Not too long ago traveling by car in a new area meant consulting unwieldy print maps, stopping to ask locals for directions or even just making educated guesses and hoping you eventually reach your destination.
But with the proliferation of devices that receive GPS signals, the game has radically changed.
At their most basic level, GPS devices use these signals to calculate and display their current latitude and longitude. But this alone won’t do travelers much good, so it’s fortunate that just about any GPS you’ll find at the store can do much much more. They display detailed street maps in graphical format, provide turn-by-turn directions in a variety of soothing voices and even highlight points of interest including lodging, restaurants, gas and attractions.
But is this great new type of gadget already obsolete?
Despite their usefulness, dedicated GPS devices are now competing against another gadget that for most of us is already in our pockets: the smartphone.
Android phones use a free Google Maps app and iOS devices run either Apple Maps (which has had some well-publicized shortcomings) or a number of alternative GPS and Map apps for navigation.
How Many People Use Smartphone Navigation vs. Dedicated GPS?
Several critics, including Richard Read of Motor Authority, have declared the standalone GPS unit to be “dead,” pointing to market research indicating that among a large sample of smartphone users, 80% reported using their phones for navigation, and 89% said this was causing them to use standalone units less.
He also points out the increasing rate of smartphone adoption in the past couple of years to paint a bleak future for standalone GPSs.
But What’s the Difference Between a GPS Device and Using iPhone/Google Maps Navigation?
If you own a smartphone, relying on it exclusively for navigation can be very convenient. But it is worth still the time to consider your particular needs and understand the various differences between standalone GPS devices and smartphones.
First, one key difference is that standalone GPS devices actually store their own map data, compared to a smartphone which is cloud-based and requires a connection to download the maps as you go. That means that if you don’t have a connection, whether it be 3G, 4G or Wifi, you’ll get a blank screen. This shouldn’t be a major concern, but it is something to keep in mind.
On a related note, however, the steady downloading of map data on smartphones eats up both battery life and data, which can be a disadvantage. If you’re driving to a new establishment on the other side of town, this would be no problem, but a cross-country road trip would be a different story.
(There are a few potential workarounds, however, such as calculating your route on Wifi and then turning off your data before departing, but it is not going to be perfect. There are also some apps that can download maps for offline use.)
Standalone GPS devices, having their own map data locally, do not require any sort of data connection to function. You do, however, need to be aware of map updates that periodically become available. Smartphones, on the other hand, are updated automatically since they pull their data from the cloud.
Key Features to Look for
Other questions you should ask when determining your navigation tool include what travel time formats you prefer, how the device reroutes, how easily you can search for a destination, whether or not you mind tying up your phone for the whole journey and last but not least, how the devices physically attach to your dashboard.
The fate of the standalone GPS is not a unique story, as we see the same thing happening with many other dedicated devices such as music and DVD players.
Read says that “it only makes sense that such devices would be supplanted by roving computers capable of doing many things — and of being adapted to do others.”
Do you agree? Or do you still see a place for standalone GPSs and other one-function pieces of technology?
And what do you personally prefer for your navigation needs?
Andrew Walsh is the owner and editor of Social Web Q and A. He is a freelance writer, academic librarian and web entrepreneur. Check out his book Savvy for the Social Web.
photo credit: fangol