The iPhone has changed the way we communicate and use technology. A bona fide portable computer, it's countless times more advanced and capable than the ones that were used to guide Apollo missions to the moon. From worldwide, never-get-lost mapping applications to always-available communications, to other random apps you never knew you needed, the iPhone has quickly become an essential tool for many of us. Because it's so small and lightweight, we take it everywhere, including in our cars. While it may be unsafe to talk, text or otherwise monkey around with it while driving, there are many great apps out there that make driving, owning a car, or traveling in it at least a bit easier or more enjoyable.

We have chosen a few of these to showcase, but the beauty of most iPhone apps is that they don't cost much, so it's relatively painless to try new ones.

Dashboard/Windshield Mount (About $50)
  • Dashboard/Windshield Mount (About $50)
  • Dashboard/Windshield Mount (About $50) -We haven't held the Dexim DCA125 Audio Car Mount yet -- because it's not out yet -- but this suction-cup style, windshield-mounted holder covers all those bases with its built-in car charger and audio connections for a little over $50. In lieu of a windshield mount, there is the Belkin TuneBase Direct, a unit that is held in place by its connection to the car's cigarette lighter and holds the iPhone on a flexible shaft. It retails for $69.95, but is available for significantly less if you shop around.

  • Image Credit: Dexim, Belkin
MotionX GPS Drive ($2.99) or Google Maps (Free)
  • MotionX GPS Drive ($2.99) or Google Maps (Free)
  • MotionX GPS Drive ($2.99) or Google Maps (Free) - The iPhone has done a pretty good job of making other electronic devices obsolete, from stand alone music players to contact managers to e-mail clients. Add one more device to that list: Portable GPS devices. There are plenty of turn-by-turn navigation systems, including one offered by AT&T, but we like MotionX because it's inexpensive, offers spoken turn-by-turn directions and uses an immediate web search to ensure that you are getting the most up-to-date information on your destinations. The initial download is $2.99, which includes one month of turn-by-turn directions. Each additional month costs another three dollars, without a recurring monthly subscription, so you can pay for it only when you need it for that family vacation or road trip. If you find yourself using it all the time, you can step up to the annual plan for just $25. Another worthwhile option for navigation is the Google Maps app included with the iPhone. It packs a lot of info, including live traffic data, and it's already included on your phone. While Google Maps can give you directions, they are just not real-time, turn-by-turn ones.

  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
GasBook ($0.99)
  • GasBook ($0.99)
  • GasBook ($0.99) - There are quite a few apps available that aggregate user-generated data for finding the cheapest gas around, but GasBook allows you to use the iPhone's GPS location feature as well as manually entering a ZIP code, making the app that much more useful on the road. After all, how often do you know the ZIP code or even the municipality you are in when traveling? The app's flexibility allows you to exclude certain gas brands, say, if they don't take your credit card, to have the built-in Google Maps application show the location of the station and it's distance from you.As a GasBook user you are expected to upload the latest prices when you buy gas, since the real utility of the app requires constant input from users. GasBook also allows you to keep a log of gas purchases where you can enter mileage and get fuel economy and spending reports that can be broken down various ways, should you really want to parse the information.

  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
INRIX Traffic! (Free) and INRIX Traffic! Pro ($9.99)
  • INRIX Traffic! (Free) and INRIX Traffic! Pro ($9.99)
  • INRIX Traffic! (Free) and INRIX Traffic! Pro ($9.99) - INRIX Traffic provides not only real-time traffic and congestion reports but also predictive traffic forecasts. L.A. area readers are sure to tell us that predicting traffic on the 405 is a pretty easy hunch for man or machine (bumper-to-bumper would be a first guess), but if you allow INRIX, it will upload your speed and location to update its information while also building models for forecasting traffic patterns. In other words, you report on the traffic without actually having to do anything. With more data, of course, can come more accuracy. INRIX Traffic not only includes traffic information related to accidents, construction or congestion, but it also warns of pending traffic on your route from sporting events, concerts and similarly large gatherings. Commuters may want to step up to the Pro version (an in-app upgrade for $9.99 per year or $24.99 lifetime) which gives you the option of adding regular routes (where it can predict your ETA), access to traffic cameras and even tell you what's the best time to leave for work and return based on the traffic you encounter.

