iPhone Emergency Alerts

Many of us with iPhones in Phoenix received a mobile emergency alert yesterday. Learn about your options to disable them if you want.

In amid the sad and tragic news of the passing of nineteen Arizona firefighters yesterday near Yarnell, there was one other big piece of news: iPhone users in the Phoenix metro area were all startled by the activation of the mobile Emergency Alert System to alert us of a dust storm. We heard the usual EAS alarm tone (which is intentionally jarring!) and we received a notice on our phone screens: “Emergency Alert: Dust Storm Warning in this area til [sic] 12:00 AM MST. Avoid travel. Check local media. -NWS.”

You can turn off these alerts on your iPhones if you want to do that. (I am neither saying you should or shouldn’t!). To do that, go to Settings and tap Notifications. At the bottom of the screen is a section titled “Government Alerts.” At the moment, you can select to enable or disable AMBER alerts and Emergency Alerts.

With the Monsoon season having started in earnest in Phoenix, warnings for dust storms are very prevalent. You’ll be getting a lot of these notices if you keep them on — just be prepared for them.

Rainy day quick hit: Google Maps for iOS

Dear Apple (if you’re reading this post): Leave mapping to the experts; your customers have spoken.

iPhone App StoreQuick two-sentence post for a rainy evening in the desert…

You know that it says something about the quality of Apple’s native mapping application when, not quite twenty-four hours after its release, Google Maps for iOS (well, iPhone/iPod touch at the moment) is the number 1 rated free application for download.

Dear Apple (if you’re reading this post): Leave mapping to the experts; your customers have spoken.

Quick post on iOS 6

…in which we make the obligatory iOS 6 initial thoughts post.

iOS 6 icon (credit: Apple)To nobody’s surprise, Apple (at its WWDC keynote address) formally announced the next major edition of their mobile operating system, iOS 6. The big features added to iOS 6 include Siri support on the new iPad, a new Apple maps app (iMaps?), OS-level Facebook sharing, an app called Passbook, and a few other things.

The news is generally welcome. The verdict is still out on whether the new Apple Maps app will have transit directions. As to be expected, very few sources are reporting on this. Some places say yes, many many places are silent. Of course, the fallback will be using Google Maps in the browser.

Another feature that is very welcome is the addition of per-account signatures for each of your email addresses. And, for educational use, I’m welcoming the new Guided Access feature, which will enable device administrators (e.g. parents or teachers) to lock down their device so only one app may run.

A theme that emerged at today’s WWDC keynote — and made very evident by the launch of the latest MacBook Pro (you know, the one with the Retina Display) — was that it’s time to look forward in technology and leave some technologies behind. If you have the first iPad, you won’t be able to upgrade to iOS 6. Likewise, only the fourth generation of iPod touch will be the only iPod touch that can get the iOS 6 upgrade. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are also upgradeable…and so is the iPhone 3GS, announced at WWDC three years ago.

iOS 6 upgradeable devices (credit: apple.com)

As I usually say: “Interesting, interesting…”

iOS 6 and transit maps?

…in which we wonder about Apple’s new mapping application.

On Monday, Apple is set to release the sixth major version of iOS, its mobile operating software. Normally, however, changes are a good thing and each new version of iOS has been better than the last.

One of the big stories that’s flying around in this weekend before iOS 6 is formally announced is that Apple is dropping from Google Maps in favor of using its own mapping solution. Apple and Google have been trading punches lately and Apple has purchased several mapping companies. Of course, these are all rumors and we won’t know for sure until Monday morning. But if the rumors are true, then I’m sure that Apple will call their new mapping application “amazing,” “revolutionary,” “magical,” and other synonyms.

But, will it really be that?

I’m sure that it will be aesthetically pleasing. And that the graphics will be great. But one of the best features of Google Maps — and the big reason why I use it — is that Google Maps offers transit directions. You see, I don’t have a car. The option for me to get reliable directions to get from Point A to Point B via transit, as in the screen capture on the right, is absolutely mission-critical.

