Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

iPhone vs. GPS Device or why I still haven't bought a GPS

You really could argue that I already have a GPS device since that ability is built into my iPhone, but with prices crashing all around, it is enticing when you see a GPS for $49.95 from Walmart, to go ahead a stick one of those things on windshield of my car. Like most things electronic, the GPS folks keeping adding features to their devices so that they claim to do everything except wash your car. But how well do they really work in real world situations?

Now, before you get all huffy, remember I live in the wide open spaces of the West. I can usually see generally where I am going. I don't have huge trees lining every road. I have also driven almost every paved road in Arizona and Utah and most of the dirt roads. I can drive almost anywhere in either state without looking at a GPS or consulting my iPhone. But then there is the issue of the alternate route. If you are trying to make an appointment half way across the state of Arizona, you might be driving 300 miles and every few minutes saved is crucial.

But, you say, we are genealogists not attorneys, we don't have any pressure or appointments to worry about. We just sit in libraries or play on the Internet. Why do we care about iPhones or GPS or any of the stuff? Yeah, well, you do have point. But there is always the allure of the new gadget and GPS can hardly be considered new by now. Most of us have been subjected to that amazingly annoying, "Turn left and next intersection" at least once or twice. Here is the crux of the matter. No matter how sophisticated these silly machines get, they really can't see the overturned semi-truck in front of you and have no idea why you are turning right instead of left.

Let's just say that most of my children seem to have the technology in places where you can't avoid getting lost, like Pennsylvania and North Carolina and even Florida. In Texas one time the GPS told me to stop and let the children out for school, when we were in a cul-de-sac. I kept looking around for something that looked like a school and finally my granddaughter said she knew where we were and directed me about a mile away to the real school. So even the best of the GPS devices aren't foolproof. There is always the current TV commercial showing the GPS saying "Turn left" as the car goes over the cliff.

Now, why am I writing about this now? Because of the ad from Walmart obviously. But really because we just got back from another episode of try to find your way around Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. So my wife is the navigator, sitting there with the iPhone and Google Maps and we have my son in back seat with his Android phone and the GPS stuck to the front window. Guess what? None of them agree. Of course we can't argue with the deaf lady in the GPS, but there is a rather long conversation going on between the iPhone and the Android phone. Most of the discussion started when the GPS told me to exit the Freeway and the only Exit went to a toll road that I didn't want to be on. My son then indicated that his Android had not been set to avoid toll roads. Meanwhile my wife kept telling me when to turn. Well, it turned out that both the Android and the iPhone worked a whole lot more accurately than the simple minded GPS. My wife did not have to keep recalculating, she could just tell me to turn at the next light.

I guess I was not overly impressed with the GPS, but of course there is one major problem. I might get arrested for using my cell phone while driving if I use the iPhone for directions. How many accidents do you think are caused by GPS devices telling drivers to turn? If my wife isn't in the car, then I really do have to stop occasionally and find the location I am looking for on a map, Arizona or no Arizona and I really do think, after  a lot of experience, the iPhone (or Android) really does a better job of finding obscure places than the GPS devices. As they say, your results may vary.

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