From no iPhone to New iPhone solving the car conundrum
June 13, 2009 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Buying First iPhone: Main question, how to deal with "the car problem"? Secondarily - What is a good Schedule Management app? Finally - Any general iphone advice? Apps, accessories, must haves?

Getting the new iPhone 3G S when it comes out. Moving from an old Windows Mobile Phone. This will be my first iPhone and first iPod like device since the original iPod like 6 years ago (I know, I am a Luddite).

So point is... don't assume I know anything about normal iPod/iPhone usage or lingo have any idea of the normal gear or apps or anything.

Questions in order of priority:

1. Solutions to the "car problem" - everything I have found about this is more than a year old. Has an elegant and inexpensive phone+charger+music via radio solution come up in that time?
If not what are the best components to get (I am more interested in the charger+music via radio side, I am not a big car phone talker).

2. Calendar / Schedule management - One of the main things I used my old phone for was calendar, task, reminder purposes. Used and enjoyed PocketBreeze for an "integrated today screen".
I suspect that the iPhone is designed better out of the box then my WinMobile phone, so maybe embedded calendar apps will suffice, but if not what do you suggest?

3. Anything else I gotta get? Advice, tips, favorite apps.
Bonus Points for #3: I really want to make use of the GPS capabilities (car navigation? geocaching apps?) and cool games. These are icing, not essential.
posted by DetonatedManiac to Technology (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
1) I did a sweet little DIY setup in my car that ended up being pretty inexpensive. The iphone usually comes with this little white dock that serves as a charge/line-out. I rigged up something that fit in my cup holder (no more tipping/falling over!), took an AC adapter and a cassette adapter and hooked it all up. It's a bit permanent, but now I can just get in my car, plug in my phone, and I'm set for charging and music. I found the cassette adapter was a bit more useful than an FM transmitter, less interference/clearer sound.

2. Not too much experience with this one. I usually just did a combination of the default calendar and Remember The Milk.

3. Top Useful Apps: Remote, allows for controlling what iTunes is playing over WiFi; Cydia/BossPrefs/Winterboard and Themes (only if you feel like jailbreaking)
Top Games: Field Runners, awesome little tower defense/strategy game that sucks up a bunch of time; Scramble, a word puzzle game; and the New York Times crossword App.
posted by pyrom at 7:21 PM on June 13, 2009

For listening in the car, the easiest thing is to use a cassette adapter. I have this one and use it all the time, but have to agree with the negative reviews; the sound quality is terrible (I don't care, but you might) and you often have to stick it in a few times to get the tape deck to accept it. This one from Sony gets better reviews, so I'll recommend that!
posted by escabeche at 7:23 PM on June 13, 2009

1. No, not unless your car stereo has a cassette deck or an auxiliary input jack. Any kind of FM transmitter is useless due to cellular interference. You can turn on Airplane Mode to eliminate it, but that means no calls/data.

2. My calendaring needs are minimal, so I'm not really qualified to talk about this.

3. Must have apps:

Google Voice Search - Pretty decent voice recognition search
Bank of America - If you are a B of A customer, they make a nice little online banking interface
Lose It! - Great free calorie counter (I've lost 10 pounds)
Shazam - Ever wonder what song you are listening to? Shazam will tell you.
Kindle/Stanza - The screen is on the small side, but the iPhone makes a very nice ebook reader
Remote - Control iTunes on your computer with your phone (iTunes must be already running, and you must be on the same WiFi network)
Sol Free - Solitaire! I'm kind of addicted
Urbanspoon - Let your phone tell you where to eat tonight

And a couple that are only really useful to house hunters, but they are REALLY useful:
Trulia - Find houses for sale in your immediate area
Zillow - Find property values anywhere
Loan-U-Later - Decent free monthly payment calculator
posted by Rock Steady at 7:33 PM on June 13, 2009

I've been looking into the car problem as well, and I would definitely recommend waiting. This is mainly because the 3gs supports the Bluetooth AD2P profile and has other bluetooth support that current accessories are not taking of.

I don't mean to bootstrap on your question, but what I'd like to see is a solution that offers the following:

Two modes:
1) Getting into the car and leaving the phone in my pocket. This should let me answer calls over the car stereo, interrupting whatever's playing if a call comes through. I suppose there'd have to be a microphone mounted somewhere. I'd also like to use the iphone's voice control system (routing a car microphone to the iphone's microphone over bluetooth). I've looked into some overhead microphone systems, but none seem to work incredibly well.

2) Mounting the phone on the dashboard. This should let me play music through the sound system and interact with the iphone using voice control. The mount should be stable and only require one connection (for both charging and playing music). There should not be interference in the sound system when charging. When a call comes through, either music from the iphone should stop playing or the sound system should switch over (e.g., if i'm using the radio). My steering wheel has up/down buttons (currently used to change radio stations or tracks), but I'd love to use this to vote up and down on Pandora songs.

