Thursday, August 30, 2012

iPad Navigation & More

We started this last four month road trip with a brand new iPad and some untried apps. Here is what we have learned so far. You should know that we have been navigating for years with the Delorme Mapping products on the laptop.  Patty is a 5th degree black belt in Delorme.

“What’s the name of that mountain over there, Honey?”
“That’s Picklers Peak, elevation 3457 MSL”
“What’s that on top?”
“Radio station WGGT, country for all of West Virginia”  “I think the road up there is a little steep for an Airstream,” she adds, getting a little tired of the gratuitous geography quiz.

She did all that and more from a little laptop desk anchored in front of her co-pilot seat.  That is, she DID until a friend with experience in ergonomics in airplane cockpits and more common sense than I pointed out that an airbag deployment would likely cut my lovely wife in half.  The desk was removed and enter the iPad with a whole set of new navigation applications.

Only the iPads with cellular capability have the GPS thingy.  You need that.
Cellular connection completes the package but you can navigate without it. (We used Verizon and feel it has the best coverage in the places we travel)

Lots of applications make use of your position to provide useful information; some apps are resident on the pad and others work only if you are connected to cellular.

The Google maps program has up-to-date maps, lets you plan a route while on WiFi or cellular and saves it for use when you are not “connected.”  Maps has a “traffic” view which will show you congestion not only in city environments but in other surprising places.  Yesterday we passed an accident in the opposite lane backing up traffic for miles.  When we started seeing taillights on our side a few miles later, Lovely Co-pilot confirmed that it was indeed showing up on the map, but it was transitory, probably that accordion thing.  It disappeared before Lovely Co-pilot could plot a course avoiding it…
The “you Need A Map” application is resident on your iPad (after a long download), knows where you are and lays down a “bread crumb” trail you can save and play with later.  You don’t plan a route with this one, but you can follow along watching your little blue symbol moving on the map.  You need this one when you are not connected and…say it with me …”You Need A Map.”

The “Allstays” application maps all the campsites in the country along with important things like, rest areas, Walmarts, your favorite stores, low overpasses, truck stops and lots more.  They are presented on a map with your position in the middle.  You can use the filter to show just the features you are interested in at the moment.  When on cellular you can call up the campsite’s webpage, see reviews and even pictures right from the application. Touch a button and “Allstays” plans your route to the selected feature and brings them up in Google maps.  Very handy because with the route selection you get millage and a driving time estimate.  We use this a lot. 
WARNING NOTE:  Always read the direction segment of the selected campsite’s web page.  Often there are better directions and dire warnings about the consequences of ignoring them.

There are other campground finding apps: “Campwhere” lists only public campsites, but missed a great one we used in Michigan. “I Camp Here” has both public and private.  Both seem to be waiting for users to fill in the blanks in their database and are often missing the basic information (like how many sites). We list them as “not ready for prime time” but keep them on the pad for cross reference.

Soo, you are whizzing down the Interstate and are wondering about lunch, or a tire shop or Kinkos.  “iExit” is the application that knows where you are and what’s within a short distance of the next exits.  It seldom lets you follow a two mile trip through town to find the subway advertised on the highway sign  AND it provides a handy detailed map of the area around the exit which aides navigation around Malls and other cluttered interchanges. The featured stores are shown on the map.
Several states now have “Pocket Ranger” apps or an equivalent.  These have lots of information on camping and sightseeing in the state and will link you seamlessly with the appropriate site to book a campsite. 
We have tried some other applications and are still finding others. 

 These are working well for us right now for basic Navigation.  Others everyone should consider:

A weather App.  Your choice, there are several.  We use the weather Channel. 

“My Radar”  Isn’t it cool to have onboard weather radar just like a real pilot? Remember when bag cell phones first came out and worried kids would watch CNN and relay tornado tracks to you, or the local radio would provide up  to the second info, but you needed a map and a good co-pilot to find those threatened counties?  Now you are the Master of the Universe and all the ugly climatological phenomena that implies.  Several free apps provide quick updating radar.  Just don’t leave it on when you don’t need it because those repaints will suck your download allocation down quick.  Flip your “Maps” over to Satellite view and it will SLOWLY repaint your map and help you find a big empty church parking lot or other open place to wait out the wind and rain in an area free of falling tree limbs.

“Gas Buddy” knows where you are and seeks out the best reported gas prices.  It is not unusual to save 10 –15 cents a gallon.  If you have loyalty cards with say Loves, Costco or Sams, the Allstays program will help you find one  (use the filter feature.)
We dispense with gas receipts by using “Gas Record” to record purchases and do the math.  We do this on the phone; the iPad isn’t always running, but the phone is usually handy.  Reports can be generated if you REALLY  want to know how much you are spending on gas. You can also see your gas purchases on a map if you can’t remember exactly where that cheap place along I-65 with the RV lanes and the attached restaurant was.

And, Oh Yes.  Do you  remember those little sweaks, pings and whirlly noises that accompanied the Gameboy being tortured in the backseat on those long trips with the kids?  I have found that if I don’t keep Lovely Copilot occupied searching for Thai Food in an outdoor setting with all 5 star reviews, she lapses into GAME MODE and the sounds of decks shuffling, piles of blocks collapsing and magical transformations of colored icons into pyramids fill the air.

“Whatever happened to the art of conversation, admiring the passing landscape, wondering what that historical marker might have said…” he asks.
“On course, on Glide path…shut up and drive.”


  1. Thanks, answered all my questions and more.
    After reading this I can't wait to get the Ipad!
    It will be hard not to start planning a trip, especially in that we will be able to return to the wimsical way of traveling, but instead of wondering where the road will take us and being surprised we will be able to change plans midstream, without that drawer of outdated maps and CG directories. By the way the answer your last statement is take off the games or at least block while the navigation system is on. Make sure the conversations don't put you on the wrong side of the road;) Dave

  2. Thanks, saved a lot of time not having to search for the right app for the new Ipad mini I just picked up, now have to learn how to use it so that I can help the navigator;) actually she wanted to know where the book of directions were and I found a pdf manual to mail to her. Now I have to read it to stay ahead of her.
    Like you said only the allstays cost so I will continue using the free allstays online, we research before we leave on a trip.