Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tech apps can make that commute just a bit easier - October 21, 2016

A few weeks ago I mentioned I had a new car. The new car was for a new job, and a daily commute to the Reston/Herndon area.  For the first time in 14 years I have a more or less typical commute for this area.
I’ve come to see my car as yet another piece of digital technology. And while my physical life may not be the best organized, my digital life is efficiently optimized. So I set out to find the best suite of tools to make my commute more efficient, while not distracting from driving safely.
Since a big part of any job is to arrive on time, my commute efforts begin upon waking. Google Now on my Android phone tells me as soon as I turn off my alarm how long my commute will take on my normal route. This gives me an idea of the urgency needed in getting ready for work.
The last part of my morning preparation has me at my computer checking personal email and dealing with column and blog issues. One of my open browser tabs is Google Maps. It shows my route to work along Fairfax County Parkway and two alternatives along Va. 28 and I-495. I can easily see if the estimate Google Now gave me on waking is still accurate, and how the alternative ways are faring.
Once in the car, I start the pertinent apps and place my phone in a dashboard mount. I am careful to plug in the power--the mapping app takes a lot of power as it keeps the GPS and screen running constantly.
I’d tried Google’s Waze navigation program a few times and have not been impressed. However, after our trip to Israel in March, I saw how enamored every cab driver and tour guide was with the Israeli developed app, so I gave it another try.
Why use a navigation system for the commute you do every day?  Waze is actually a social networking tool. People who precede me on the route can enter traffic jams, accidents, road hazards and other issues with their voice or gestures.  If an issue arises, Waze will immediately plot a route around it.  It also keeps me up-to-date about the probable time I will arrive.
Alone time in the car is a good time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Audio books are available from the county library or from Amazon Audible's monthly subscriptions.
Podcasts are popular today with content from all the major media outlets as well as a multitude of private sources. I listen to ones on technology and a West Wing podcast with actor Joshua Malina, who often interviews series creator Aaron Sorkin and stars of the show. TED talks are also available as podcasts. There are far more choices than time to listen.
Your phone’s app store will have many players to help you discover awesome podcasts and make sure the most recent shows are downloaded to your phone.
If your car has Bluetooth, then the podcast will play through your speakers. When the navigation app has a direction for you, it pauses the podcast while giving you the direction, and then resumes the podcast.  Incoming phone calls work the same way.
The third tool in my commute arsenal is Google Now on my Android, or Siri if I had an iPhone. The voice command tools let me make a call without having to dial, and even let me send a text message. It is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the commands your system supports. In this week’s Link post at, I’ve linked to help pages for both Google Now and Siri.
The last tool I want in my in-car suite of apps is still under investigation. There are apps that do many of the functions of Apple’s CarPlay or Android Auto. I am still trying to find the perfect one.
The feature I want most is for it to read me an incoming text and ask if I want to respond. It should let me dictate the response, read back to me what it heard and, once I confirm the message is correct, send the text. I’ve found a couple that do this but have not settled on one.  This will likely be the topic of a future column.Siri

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