It seems like it was only a few years ago when cell phones began to find their way into the pockets and purses of the mainstream population. In reality, it's been more like a decade and a half. Who can ever forget the Motorola's StarTAC clamshell flip phone which debuted in 1996 and set the world into a frenzy over flip phones? It was small, sleek and resembled something out of a James Bond flick.
Times have obviously changed. Cell phones have gradually become smaller, loaded with more features and even more colorful -- the StarTAC and rival phones were often black or gray. With the advent of the MP3 player (around the same time in 1996), the two technologies seemed destined to collide.
These days, technology has evolved to the point where imagination is the only thing slowing the gadget world down. Yet it seems like even our imaginations are running more and more rampant. The result: smartphones.
In the give-it-to-me-now world of communications, smartphones have replaced cell phones, MP3 players, global positioning systems (GPS), personal data assistants (PDA) and in some cases, even computers. That's because phones like the Apple iPhone can do it all.
The iPhone truly is the essence of a smartphone. Good looks, user-friendly interface and capabilities beyond the imagination of most who wield one on a daily basis are many of the attractive attributes that have made Apple's new little gem so popular. Full Internet capabilities, e-mail, GPS, and of course an integrated iPod are just some of the features packed into each iPhone. And for the last several years, independent companies have been able to develop applications (apps) that take full advantage of these features and more.
In this article we will look at iPhone applications available for your car. We know that you're probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Any app on an iPhone is accessible in the car." However, these 10 apps are specifically designed around motor vehicle operation. They cover a wide range of features and functions. Some are practical while others are just downright fun. So here are, in no particular order, the top 10 car-related iPhone apps.
Let's face it: Right now, the world's economy is in the proverbial toilet and the need for penny pinching has risen to new heights. That, coupled with the world population's ever-increasing carbon footprint, has given way to increasing efforts in alternate transportation. iPhone users can now do their part by using Carticipate, a free rideshare application downloadable from iTunes.
Carticipate brings fellow commuters together into a large social network of individuals looking to save money on fuel while also contributing to the environment by emitting less CO2 into the air in the form of emissions.
Carticipate users can search for ride locations near their cities of residence or business travel, and the sites aren't limited to the United States. International users have the same capabilities as their U.S. counterparts, and since the iPhone works all around the world, the application can be configured in English, German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish.
As the Carticipate network grows, the utility of the application is sure to have long-term benefits. Carticipate doubles as a social network as users are most likely to have similar concerns including environmental interests.
Up next, find out how your iPhone can save you money at the pump.
Fuel prices have become a point of contention among the world's commuters. As recently as November 2011, the price of crude oil topped $100 and analysts were predicting that the price of gas would soon be back to $4 per gallon. But no matter how bad gas prices get, you can always find the lowest prices, no matter where you are, with iGasUp.
For just $2.99, iPhone users can download the iGasUp application and have updated gas station locations and fuel prices at their fingertips. The app gives users the 10 closest gas stations based on the phone's current location. iGasUp uses information derived from Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) -- the same entity that provides price data for AAA, Sirius Satellite Radio and GPS companies such as Garmin.
iGasUp boasts a network of more than 110,000 filling stations across the U.S. Once a driver uses his or her iPhone to pull up the closest 10 gas stations, the information can be sorted by cheapest or closest. The prices are updated frequently and each has a time stamp that indicates the freshness of the price. Users can then plot their course to the filling station of their choice by using the interactive Maps found on the iPhone.
Can your iPhone really prevent you from getting a speeding ticket? Find out on the next page.
Have you ever driven down the road only to have an oncoming vehicle flashing its lights as you approach? Chances are someone is trying to warn you of a speed trap. If you have an iPhone, you won't have to rely on these visual signals from other drivers. With Trapster, you can scan your area for any known speed traps, police hang outs, speed cameras or even stop-light cameras.
Trapster displays your location on a map using the iPhone's WiFi location capabilities. Reported speed traps, which users enter into the Trapster's network database, pop up along your route. Trapster's settings allow users to setup their iPhones to give voice alerts of approaching speed traps and the dynamic radar feature compensates for a driver's speed and direction in radar to relay accurate warnings. Signal cameras and police traps show up on the display as icons for easy recognition. Although not required, users are encouraged to join the Trapster network. Registered users can then receive text messages for real time police reporting and enter new speed trap locations. Over time, the Trapster software recognizes credible reports and dismisses ones that may have been entered falsely.
With a network of more than 330,000 users worldwide, nearly two-thirds of those being iPhone owners, the Trapster network has reported more than 5 million speed traps worldwide as of November 2011. It seems that Trapster has replaced the CB radio as the best method of radar detection -- with the exception of illegal radar detection devices. And it's free, too.
