I've owned a BlackBerry smartphone for a while. I'm happy with it, to the point that the iPhone vs. BlackBerry vs. Windows Mobile wars don't interest me. The BlackBerry works just fine.
I was, however, unhappy to find that my cellular provider disabled the phone's built-in GPS. While this issue was remedied with the purchase of a small GPS "puck" that can be connected via Bluetooth, I now must be sure to have both the phone and the puck if I plan on using GPS.
I'm directionally challenged. One thing I liked about living in Denver is that if I knew where the mountains were, I knew which way was west. Once I left the Rockies, I found that printing directions from MapQuest or Google Maps helped me get where I was going. Of course, this isn't a perfect solution. I've been undone by getting the wrong address, making a wrong turn or having the meeting location change while I was en route.
Between these experiences and the fact that I'm constantly traveling to different locations and customer sites, I decided that I needed a GPS. Plus, using them in rental cars sold me on the functionality.
Initially I wasn't sure which device I wanted, but then I discovered that my phone could run GPS mapping software. It talks to my puck and uses the cellular data network to access the back-end servers that do the heavy lifting of calculating directions and routing. The phone gives both audio and on-screen directions to the addresses that I enter. Although I can only use this combination in cellular coverage areas, and I cannot be talking on the phone when it needs to use the data link to access the back-end servers, I find that this accounts for 95 percent of my usage patterns, so it works fine.
My first software package was a monthly subscription plan. The directions were accurate and I was happy with it. Eventually though, I realized that there was only one audio option--the phone’s built-in speaker. It was audible, but because cars can be noisy, I wanted to route the audio through the car stereo. (If you have an older vehicle that has a cassette tape player, you can get a cassette adapter and run the audio from your phone’s built-in jack through the car stereo. Otherwise, you can use small radio transmitters that will broadcast over FM to your car radio.)
Unfortunately, my software didn't support audio from the phone's built-in jack, only the built-in speaker. And after multiple interactions with support, I learned that the solution provider didn't plan on changing this any time soon. I was hardly the only one seeking this function. The provider's support forums were overflowing with posts from frustrated users/soon-to-be former customers who wanted this functionality added. I too wound up turning to a new GPS software solution. Now I can route the audio through the car stereo or an earpiece.
As I think about all the things I can do from my phone--make calls, check e-mail, play MP3s, update my calendar, use GPS mapping software, browse the Internet, ssh to servers--I realize that we are living in the future. Wil Wheaton (you might know him from his books, his blog, the movie "Stand by Me" or the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation") explains it well when he talks about attending a MacWorld conference many years ago:
"... Tim (Jenison, who's considered the father of desktop video) had this little slab of RAM that was about the size of a credit card. 'One day,' he said, 'you'll be able to put a whole album on something this size.'
"… the way Tim presented this thing to us — not like it was something awesome that could happen but that it was something awesome that would happen — made quite an impression on me. It was at that moment that I became truly aware of how rapidly the world was changing, and how lucky I was to be living in it.
"I wasn't mature enough to consider it then, but I wonder if people have felt the way I did throughout history, just for different reasons: mechanical flight, telegraphs, telephones, atomic energy and
weapons, home computers, stuff like that. ...”
Even in our jobs, where on a daily basis we work with technologies that were not long ago the stuff of fiction (virtualization, Capacity on Demand, hot swap of server components and live partition mobility, to name a few), it's still exciting to think of what tomorrow will bring. A decade from now, who knows what amazing things we'll be able to do with our servers and our phones?