If anyone has recommendations for how to do all of this, let me know.
posted by null terminated at 8:10 PM on June 13, 2009

1) These guys make 3 different mounting options for the iPhone 3GS. To handle power, I would buy a cigarette-lighter USB adapter and plug in your iPhone as needed. For sound, you could either 1) check and see if your car has an AUX IN port somewhere on the dash and plug in Male-Male audio cable in from the iPhone to that or 2) purchase an FM transmitter or tape adapter (if you still have a tape player) to handle audio. I use the latter, and while it's old technology, it works flawlessly.

2) The iPhone's built in calendar works pretty well and you can sync it to Outlook via iTunes. I came from the world or Windows Mobile too so syncing was something I was definitely used to doing pretty easily. I've found the Outlook/iTunes setup to work adequately. I also have a Google tool to sync my Outlook calendar with my Google Calendar so that everything is always sync'd up.

3) There have been several previous questions on AskMeFi about best/coolest/most fun apps - if you do a search, you're sure to find some good lists of some of the best apps. I could name some of them but there's quite a few and this is ground that's already been covered pretty thoroughly.

Good luck and enjoy your new iPhone!
posted by karizma at 8:39 PM on June 13, 2009

For the car problem, so far my best solution has been the Griffin Roadtrip for iPhone. I don't have an input jack. I've tried two different casette adapters, and they're both crap. This is better than the cassette, by quite a bit. Because the thing's on a bendy neck, you can move it around such that you get the best reception. It's scan feature is usually pretty good at finding the best frequency for the transmitter. It also allows you to toggle between mono and stereo, which can help occassionally -- mono has a stonger signal.
posted by cgg at 9:03 PM on June 13, 2009

I like the iTrip for listening and charging. I had a griffin roadtrip but I find the bendy thing moves too much when you hit bumps and such and this messes up the music quality. With the iTrip you can just set the iPhone down wherever. It does work better in airplane mode, which is fine since obviously I'm not talking on the phone or using data while driving, anyway.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:18 PM on June 13, 2009

3) Flight control - now with 3 maps! Pandora (for music), Night Stand (great if you go on trips where you're sleeping without an alarm clock - or any clock - just keep the phone plugged in at night).

I wish I could help you with 1 but my in-car system is a Ford Sync system. Worked well with 2.x, cant talk about OS 3.0 until Wednesday...
posted by SirOmega at 10:28 PM on June 13, 2009

1) We just got the Belkin TuneCast Auto for our car - plugs into the lighter, um... port? hole? doohicky?... and tunes via the radio. Works beautifully for us, but have heard that in cities with a lot of radio stations, FM transmitters aren't the best bet.

2) Depends entirely on how complex your calendaring needs are. Possible to sync it up with Outlook, etc. but I rely on the in-built calendar and Things app with some tasks given a due date.

3) Urbanspoon is great if you and other people in your city actually use it and keep it up-to-date - it's only as good as the crowd-sourcing makes it. N-thing Stanza and Shazam. Mover is good for swapping contacts with other iPhone users. But check out the MacWorld AppGuide for reviews of apps - the reviews in the App Store itself are next to useless, and the best-seller lists are crap too unless you're into a zillion iFart apps.
posted by harriet vane at 10:33 PM on June 13, 2009

Response by poster: About Car:

No Cassete Player (it is a 2008 Corolla)
posted by DetonatedManiac at 11:35 PM on June 13, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry... And of course thank you for all the input so far... I am still reading but probably going to bed in a sec. Will follow up more tomorrow.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 11:41 PM on June 13, 2009

Unless you're going to jailbreak the phone, remember that you can effectively forget about using any sort of decent third-party reminder/to-do application if you expect it to throw reminders from the background. Due to the single-threaded nature of the phone's default OS operation, only the built-in calendar app actually operates 'in the background' to remind you with popups. All other apps literally have to be currently running in order to 'activate'. Run another app and your third-party calendar, like PocketInformant, is gone. One of the many reasons I'll never get one (shrug). PocketInformant looked okay on the iPod Touch but without 'backgrounding' your apps on a jailbroken phone you can't make it the default app for handling alarms, reminders etc, like you can with Agendus on the Palm/WinMo platforms. My 1c.
posted by cyniczny at 1:07 AM on June 14, 2009

oh, the mail app works in the b/g too - acknowledging that too, for the fanbois. So you could use something like RememberTheMilk for quasi-scheduling stuff.
posted by cyniczny at 1:09 AM on June 14, 2009

For 3, I offer you this self-link: If you need a map that's not on the list, mail me. Or, use the contact form on the site, I won't be able to tell the difference :-)
posted by DreamerFi at 1:54 AM on June 14, 2009

The calendar that comes with the iPhone is pretty good and suits my needs well. To handle my todo needs, I use the built in calendar for date sensitive items and Action Lists (self link) for non-date-sensitive items. Action Lists has a strong GTD bent, so YMMV. The nice thing though, is that Action Lists syncs with Toodledo which can sync to Google calendars, Outlook, etc.

