The iPhone 3.0 software update finally enabled iPhone apps to support turn-by-turn navigation. And now there are three apps on the market — from TomTom, Navigon, and Sygic — that provide turn-by-turn directions as well as embedding maps within their app. (That’s important because if you lose your cell signal, you don’t want to lose your way!) Essentially, these apps function like a standalone satellite navigation system… but they’re inside your iPhone.

These apps aren’t cheap. They range in price from $50 to $100. And so much of their appeal involves observing them when they’re in action. That’s the purpose of this video — to show you these apps as they appear when you’re using them. In this video, I make an endless series of loops around Mill Valley, California in a hot car (windows rolled up and fan turned off so you can hear me — the things I do for you, dear video-watchers) while testing all three out.

What this video is not is a complete in-depth shootout review of the three products. The fact is, they’re all deep, deep products and deserve more time than I’ve yet spent with them. Look for our reviews of all three — individually and comparing them — in the near future. In the meantime, though, I hope this video gives you a better idea of how they work.

If you’ve got questions about the apps, I’d be happy to answer them in the forum thread attached to this message. And if you use one of these apps, feel free to share your experiences as well. Both sorts of messages will help guide us as we work on our coverage of this exciting area of iPhone apps.

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Show Notes

Read more about these apps on our App Guide:

I didn’t get a chance to mention in the video that TomTom has the best selection of voices, offering at least a half-dozen different English-language voices, including four in U.S. English. I did enjoy the European-accented English voices provided by Navigon and Sygic, however. (I admit to being amused when one of the apps told me to head north on the “U.S. One Hundred One,” though. That’s not how we say one oh one in California, friend.)

Navigon’s app impressed me for its display of live logos on its map. Look, honey, there’s a Taco Bell floating right over there!

As I mention in the video, Sygic’s app feels more like a standalone GPS receiver, with lots of arrow buttons to move through menus and the like rather than more native iPhone controls. But that said, I though it was a really well-designed app.

Bottom line: At this early date I think all three of these apps have potential. I’m not prepared to discard any of them from contention for my affections. And I know for a fact that their developers are hard at work on releasing updates to add other features users have requested, including text-to-speech for speaking street names.

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[Jason Snell is Macworld's editorial director.]

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