Do you have any idea how "green" you drive? Confused by this question? Maybe you should read the next page.
More and more vehicles are coming equipped with onboard data centers that measure everything from the vehicle's fuel efficiency to average speed. If you don't happen to have these features in your vehicle, fear not. TripAlyzer, developed by Surich Technologies Inc., is for iPhone owners that want to get from point A to point B as quickly (and efficiently) as possible.
At just $5.99, TripAlyzer is more expensive than some of the other iPhone apps. However, once downloaded, iPhone users can enter and save all vehicle information and begin tracking their driving habits. TripAlyzer users the same technology as the GPS systems for the iPhone -- cell tower or WiFi triangulation -- and is designed to analyze your driving habits to calculate how efficiently you use your fuel. For those of you already hypermiling, TripAlyzer will let you know how well you're doing with your eco-friendly driving skills. After each trip, TripAlyzer can also give you a bottom line cost of how much you spent.
By simply entering your odometer reading, TripAlyzer will track the distance of your trip and provide you with valuable information that you can store for future use. Since the intent of TripAlyzer is to help users drive more efficiently and cut down on CO2 emissions at the same time, the app also reminds you of service intervals and can even let you know what your carbon footprint looks like.
Any driver who's been caught in traffic appreciates advance warnings about where the bottlenecks are. Our next app will give you just that.
Even if your car has a GPS with built-in traffic information, you might find that the INRIX Traffic app can help you plan your route in ways that your GPS can't. Of course, to access the more advanced route-planning services that the INRIX Traffic app offers, you'll need to pay $24.99 to upgrade to INRIX Traffic premium, but even the basic free app gives you a wealth of traffic information for your daily commute or just for a trip across town.
Here are some of the things that INRIX Traffic can do even without the upgrade:
- Incidents: A list of traffic events, updated via the Internet, which may affect the route you plan to take. These include accidents, crowds at major sporting events, convention traffic and other tie-ups reported by members of the INRIX Traffic community.
- Comparative Traffic: A map of the local area with traffic density marked out in color-coded lines that tell you which routes have light traffic and which routes are bumper to bumper.
- Predictions: A timeline that allows you to project traffic for the 15-minute interval during which you plan to be traveling.
There are several other traffic apps available for the iPhone, but INRIX Traffic has a solid community of users reporting conditions and, if you use the app, you join that community too. If what you see on the road doesn't agree with what you see on the app, you can report the mistake with the click of a single on-screen button.
Once INRIX Traffic gets you where you're going, you'll need a place to park. The next app will help you find one.
This app hangs from the tops of high buildings swinging on spider webs to help you find a parking place ... oh, wait. That's Peter Parker, the Amazing Spiderman. Parker for iPhone doesn't wear a spider suit, but it does pretty much the same things that Peter Parker would do if Peter Parker helped you park -- namely, it gives you a rooftop view of the local street situation and tells you where the parking places are.
With the cooperation of the Departments of Transportation in several major cities, including New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Boston, the San Francisco company Streetline has installed electronic sensors in selected neighborhoods to detect whether parking places are occupied or empty. This data is broadcast to a central location and can be accessed via the Parker app.
Parker for iPhone has a wealth of features, as well as a built-in tutorial to show you what they are and how to use them. They include the ability to choose a city and an area within that city that has parking sensors, a map showing a numeric count of the number of open spaces within a specific area, color coded icons on that map to point you to blocks with the largest number of open spaces, and a special display showing the fee charged by meters or commercial parking garages at the place where you want to park. In some instances, you can even pay for parking directly from the app. And once you've started a meter ticking, Parker will not only time it for you and remind you when it's about to run out, but will use your iPhone's built-in GPS to predict whether you have enough time to walk back to your car before the meter expires. If you drive much in major metropolitan areas, Parker can make your life easier and save you from a lot of frustration when you need to get out of your car and walk.
But for even larger scale travel plans, the next app can help you find your way around much of the United States -- and Canada too.
At $59.99 plus a $20-a-year subscription if you want real-time traffic updates, this is the most expensive app in this list, but it may also be the most powerful. TomTom USA & Canada uses the GPS in your iPhone to turn it into, well, a TomTom GPS. So if the app seems a bit pricey, consider how much more it would cost to buy the GPS device itself.
Once installed, TomTom USA & Canada does everything a good automobile GPS should do. It calculates routes for you (and lets you customize them), depicts the routes visually on your iPhone's screen as both 2D maps and 3D lane displays for the freeway, and shows useful information like when you'll arrive at your destination and how fast you're traveling. You can use the iPhone's touch-screen to set destinations and you can listen to clear voice instructions (which in many cars can be output through the radio or Bluetooth interface) that will briefly fade any music you might be playing so that you won't have any trouble hearing them. You can even get voice instructions, if desired, while making calls on the iPhone.
