appreciate the waterproof, shockproof line of Lifeproof Cases to keep that fancy smartphone of yours from croaking in the great outdoors.

“It does seem to know that I’m still stuck in the tunnel”

Waaaaayyy farther afield

There’s a whole category of GPS apps out there targeted at aviators. The things that make an iOS device great for navigating in a car make it even better for navigating in an aircraft, where there are a whole lot more maps to deal with and getting lost can have some pretty serious consequences.

Many Charts A Nice Size Extended

Tiny screens are tough to use when bouncing around in turbulence, but the iPad is a much better fit when looking at complex aeronautical charts. iPad mini is the perfect size for small cockpits and kneeboards, while the iPad Air can fit on the yokes of many light civil aircraft.

My iPad mini enjoyed the F-5 much more than the Volvo

My app of choice is ForeFlight, which has some really great capabilities. If you want to know a little more about the app and how I use it, I did a mini-review for MacStories in December 2012.

Social Navigation

Even if we’re anti-social in real life, we like to keep up with our more social friends and family. Here are a few apps that have proven useful in that regard.

“Oh, you checked in! Here’s an acorn.”

Until next week

Well, that’s it for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.