The other problem, at least for Phoenix, is that Valley Metro is very protective of their transit schedules. It took several years after Google Transit’s launch before one could plan transit trips here in Phoenix. If there is a transit feature in Apple’s new maps, what data will be there? I highly doubt that Phoenix’s will be there at launch.

Thankfully, we can still access Google Maps via the browser. But a native app was so much better. Ah, there’s something to be said about restricting an ecosystem.

Bicycle Tech: iPhones and Bicycling?

…in which I add a smartphone component to bicycles and bicycling.

As a technology fan, I like following along with all the cool ways in which technology is embedded in various things. At the risk of sounding somewhat hypocritical, I’m a fan of the “connected cars” movement. I think that there needs to be some sort of safety feature that disables user intervention with that tech when the car is in motion. But I generally like how cars are becoming more aware of their surroundings.

I don’t have a car. I have a bicycle. Before I got my bicycle, I researched some software for bicycling and found that the iPhone’s marketing slogan is true here: there’s an app for that. I bought an iPhone mount for my bike and downloaded a couple cycle computer apps: Cyclemeter ($4.99) and BikeBrain (free download, $1.99 in-app upgrade).

Screen capture of the Cyclemeter appThe advantage that an iPhone cycle computer has over a traditional hard-wired cycle computer is that the iPhone can do more things than just figure out how fast you’re going and where you are in space. It’s your bicycle’s built-in stereo system: the speaker is pretty loud and rather impressive. Need to figure out the best route? Use Google Maps to give you some bicycle directions. The list goes on and on. (I haven’t tested telephone calls while moving yet. I have a feeling that might not work. Something I refuse to test: texting.)

There’s one major caveat to the iPhone as a cycle computer: It uses GPS to calculate everything and there is a definite delay of about three seconds in the system. (That might not seem like much but 3 seconds traveling at 13 mph is about 60 feet in distance.) When you start your trip, you have to wait for the iPhone to receive GPS signals–and when it does, you’ll get some initially erroneous readings as the iPhone places where you are in space.

Caveats aside, it’s still a good thing to have. I’m still testing out both apps. Cyclemeter is a very robust app that has a myriad of features beyond the basic functions of a cycle computer. Cyclemeter has a text-to-speech engine that will speak to you at pre-defined intervals of a distance or time. A very cool feature is that it will read you your Facebook notifications as they come in or Twitter replies and DMs. A lot of Cyclemeter’s features are for recreational or competitive cycling; for instance, one can define routes and have competitions against one’s self or against others. In fact, the screen captures I have in this post are from Cyclemeter.

BikeBrain is a much simpler app. It’s a free download; however, if you want a couple more features, you can purchase an in-app upgrade. It doesn’t speak to you nor does it read you your Facebook notifications. What it has that Cyclemeter doesn’t have is a map. The compass is a bit directionally challenged but that might just be my iPhone or my part of the world. A very neat feature of BikeBrain is that it’s a feel-good app: It will tell you how much CO2 you haven’t emitted by riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. On my trips today to and from the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, a distance just under four miles, I saved about 2 lbs in CO2 emissions by riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. (Go me!)

Map view of Cyclemeter, showing accuracy of GPS trackingBoth apps, because they are essentially GPS apps, will track your location and plot where you are and where you’ve been on a map. I think that Cyclemeter’s map is a bit more accurate. On a trip up and down 3rd Ave in midtown Phoenix, Cyclemeter mapped which side of the street I was on pretty accurately. There’s a tradeoff: to do that, Cyclemeter has to poll GPS signals rather frequently and that goes through your iPhone’s battery very quickly. BikeBrain’s map isn’t as detailed as Cyclemeter’s but I think that it’s because it doesn’t poll GPS position as frequently.

As I learn more about both apps, I’ll share them here. What apps are you using to make your urban cycling experience more enjoyable? Or are you a purist and just enjoying all the scenery as it goes by, laughing because you’re in the environment instead of being in a metal box?