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IPad As The Ultimate Navigation Tool

People are using the tablet computer to find their way on roads, seas and trails.

Conventional wisdom says Apple's iPad doesn't belong on boats, mountainous trails or strapped into makeshift holsters on car dashboards. After all, the tablet computer is pricey ($499 to $829), large (9.6 inches by 7.5 inches) and somewhat fragile.

Nevertheless, some iPad users are employing the tablet like a portable navigation device (PND) to map out routes while they are sailing, hiking and driving. The practice is encouraging developers to tailor map-based iPhone applications to the iPad and could boost sales of the already popular gadget.
Apple ( AAPL - news - people ) reported in late June that it has sold more than 3 million iPads since April.

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Recreational hiker Kristian Andersen is one of these early adopters. Before Andersen hits the trails, he downloads digital maps of his destination--usually
New Hampshire's White Mountains or Vermont's Green Mountains--to his iPad and iPhone. Though the Boston-based scientist principally relies on his iPhone for directions, he will turn to his iPad when he needs a clearer view. "The larger screen is helpful," says Andersen. "I see it as a planning tool."

Pete Ostrowski also hikes with his iPad. The device, he says, picks up global positioning system (
GPS) signals better than the iPhone (even in forests), boasts longer battery life and fits in his backpack without adding much weight or bulk. With its bright display and pinch-and-zoom touch screen, the iPad feels like a "giant interactive map," Ostrowski says. On a recent cross-country trip he opted to use his iPad for trail and road navigation instead of a $300 handheld GPS device.

The bonus is that the iPad--when equipped with certain apps--also lets users do things like track their hikes and identify area attractions. "You can do a lot of this with a paper map," Ostrowski says. "But recording the hike [and] letting people know what they are looking at when they ask 'What is that?' is pretty cool."

Bolstered by users like Andersen and Ostrowski, developers are adapting their location-based applications to run on the iPad. (Most of these apps work best on the 3G version of the iPad, which has built-in GPS, but will also operate on the cheaper, Wi-Fi-only iPad.) The trend caught some developers by surprise. "Personally, I think the iPad is too big for car navigation use, but the customer is always right," says Marcus Thielking, chief marketing officer for navigation software firm Skobbler. "People seem keen on doing whatever is possible with the iPad."

In fact, a few customers are already using Skobbler's iPhone app, which combines road maps, local points of interest and social networking profiles into an iPad driving tool. Skobbler plans to release a formal iPad app in coming weeks. One incentive: iPad applications tend to sell for three to five times the price of iPhone apps.

Thielking says Skobbler has yet to set a price for the iPad app. It is also still debating whether the iPad version should be a close copy of the iPhone app or a complementary, dashboard-type service. In the case of the latter, consumers would call on the iPad for weather and traffic information and to plan their routes, then synch the data to their iPhones for in-car use. "We see the iPad as a great addition to the iPhone app," Thielking says.

Some mapping companies weren't interested in releasing mobile apps until they saw the iPad. That's the case for Benchmark Maps. The Oregon-based map publisher has been producing meticulous paper maps of the Western U.S. since 1994 but waited until now to create a digital application. "The content was always there, but the devices weren't up to par," says Curtis Carroll, Benchmark's director of sales and marketing.

The iPad propelled Benchmark into action. "Finally we have something where people can experience the same level of detail and usability found in our maps," Carroll says. Benchmark's first app, a road atlas of California, is slated for release before the end of the

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