When the original iPhone launched, one of the best features was the seamless integration of Google Maps. When the iPhone 3G arrived with its built-in GPS receiver, Google Maps just got better, giving you the ability to find your current location and plot routes to your destination. With the 3GS the Google Maps app has got better once more with the inclusion of the digital compass.
The digital compass is accessible as its own app, giving you a very pretty graphic display of, well, a compass. This can keep you amused for a while, especially if you combine it with an office swivel chair, as Hugo did this afternoon! But the real bonus is when the compass is combined with Google Maps.
When using Google Maps you tap the button to display your current position, which will be determined via the GPS receiver. Then, if you tap the button again, the compass will be activated and the map will rotate to match the direction you’re actually facing. How useful this is will depend on whether you’re the type of person who turns map books around when navigating, but nonetheless, it’s pretty cool in operation.
Rounding off the new hardware features is voice control. As the name suggests, you can finally control the iPhone with voice commands, whether that be dialling a phone number in your contacts list, playing a song from your music library, or even asking your iPhone what song is playing. I still find it strange that you’d have to ask your iPhone what music you put on it in the first place, but there you go.
The accuracy of the voice control in the 3GS is simply excellent. It’s pretty much up there with the best in-car systems that we’ve tested recently. Obviously there are a few pronunciation issues, when the phone reads track names, or names from your contacts list, but on the whole I found it very impressive.
Voice control is another one of those features that you either need or you don’t. If you’re planning to use your iPhone hands-free and want to be able to dial numbers without having to touch the phone (read – while you’re driving), then voice control can be very handy. Unfortunately, this is also another one of those features that other phones have been able to do for, say, five or six years, albeit not to the same degree of accuracy as the 3GS. It’s good to see the iPhone catching up, but why wasn’t this functionality there in the first place?