GPS Writeup on LangaList


Bill Connelly

Since the topic of GPS systems came up on this List recently, I thought many
might be interested in the following excerpt from the LangaList Newsletter of

Your Next Essential Travel Tool
OK, I realize this is going to sound weird, but please bear with me. <g>

This item isn't about PDAs, but let me ask you: Do you remember the first time
you saw someone using a PDA--- perhaps a Palm Pilot, or a PocketPC? It looked
strange, didn't it? It stood out. But today, millions of people use digital
assistants and we hardly even notice any more. In fact, there's a good chance
that you or someone close to you uses some kind of palmtop computer, and it
probably no longer seems strange at all.

Likewise, going back a few years earlier than palmtop computers, there was a
time when seeing someone with a cell phone was unusual: Passersby would stop and
stare at a person having a phone conversation on a street corner. Today, of
course, cell phones are ubiquitous. There's a good chance you own one.

It's a familiar pattern: When you first see a new technology, it seems geeky and
strange. Some people may even ask: "Why on earth would anyone want it?" But fast
forward a few years, and many of those same people probably are *using* the
once-strange technology; the gadget no longer seems unusual at all.

Following that same pattern, another once-exotic technology is about to go
mainstream. I'm willing to bet that some of you may initially say "No way! What
on earth would I use that for?" But I'm also willing to bet that soon, this
technology may be a normal part of your life--- just as many other once-exotic
technologies already have become part of your life.

"It" is the Global Positioning System (GPS) a technology that uses a small
mobile receiver and appropriate software to receive ultra-precise timing signals
from a fleet of satellites. The GPS software processes the satellite signals to
calculate exactly where the receiver is. Most inexpensive GPS units can
routinely achieve accuracies to within 30 feet (10 meters), and some give
accuracies of 10 feet (3 meters) or less--- sometimes, *much* less! (If you're
unfamiliar with the technology behind GPS, Trimble Navigation has a good general
overview available online. )

Here's a clue about how much interest there is about GPS: Google reports over
3.5 MILLION pages relating to or mentioning GPS! Bet you didn't know interest
was that high or widespread!

Here's why interest is skyrocketing: Unlike the bulky, expensive GPS units of
old, today's GPS units are available as small, lightweight and affordable units.
They come in a wide range of types and sizes. There are add-ons for all the
major brands of PDAs, palmtops and pocket PCs (Palm, Visor, Jornada, iPaq,
Cassiopeia, Clie, etc.); add-ons for high-end PDA/cell phones (e.g. the Nokia
92xx line); add-ons for almost any laptop; and stand-alone hand-held or
dash-mount units.

The low cost has opened up a world of practical uses: For example, the real
power of GPS is unleashed when it's combined with digital street maps: A GPS
unit can generate instant, on-the-fly, turn-by-turn, moving-map directions as
you navigate an unfamiliar area. Traveling with a GPS is like having a live,
expert navigator in the seat beside you, and can have you driving an unfamiliar
area with the accuracy and confidence of a local taxi driver. A GPS can make
missed turns--- and missed connections--- a thing of the past.

Many travelers now use printed driving directions from car rental agencies or
from sites like Expedia ( ), Mapquest ( ) and Yahoo ( ). But a traffic
jam, construction detour, or any change in plans can render printed maps and
driving directions useless. In contrast, a GPS can self-update its location
literally every second or so: If you have to leave your planned route for any
reason, the GPS can sense the change and recalculate a new alternate route to
your destination, almost instantly. Many GPS units will also continually update
your estimated time of arrival so you never have to guess "Will I be late?"

I've been using a GPS unit for a while now, and I'm amazed at how fast it went
from "toy" to "tool." It's become an indispensable part of my routine, and I
hate to drive without it. My GPS has actually changed the way I drive around my
own home town, finding routes and shortcuts I never would have tried on my own!

A GPS is good for other things too--- some of which may surprise you. In fact,
once I started writing about the many uses of GPS, I ended up with a full
feature-length item too long for an email newsletter. As usual with most longer
topics, I've made this the subject of an InformationWeek.Com column, available
now on the web (for free) at

That article focuses on business travel, but (of course) the same principles
hold for any kind of travel--- including pure leisure travel. (My family's
planning our summer vacation now, and you can bet we'll be bringing the GPS.)

Although I'm aware that many of you may be thinking "I have absolutely no use
for a GPS...", I'm betting that soon, many of you--- even the skeptics!--- will
be won over, just as happened before with other forms of high-tech portable

Please come check out the article at 04 ), and then join in the
discussion! Am I too far ahead of the curve on this one? Or--- as the 3.5
million GPS-related web pages indicate--- is GPS about to break into the
mainstream? Do you use a GPS, and if so, which one? What are the best GPS
resources? What's the best use you know of for small, inexpensive GPSes? Please
join in the discussion!

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