Bad Elf GPS, & the not-so-bad Verizon iPad deal
Hurray for the Bad Elf GPS! While it's simply a high-performance GPS receiver that fits into the data/power port of any Apple iThing, it means that an iPod Touch can finally run mapping and charting apps like an iPhone 3Gs can, perhaps even better given the Elf's high specs. Ditto for older iPhones with their crummy internal GPS receivers and for WiFi-only iPads which -- like Touch's -- don't contain any sort of GPS. I'm sure that there will eventually be all sorts of ways to get GPS, and even other boat sensor data, into iDevices, but the Bad Elf seems to be an easy solution, and it can be had at Amazon for $100 right now. Here's hoping that it will also help some boaters untangle the confusion around iThing GPS, and data plans, which recently got worse...I'm referring to the ruckus about Verizon's recently-introduced iPad bundles, perhaps best summed up by an Ocean Lines entry titled "First Verizon iPad NOT for Boaters." Now I'm sure Tom Tripp -- and Jeff Siegel, whose AC newsletter is heavily quoted -- were only trying to help boaters avoid the disappointment of an iPad which can't do precise charting right out of the box, but I think the Verizon deal is actually pretty interesting. The iPads they're now selling are WiFi-only -- and hence don't have GPS -- but you do get a little MiFi device that turns Verizon's version of 3G cellular data into WiFi that can serve Internet to as many as five phones, pads, or computers simultaneously. And according to this PC World analysis, the Verizon iPad bundle is quite a good deal relative to normal MiFi hardware and service costs.
So, yeah, while a 16G iPad with AT&T 3G and GPS both built-in costs the same $629 as a Verizon 16G iPad/MiFi combo with no GPS, there are reasons you might choose this latter route. Like Verizon's superior service in some areas, and the ability to use the same reasonable data plan with all the devices you and your crew might like to have online. And if the ongoing data deal makes sense for you, how hard is it to add a Bad Elf to enable good iPad backup navigation? Or maybe install a Digital Yacht iAIS or a Brookhouse iMux, both of which can deliver a lot more than GPS to your pad, or at least to apps like iNavX that can receive data via WiFi? And don't you think companies like Maretron, which already has great apps to integrate with its boat electronics, is working on neat ways to get that data easily into apps devices? Heck, if you're willing to jailbreak your GPS-less iPad or Touch, you can use a Bluetooth GPS, and Apple could make that a painless option tomorrow (if it felt like it).
At any rate, I think it's a confusing darn shame that Apple only includes a GPS in devices that also include a cellular modem. Especially since Apple and AT&T have not been generous about sharing cellular data plans with other devices, which is a feature I value a lot, on the boat and off. That's why I think the Verizon iPad/MiFi bundle is interesting -- as long as you understand my modified ad page below -- and why I bought a WiFi-only iPad myself, along with a Verizon Droid Incredible phone that can tether via USB to my laptop and boat computer (at no extra charge beyond the phone's $30/mo data fee), and via WiFi to the iPad (for an extra $20/mo). And isn't cellular data even more important given new possible security issues around shared WiFi networks? What's your data strategy?