Review by Lutz Bendlin
We are looking into the GPS capabilities of the iPhone 3G, and are working on porting some of our tools to that new platform. There are a lot of challenges, mostly because Apple are very anal about the way the GPS receiver can be used by other programs.
Instead of providing a constant NMEA stream through a COM port like everybody else, Apple is forcing developers to ask the device for its current position - over and over. I understand the battery conservation aspect of all this, but if you use the iPhone 3G in the car this should be less of a problem, right?
Very far from the truth actually. Firstly the iPhone 3G does not come with any car charger adapter. Secondly, the iPhone 3G is incompatible with the vast majority of in-car iPOD dock adapters. The main problem is that these connectors provide charging through the FireWire ports (convenient for cars as it is 12V), and Apple decided to no longer support FireWire charging on the iPhone 3G. Go figure (or go buy an overpriced intermediate adapter that downconverts the 12V from the FireWire port to the 5V on the USB port)
And thirdly, there are no car holders yet for the iPhone 3G.
Ah, wait, I am reviewing the Proclip holder here... So strike the thirdly thing, and let's look at the holder.
The marketing blurb said "padded holder" but I wasn't paying much attention to that until I actually received my review unit.
If the picture looks fuzzy to you then that is because the holder is actually fuzzy. Or should I say furry. In a dramatic departure from their normal design Proclip decided that the iPhone needs special scratch protection, and coated the whole holder in some kind of velvety fur. (Doing this for just the sliding part might be too difficult from a manufacturing point of view).
I am told other Apple products receive the same furry treatment from Proclip. Maybe this was done to have more fitting tolerance towards devices with gel covers etc.?
The mount that I review here is not an active mount (Proclip plan to release one too), but rather a passthrough mount. This means you will have to connect your existing cable from the in-car iPod dock to the Proclip.
The passthrough is a straight thing, forcing you to connect the cable from the bottom. I would have preferred an angled solution where the cable would connect from the back. But that's a minor niggle.
Proclip state that "If we created the pass through facing backwards instead of downwards we need a lot of distance from the dashboard to have space for the cable connector to be plugged without constricting the cable."
Here you can see my new furry friend connected to one of my Proclip car mounts (Installation took about 30 seconds). The cable that normally links my iPod to the car stereo is already plugged in.
View from the side - as I said I would have liked the cable to connect from the back rather than from the bottom to minimize the risk of involuntary interaction with the dangling cable.
And here's the iPhone 3G all connected and complaining.
The TomTom sits on the other Proclip dashboard mount. (I converted an active holder to link directly to the TomTom TMC module, and on to the cigarette lighter).
The one problem that I still have is that my current iPod adapter cable does not charge the 3G. As mentioned you can now get intermediate adapters that fix this issue for a rather large amount of money (39 USD plus S+H). I have ordered one, and will let you know how it works.
One program that I like a lot (which probably means they will discontinue it soon) is Pandora. That's a web radio that only plays your favorites or music it deems to be similar. Pandora works very nicely over EDGE (3G is better but not required).
Normally the iPhone 3G would only play the iPod/iTunes related music through the car stereo adapter, but I found a trick how to play other music streams as well. When the iPhone connects it automatically starts the iPod program. Instead of closing this you need to let it run, and let it play a song.
Then all you need is to fire up Pandora (or your other program) and the iPod sound will fade out and the Pandora sound will come on. Very sweet. The only caveat is that the iPod controls on the steering wheel obviously don't work with Pandora. Another niggle is that the iPhone wants me to switch to airplane mode each time it connects to the car stereo. Hell no, I need EDGE to stream Pandora. What were they thinking?
If (if at all) there will be a voice navigation program on the iPhone 3G then you will need to use a similar approach to get the voice commands out. The integrated speaker on the iPhone is effectively muted by the padding of the Proclip holder. Maybe Proclip could leave some space free on either side of the top connector, just in case someone wants to use the iPhone in speakerphone mode. Hmm, where is my Dremel tool kit...