I bought a new cell phone this week. As with every cell phone purchase I have ever made, it was instigated by my wife informing me that she was embarrassed to be seen with me using the phone I currently owned. Apparently, I hang on to cell phones much too long. My excuse for keeping my phone – that it still works and does what I want it to do – is not sufficient. When I walk the streets with my “ancient” phones (i.e., one that was perfectly acceptable two, three, or four years ago), I have the same look as a middle-aged man wearing black socks with shorts. I don’t mind that look, but I don’t want to be an embarrassment to family members, so I acquiesce.
I now have the newest, coolest, phone on the market – a 4G iPhone. “G” stands for “generation,” meaning this is the 4th generation of this phone. My previous phone was an LG (which has nothing whatsoever to do with generations) that I purchased in 2008. The iPhone is significantly different and more capable, which leaves me wondering how this will impact my cycling.
I always take my phone with me when I ride. Since I ride alone almost always, this is my lifeline to civilization and assistance (aka, my wife). Normally, all I want my phone to do is to act like a phone. By that, I mean I need the device to give and receive phone calls. Pretty simple, right? It worked well for me. Now, I have at my disposal a mini computer with greater power than an Apollo Program space ship. The question is, how to take advantage of it.
My first notion was that I would never be lost again. The phone has a GPS device that very quickly identifies where you are on the Earth’s surface. You can even type in a destination and it helpfully plots a route for you. I must admit that getting lost (and then “unlost”) is an adventure I occasionally enjoy, so there may be times when I refuse to let technology get me out of a tight fix. Still, its good to know it’s there should things become extremely dire. By the way, if you haven’t paused recently to thank the U.S. military-industrial complex for designing and launching into space the constellation of GPS satellites which we now use almost daily, now would be an appropriate time to do so.
Next, my thoughts turned to my camera. My old cellphone had a camera, but it was about as intuitive to operate as an abacus. The iPhone camera is a piece of cake to use and easily emails the photos I take. So do I still need to bring my regular camera with me in addition to my iPhone? I’ll do some tests – the iPhone’s camera is only 5 mega pixels (versus the 15 from my current camera) so if the quality suffers, I may still carry my trusty digital camera.
Of course, the iPhone can play music and I’ve successfully downloaded almost three days of audio from my iPod. Some folks like to listen to music while they ride, however I am not one of them. Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the capability. Who knows – perhaps I’ll break down 60 miles from home and will want to amuse myself with my 1980s mix playlist while waiting for my wife to come get me.
But that’s just the surface of the iPhone’s potential. Most of the world is already familiar with the applications (or “apps”) that can be downloaded for the iPhone. Many of these are free. I’ve discovered several, including apps which chart your ride data, ones which help you repair your bike, an app for the Strava social networking site (reviewed here by Matt Gholson), and even one that will help you select the right number of teeth for your gears should you desire to build your own drive train.
I am also concerned about the welfare of my phone. Something this delicate – with a large glass window – would surely be susceptible to damage when stowed in my cycling jersey. What happens when I drop it, crush it when falling off my bike, sweat on it, get it wet in the rain, or scrape other junk in my pocket against it? There are several rather formidable cases for the phone which should protect it against falling/crushing/scratching, but I remain worried about sweat and rain.
Obviously, there’s plenty to chew on here. It should make for some mildly interesting tinkering in the months ahead.