As for the car problem, I just bought a Griffin charger/FM transmitter. It's pretty good. It will find clear stations and even transmits track info via RDS. The problem that you're going to run into is that the FCC limits the power of the transmitter. Because of this, I found on a recent road trip that it worked great in the mountains of West Virginia with less accptable results everywhere else.
posted by perrce at 3:43 AM on June 14, 2009

Tomtom for the iphone. Turn by turn + car mount/charging. Brand new. Also has hands free calling. They say on their web site "A thousand songs, a million roads, sitting on your dashboard," so perhaps they'll have a way to get to your radio as well - but probably not on day 1 of the iPhone 3GS release.
posted by filmgeek at 4:02 AM on June 14, 2009

FWIW, I find that syncing the onboard calendaring app with my google calendar is perfectly adequate. I also use TouchToDo as an additional task tracker. I also use Skype, and while it's voice only, it's worth it. I also love the public radio tuner, and FStream is a good digital radio tuner as well.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:14 AM on June 14, 2009

You might want to look at Crutchfield and see what they have - be sure to look at the category for iPod/MP3 Adapters, since those are gizmos that will work with your factory stereo and don't require replacement. You could also just replace the stereo - some of the iPod car adapters cost as much money as a new head unit, and you might be able to upgrade that way.

FM transmitters are the definition of your mileage may vary - depending on where the antenna is in your car, the sensitivity of the antenna and the optimal frequency of your transmitter you may have anywhere from decent to terrible results. If you do decide to go down this route, you'll probably need to spend close to $100 for a decent one, and you might want to wait for the new generation that will be more tightly integrated with iPhone OS 3.0.
posted by agentmunroe at 5:53 AM on June 14, 2009

I bought one of these for my 2005 Honda Pilot. Five playlists on the ipod replace the first five CD in the changer and the sixth changer control is for all music on the ipod.

Check their website, they make versions for other cars too.

I'd prefer a newer stereo with tighter integration but this has worked well for retrofitting an older car.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:21 AM on June 14, 2009

I've been annoyed enough at the cassette-adapter approach that I'm considering getting a new head unit that has USB-in and a proclip mount.

I've been holding off on that plan because Apple is finally giving outside parties access to the accessory port with iPhone OS 3.0, and I've wanted to see if any new heat units are released that take advantage of that in an interesting way.
posted by adamrice at 6:26 AM on June 14, 2009

When you convert digital to analog, ex: FM transmitters or cassette adapters your loosing alot of quality. If your car stereo has a line in port / or interfaces with your dock connecter that is your best bet. I have a cheap FM transmitter that I use for the first gen iPhone and never turn airplane mode on because in my case I don't receive interference in my car like I do leaving it by my desktop speakers.

There is no built in Today screen, you need to launch calender or set alarms to be reminded. The Slide to Unlock screen is pretty useless in terms of daily scheduling without jail breaking but I wouldn't recommend you do that at all.
posted by glenno86 at 6:42 AM on June 14, 2009

Check to see if there is an adaptor for your stereo. The back of my stereo had a jack on it for connecting to a CD changer (how quaint). They make an adapter for hooking in an auxiliary jack. It was about $50. So I have an 1/8 jack coming off the back of my stereo. I think the whole installation at the car stereo place was $60. So So So much better than the stupid radio things which don't work at all.
posted by sully75 at 9:12 AM on June 14, 2009

If you have a hook up on the back of your stereo you should be able to buy rca->mini jack for $10-12 at the most. You would still need to plug in a charger. It ain't elegant but it's cheap.
posted by pointilist at 10:14 AM on June 14, 2009

@floam: do you have any more details on your magic connector? I've got a much more frankenstein-like setup in my own ancient 98 jetta that I'd love to replace...
posted by sriracha at 1:13 PM on June 14, 2009

I'm not a heavy calendar user, but I find the built-in Calendar app very useful. It syncs over-the-air with my work Exchange server -- no plugging in to sync! You can also do over-the-air calendar sync with a MobileMe account; not sure about Google Calendar or others.

iWant and Around Me are two similar apps that help you find various kinds of businesses in your vicinity. Neither wows me, and at times they've both been a little flaky, but they can be pretty handy when traveling in an unfamiliar city. OpenTable is nice for making restaurant reservations.
posted by sriracha at 1:25 PM on June 14, 2009

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