When Technology Just Works

After getting to Bowling Green, Ohio for the the conference I mentioned in Thursday’s rant, I found out that I was only about ten minutes away from a good friend of mine. As I had never been to Bowling Green before, I used my XV6700 and Bluetooth GPS receiver with Mapopolis to guide me and track mileage for reimbursement next week. On the way up, I listened to some Fair Game podcasts in Windows Media Player on the PDA via an FM transmitter on my car’s stereo, while Mapopolis and the GPS guided me safely to the hotel with accurate directions. As I drove, someone called me, Media Player paused itself, and I answered the call on my Bluetooth headset with the press of its button. When done, the call ended, and Media Player resumed right where it left off.

After I got some time away from the conference at the end of the day Thursday, I arranged to visit my friend and his family at their house. As I’d never been there before I was not familiar with the area, he gave me directions, but I decided that I wanted a little technological backup. I fired up Microsoft’s Live Search on the phone, told it to use the GPS, and asked it to generate directions to his house from the current GPS position. It worked perfectly, downloading map data as I drove via the EvDO connection and updating the display with the next turn as I approached it. While it doesn’t do text-to-speech, spoken directions, rerouting in the case of a missed turn, or many other driver-friendly things that Mapopolis does, it definitely shows where navigation technology might be headed in the near future. As wireless data becomes more ubiquitous, things like this will become much more useful and common. I look forward to devices having built-in GPS receivers so the need for a separate receiver is a thing of the past.

I went to his house again after the conference ended on Friday afternoon, this time giving Google Maps for Windows Mobile a try. I found it to be much more clumsy than Live Search; it lacks the finger-friendly features of Live Search which make it simple to locate things with a minimum of typing. The GPS position indicator is small, hard to see, doesn’t indicate the direction of travel, and I found that it often didn’t center on my location automatically after switching from map, to directions, and back again. I do like the large finger-friendly zoom in/out buttons on-screen, which seem easier to use than Live Search’s method of zooming.

The one thing I did notice is that Google often has more current, and much higher resolution satellite imagery than Live does, but Live Search wins in just about every other way in my book. Neither one is a full replacement for dedicated navigation software – yet – but I do see myself using Live Search more than Mapopolis in the future.

Hmm, somehow this became a product mini-review… The point of this post is that my trip was a technological success. My gadgets all just worked with the exception of my laptop and the hotel’s Internet access which never worked. Except for when I was on my friend’s wireless network, the laptop never got used and in retrospect, I could have just left it at home and not had to tote it around the conference. I was able to keep up on e-mail, listen to some fun podcasts, read my RSS feeds via Google Reader, and was able to find new places and meet up with friends because of my PDA, a reliable phone network, and mobile technology that did what it was supposed to do. I was very impressed!

Edit on 2019-11-29: Removed a ton of dead links to products and companies that no longer exist.