Drive: The Simple Way of Using Your iPhone in the Car

In the days of old — which, in this case, were the early 2000s — people would take their iPods along with them in their cars to listen to a wider selection of music. Now, up until the invention of the portable music player, everyone used CDs and cassettes; large, low-capacity bearers of high-quality audio. People then began buying FM transmitters and tape deck to 3.5mm adapters so they could listen to the same beautiful music, just more of it. The former was rubbish, but the latter worked well in most vehicles.

A new generation of iPods has come along in the form of Apple’s iPhone, an all-in-one device that eliminates the need to carry bags full of gear in the car. It has a GPS, makes phone calls, uses Siri to increase intelligence, and, of course, plays music. New cars have direct auxiliary-in connections to play back crystal clear audio; some even tout Bluetooth for hands-free conversations and audio streaming via AirPlay. Today, I’m going to show you Drive, an app that makes performing basic operations with your iPhone much easier in the car — and less dangerous.

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Simplicity

Move to the settings screen and you’ll find a GPS signal strength indicator — something you won’t see anywhere on your iPhone — management for Quick feature data (you’ll find out about that later on) several toggles and important safety information in case you felt like abusing the app. That’s all for the Settings screen, a good sign for an app that’s aiming to be simple and straightforward. However, one thing in the app had trouble performing simply. Let’s get to that.

The main menu and Quick Text screen.

The main menu and Quick Text screen.

Tap the clock to make it the only thing on the screen. In fullscreen. Without landscape? Oh well, at least there’s a little ticker for the seconds.

It’s About Being Quick

Cars are perfect examples of the “This is not the time to …” instances. That’s typically because there’s little time to lose on the commute to work or road trip spanning 16 hours. Or, on rare occasions, it’s because the driver actually cares about having an optimal response time in case he must stop behind a freight truck or other impassible obstruction. Whatever the case, Apple could do a better job of making things easy to access on the iPhone. To make a phone call for instance, you must go to the Phone app and either find the contact you’re looking for or dial the number by tapping yet another button to bring up the dial-pad. Or, yes, you could use Siri.

Drive takes a different approach than its host. The developers thought a fast way to access things would be nice, so they added Quick Call and Quick Text. Each of these features is, in itself, another app. Instead of a small pop-up or virtual door that opens, tapping either of these will bring up a new screen just like the main one — clock and all. The developers don’t want you to get confused by hard-to-navigate, inconsistent buttons. So, when tapping Quick Call, a large green button appears.

The Quick Call and contact selection screens.

The Quick Call and contact selection screens.

This button is your doorway to communication. Once you add a few people to your quick contacts, you can send them a text message or call them while on the road with ease. A swipe right or left will let you scroll through the people you have in your quick contacts list. However, there is a problem with this system. When you’ve added some contacts, make sure they’re all the people you wanted in the list because you can’t add more in that screen. For some reason, the developers saw it fit to put the contact management in the settings menu. That’s a bit complicated, don’t you think?

Now, moving on to the other key features of the app. Are they as quick? Well, one is. The other one — Maps — doesn’t quite know what it’s doing (I’ll get to Music in just a moment). Opening it is quick, but the functions don’t help anyone on their trip. The only thing it does is show you where you’re at. There’s no automatic zoom or anything to help you with getting somewhere and it’s no mapping service. If you’re navigating to somewhere, it’s best to use iOS 6 Maps, even if you’re not a fan.

Music with Gestures and Artwork

Now, the largest feature of all. This one is going to be the most used of Drive’s offerings. Its functionality is similar to that of Track 8 and other gesture-packed apps. You see, instead of wasting time finding the location of the skip and play/pause buttons, this feature helps you do these things quickly by tapping anywhere and swiping left or right. Volume adjustment is also supported and can be performed by swiping up or down with two fingers. It even has an indicator that goes from green to red depending on where you’re at.

Playing and skipping music.

Playing and skipping music.

Unfortunately, choosing a song within Drive isn’t supported. That means you can shuffle your library in Music and then hop over to Drive to control it, but you can’t choose a specific song. Oh well, Siri to the rescue? There’s always a solution somewhere out there and the virtual assistant should be perfect since it’s fast and voice-activated.

No Landscape Orientation Support

The biggest downside of this app is not its Quick Call problem. Instead, it relates to gravity. Most people are used to using apps like this one in landscape, whether it’s for music or maps. No, the iPhone dialer is not a landscape-oriented app, but a lot of other pre-installed software is. Unfortunately, Drive is not. Maybe it’s for the sake of simplicity and maybe it’s because they thought it wouldn’t work well. For whatever reason, Drive has no landscape support. Hopefully you don’t need it.

Its Place is the Car

Drive is a different kind of app. It has gestures in some areas, providing ease of use, and could benefit from them in others where they don’t exist. It’s simple, for the most part. Lastly, its aim is to help the general public drive a car, not a phone. It succeeds here, but some users won’t see it that way. If you’re looking for a powerhouse app or something with lots of awesome features, this isn’t going to please you. If, however, you want a simple, well-designed app for quick actions in the car, it’s perfect.


Summary

Traveling and texting can be difficult, so do it in a simple, safe way with Drive, the focused app. But beware of the missing landscape support and slight kinks.

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