Mobile trends: Has your smartphone replaced your GPS?

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Updated Nov 14, 2012

Dsc 0121The folks at uShip sent along some early results of a survey conducted recently relative to the use of cellular technology by transporters utilizing the online marketplace. One of the most interesting results to me was the high percentage of operators noting a growing prevalence of smartphone use for mapping/GPS-type function over traditional GPS units.

More than a third of respondents reported “they count on their phone more than their GPS device for maps and directions,” uShip notes, “while 17 percent say they count on their phone the same as their GPS device. ”

Here’s the two questions looking at drivers with GPS devices specifically:

For maps and direction, I use my cellphone:
More than my GPS device 36%
Equal to my GPS device 17%
Less than my GPS device 47%

My cellphone’s map and direction feature:
HAS replaced my GPS device:  24%
COULD replace my GPS device:  29%
WILL NEVER replace my GPS device:  47%

These results are interesting in the context of the dust-up over U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s call for federal regulation of truck GPS devices.

While Schumer seemed to blame a perceived growing number of low-bridge strikes in his state, New York, on truckers’ over-reliance on GPS direction, many readers took issue with that for various reasons. New York could do a better job, some suggested, with its height signage (many reported repeated instances of confusion when only “snow height” — or height with a foot of overhanging ice — was posted in some quarters). In general, though, any self-respecting driver ought to know enough to take that mistake on the chin, as it were, as did one commenter when he hit a bridge in Kansas City following a non-truck-specific GPS years ago, while moving through a construction zone. He caught just the “top one inch of my truck fairing and my stack…. I was so focused on the construction and not hitting the cones that I did not look at the clearance. I got a case of ‘tunnel vision’ and didn’t see the forest for the trees.

“Now, I could say it was the GPS’ fault. I could blame it on the road construction. Or I could do what I did, which was to be very disgusted with myself and learn from my own stupid mistake.”

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Owner-operator Gordon Alkire summed it up best, describing what a GPS is not and never will be: “A GPS unit is not connected to the truck’s steering system or the accelerator or the braking system. A GPS is not a ‘drive by wire’ system. … A GPS is an information-only unit and does not in any way control the vehicle. Far too many drivers allow it to control them, however. What is needed is a GPS and cellphone that has a button to press to TEST FOR COMMON SENSE.”

I’d like to read uShip’s survey results as evidence that the vast majority of drivers understand the information-only aspects of GPS and mapping — in my mind with so many utilizing their smartphones or at least recognizing the embedded mapping programs’ utility relative to their GPS units, the reliance on phone technology suggests less turn-by-turn-type reliance. Then again, that’s how I use my phone when traveling to unfamiliar places — exclusively to get the lay of the land and streets around a location. For specific routes, I typically consult someone familiar with the destination or wait till I get there and see what it all looks like to make the final routing decision.

In any case, what are your thoughts on the results? Has your smartphone replaced your GPS unit? Or is the lack of truck-specific route information in many consumer-use mapping programs on smartphones a hindrance — many haulers utilizing uShip are of course of the hotshot, Class 3-5 pickup variety.

Find some further results from the company’s survey following:

What features do you use most on your mobile phone?

Activity 2010 2011 2012
Texting 70% 65% 79%
Internet/email 45% 45% 65%
Camera 67% 36% 55%
GPS 30% 28% 52%
Apps 33% 27% 43%
Social Media 19% 13% 26%












Has the ban on texting by truck drivers caused you to change your cell phone habits when behind the wheel?
Yes, significantly: 36%
No: 35%
A little: 20%
Didn’t know about the ban: 5%