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How well does iPhone location awareness work?

I’ve had a couple of experiences this week with iPhone’s that have made me ask this question. I frequently work with a consultant who has owned a first gen iPhone for nine months. He’s never been able to get sending an email through an AOL account to work reliably, so I had a look at the settings for him. We eventually worked out that the only time he could send emails was when the iPhone was close enough to connected through an open wireless access point. Receiving emails works fine, but not sending. The O2 stores he has visited were clueless about this problem, so I’m investigating for the next time I work with him.

While playing with the email settings I asked if he would mind me trying out the location awareness in Maps. Since the phone can use local cellphone towers to work out its location I expected this to have no problem. After a few minutes searching the iPhone still hadn’t worked out where it was so I gave up. My mobile is on O2 and I had maximum signal strength, so did the iPhone.

The second dissapointent was at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. I was there to see the new Batman film and stopped at the O2 store. They had several 3G iPhones on display so I tried the location awareness in Maps again. Since the store is inside the shopping centre the GPS hardware won’t work, but the iPhone was connected to the O2 wireless network. My mobile again had a strong signal, but the iPhone couldn’t get its location.

One of the biggest reasons for me to buy an iPhone would be the location awareness, for finding local services. It’s a killer feature, but doesn’t work on my iPod Touch or the two iPhone’s I have tried. I would like to hear from anyone who has had a positive experience of location awareness in the UK (outside the major cities) since it’s not doing much to convince me so far.

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