Google introduced their new new Nexus One cell phone today at a press conference. This is the first phone that is shipping with the new Android 2.1 operating system, which has at least a couple of interesting new features. Every field where you need to enter text is voice enabled. That is, you can either type the information, or you can speak it and the voice recognition system reportedly does a pretty good job of entering what you said .There is no physical keyboard, but there is a virtual one that pops up on the screen when it is needed. So if you need to do a lot of typing on your phone, it is not the phone for you.
The other feature that is now possible with the new version of the operating system is a weather widget. It uses the built-in GPS receiver to determine your location, then displays the weather conditions and forecasts for your area that it collects from Weather.com. But as Google tends to do sometimes, it does it in an innovative way, at least for a cell phone. It will display the temperature and the humidity for the day in a graph, both the past and forecast data. This is available from the home screen, so there is not a lot of clicking involved.
The phone can get the data from a wireless network or from a cell phone system as long as you have a signal from a tower. While this will never replace having a dedicated fire weather forecaster at your beck and call on a large incident, it could be quite valuable for the firefighter out on the fireline.
The phone is available today from Google, or from T-Mobile for $179 with a contract. In the spring it will be available from Verizon.
The new Android 2.1 operating system that ships with the Nexus One will be pushed out to the existing Motorola Droid owners in a couple of days, making the new weather widget available on those phones as well. I have a Droid and am very satisfied with it. (UPDATE, Jan. 29. The Motorola CEO, Sanjay Jha, who said the new operating system would be pushed out in a couple of days was wrong. As of today it still has not happened, and it may not occur for days, weeks, or months.)
T-Mobile does not have great coverage in the rural areas where most vegetation fires occur, but Verizon’s coverage is much better, making the Droid or the Nexus One when it is available from Verizon pretty good choices for wildland firefighters. HERE is a map on which you can choose a cell phone provider and “select layer to display” to compare coverage levels.
There is another weather application that is available now on Android phones that will collect data from the nearest weather station even if it is a RAWS station. Or at least once after I installed it today I saw that it displayed weather from a RAWS station, but later it got it from a conventional station. Maybe it just gets the latest data within a certain radius of your specified location, but unlike the new widget described above, it does not use your phone’s GPS to determine your location. The program can also display radar and satellite maps. It is called “Weather by Michael Bachman” and is free. It gets the weather data from the Weather Underground site.
UPDATE: April 6, 2010
Today we wrote an updated article about the Android 2.1 News and Weather widget, including how to set up within it a wildfire news tab.