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Dear Aunt TUAW: Why GPS?


Normally readers write directly to Aunt TUAW using our tips line or feedback form. But today, we're switching things up a bit. Instead, Auntie is responding to a comment left on her last post about whether you should buy the Wi-Fi only iPad or wait for the 3G version. That's because Aunt TUAW has a bug up her sleeve about GPS and its role on the iPhone, the iPad, and its tie to social media. Without further ado, here's today's "letter" and Auntie's response.

Dear Aunt TUAW,

I'm on Facebook, but why do people need to read Facebook updates when they're traveling? Whatever happened to looking out the window at new places? And geez, how about a simple paper map?!?

If I have to go somewhere new, I print out a Google map before the trip or bring the old Rand-McNally. I may be weird, but look at all the dough I saved. :-)

I live in northern New Mexico with wilderness available just a few miles outside of town. We hike and walk everywhere, assuming the MUD isn't so bad. I've never used an iPhone or a GPS device of any kind.

What I'm wondering is, just why do people have those things? Seriously. Is it just a game? I take hikes in the backcountry with a compass and a topo map, just like in the old days with the Boy Scouts. :-) I can look at a hillside and point to where it is on the map. I almost always know where I am. So what is it about living in a city, forgodssakes, that makes one addicted to GPS??? Aren't there street signs? If you didn't have GPS, would you just sit down on the curb and have a nervous breakdown?!?


John Hamilton Farr

Dear John

If my 3GS iPhone has taught me anything about GPS, it's this: GPS on the iPhone is not just about the location; it's also about the social. Knowing where you are is just the start of geolocation. While, I fully expect the iPad to rock when it comes to displaying maps and working with navigation apps, that's not why GPS on the iPad is so exciting.

GPS is already about mapping my walks and sharing them with my friends and family as I achieve new distances and other new goals like upping my average pace, top speed, and the number of feet I've climbed. GPS is about yelping to see what restaurants and points of interest other people have found nearby, and adding my own personal spin into the mix. GPS is about virtual location tagging and games like geocaching, adding a social layer to our outdoor activities.

The iPad brings all of that into the equation and adds a much bigger screen with enhanced gestures and interaction styles. It offers a jumping off point for every kind of social GPS app that you can imagine, from virtual location-based coupons that you can scan at your local Target or Starbucks to new and innovative solutions that developers are only now beginning to dream of.

Think back to 2007. Then consider the array of App Store products that you never once guessed would become a daily part of your life. That's how I feel about Yelp, about other geo-aware apps like Trailguru and Echofon, and more. Now that I'm hooked on GPS, whether in the city, the countryside or the mountain wilderness, I simply can't wait to see what's next. The more I head off on foot, bike, or car and take advantage of this marvelous gift of good health and opportunity, the more I can't wait to share that gift with the people I'm close to -- and make new friends along the way.


Auntie T.

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