Be warned that TomTom USA & Canada is a memory-hungry program and will immediately zap 1.5 gigabytes of your iPhone's memory for the app itself plus additional space for data. So the extra cost of turning your phone into a GPS may be saying goodbye to a large chunk of your favorite music and to that copy of Angry Birds you were planning to play at the next roadstop.
Once you're off on that trip, you might start worrying that you left the garage door open. Wouldn't it be nice if you could check without calling a neighbor or driving all the way back home? Now you can -- with the next app.
If you have a garage then you have a garage door opener, a remote control device that you can use to open and close your garage door from inside your car or even inside your house. But most garage door openers require that you be somewhere close to the garage before they'll work. Craftsman's garage door opener is different. It will work from any place you can get an iPhone signal.
Why would you want it to do that? Well, for one thing you might be worried that you left the garage door open, leaving all the random junk -- er, valuable possessions -- that you store in there vulnerable to theft. The Craftsman Garage Door app can determine if the garage door is open or closed and it can close it if it isn't. Or if someone needs to get into your garage -- a courier making an important delivery, say, or a contractor working on your house -- you can use the Craftsman app to open the door for them and close it when they're done. Special anti-burglary coding in the remote unlocking system prevents would-be robbers from emulating the remote function and opening the garage door for themselves.
So what's the catch? The catch is that you'll need the Craftsman AssureLink Internet Connected DC Chain Drive Garage Door Opener installed on your garage door, and that's going to cost you more than $200 at Sears. But the app itself is free. It's up to you to decide whether this service is worth the cost to you, but at least the AssureLink Garage Door Opener has other features, such as a keyless entry pad and a 10-year warranty on its motor, even apart from the convenience of the app. And maybe you were already planning to replace your aging garage door hardware.
Our next app also requires extra (if somewhat less expensive) hardware, but it will let you tap into the deepest computerized recesses of your car without having to pay the mechanic at your local garage to give your car a diagnosis.
The free GoPoint app works with the GoPoint cable (which costs $100, but can be purchased online for less) to plug into your car's On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) port -- don't worry: Every car manufactured since 1995 has one -- to give you real-time information from the vehicle's built-in computer diagnostic system. This is the sort of thing that your local mechanic will do using a piece of equipment that cost thousands of dollars, but your iPhone can do it for the cost of a cable and the time you spend downloading an app. Some people would consider that a bargain.
What sort of information can the GoPoint app extract from the OBD port? Well, if you already know that your car is experiencing some kind of problem -- for instance, if the Check Engine light is flashing -- the GoPoint app can give you the Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) for it. These are standardized codes and the GoPoint app will define them for you in plain English. Unless you're a mechanic, you might not be able to deal with the problem itself, but you'll know what to expect when you take your car into the shop and can verify that your mechanic isn't just inventing expensive problems that will cost you a fortune to fix.
Oh, yes -- once you've purchased the GoPoint cable, there are additional apps that work with it, not just from GoPoint but from third-party developers, so that you can do things like monitor your fuel economy in real time.
The final iPhone app on our list has a funny name, but after you read about what it can do, chances are you won't be laughing.
If you have a hot rod, or at least you think you have what it takes to be the next John Force, Dynolicious may be the right iPhone application for you. Similar to other performance meters (some that cost hundreds of dollars) Dynolicious is the equivalent of having a radar gun, a drag strip timing mechanism and a dynamometer in the palm of your hand -- all for just $12.99.
At a touch of the screen, you can measure quarter-mile (0.4 kilometer) elapsed times and trap speeds, lateral g-forces, 0-60 mph (0-97 kilometers per hour) times and speeds, braking g-forces and even horsepower (or kilowatts). Dynolicious uses the iPhone's built-in three-axis accelerometers to calculate each parameter to surprising accuracy. Once you enter in your vehicle's information (which includes the weight after factoring in fuel and passengers), the accelerometers inside the iPhone sense vehicle movement and translate it into to real-time data. That data can then be saved for later reference. The Dynolicious application even allows users to edit vehicle settings and enter specific modifications to increase accuracy.
With an average rating of four stars at the Apple App Store, Dynolicious can be purchased for the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, the 3Gs, the iPhone 4 and 4S as well as the iPod touch.
Make no mistake about it; Dynolicious is geared toward those with a need for speed. Of course, HowStuffWorks doesn't encourage speeding or reckless behavior, but anyone curious about the performance of their vehicle will surely get a kick out of putting your skills to the test -- even if it is in the family's minivan.
So there you have it, 10 really cool iPhone applications available for your car. If you'd like more information about iPhone car apps or other automotive electronics, follow the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
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