  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
Trapster (Free)
  • Trapster (Free)
  • Trapster (Free) - Trapster is the sort of application the iPhone was made for, combining its GPS unit, communications tools, voice control and always connected status into a tool that gives the average motorist more than eight million people watching his back on the lookout for cops. Unlike websites that allows users to login and update speed trap information, Trapster allows you to update on the go, so that information remains truly fresh. You can even use a voice-controlled function that allows for hands-free updates. Users who update information are given “karma” points when the tip pans out. When you see a report from a user with a high number of karma points, you can be confident in the quality of the report.Trapster also provides information on known red light and speed-enforcement cameras, construction sites and just about any other hindrance you may encounter on the road. Trapster has additional functionality as a navigation tool and also direct connections to Facebook.At least one police department has been known to report their own speed traps because they believe that getting motorists slowed down and in compliance with the law is a lot easier to do than writing tickets and they know Trapster does just that.

  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
Trip Cubby ($4.99)
  • Trip Cubby ($4.99)
  • Trip Cubby ($4.99) - Show me a business traveler and I'll show you someone who hates paperwork. Having to drive for work and track mileage is not exactly difficult, but like most paperwork it's a pain in the posterior. Why not have your iPhone do it for you? While there are several apps out there that will use the GPS functionality for automatically logging trips, most of them have a stack of user complaints and when we tried them, they required a lot more input and rarely did they track trips with multiple legs, which many people who drive for work require.Trip Cubby, however, allows you to easily enter starting and ending odometer readings for each leg, name your trips and even export data in a format that can be imported into Excel. No muss, no fuss and one less thing to write down.

  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
AAA Roadside (Free, but useful only for AAA members)
  • AAA Roadside (Free, but useful only for AAA members)
  • AAA Roadside (Free, but useful only for AAA members) - AAA is the granddaddy of roadside assistance plans in the U.S., available to help across the country when trouble arises. While calling them is not necessarily inconvenient from a cell phone, using the iPhone app you can get your service call logged and the iPhone will automatically note your location to the dispatcher, something not always easy when traveling in an unfamiliar area. Along with those coordinates, you send a description of the vehicle, its current problem and your AAA member number. Once they have logged and dispatched your call, you will get a message back confirming your request for service. Also, if you would like to speak with someone, you can request that as well. The app will also use geo-locating tools to find local AAA-approved auto repair businesses in the area.
  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
Mbrace Mobile from Mercedes-Benz (Free for Mbrace subscribers)
  • Mbrace Mobile from Mercedes-Benz (Free for Mbrace subscribers)
  • Mbrace Mobile from Mercedes-Benz (Free for Mbrace subscribers) - Mercedes-Benz's Mbrace telematics system gets a jolt of even slicker technology with their new Mbrace Mobile application. Now, roadside assistance requests are but the touch of a button away. No need to figure out where you are, just start the app and you will be connected directly to the Mbrace call center. Okay, that sort of connectivity is not really new, but how about remotely unlocking your car, or, better yet, locking it? If you are sitting in your office and thinking, �Did I lock my car before stepping into this tiny, windowless, fluorescent-lit cubicle this morning?� you needn't worry anymore. Likewise, if you can't remember exactly where you parked your $200,000 S65 AMG, this app will help you find it, as long as you are within a mile of your car.
  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
Dynolicious ($12.99)
  • Dynolicious ($12.99)
  • Dynolicious ($12.99) - For the enthusiast, there is nothing quite like knowing exactly how quickly your car can reach 60 mph and, of course, bragging about those numbers to friends and rivals alike. You'll still need the safety of a drag strip to run your car, but instead of needing ludicrously expensive data logging equipment or a room-size dynamometer (a machine used to measure a car's horsepower), you can now get accurate and useful acceleration readings and horsepower estimates with Dynolicious. By app price standards, Dynolicious seems expensive, but given the insane costs that pro race teams pay to log this info and slightly less expensive equipment available to amateur racers, 13 bucks seems like a bargain. It even graphs your acceleration runs so you can see when shift points occur, giving you solid information that can help you improve your performance.
  • Image Credit: Terry Shea
Zombie Highway ($0.99)
  • Zombie Highway ($0.99)
  • Zombie Highway ($0.99) - Life can't all be fun and games, but if the iPhone tells us anything it's that we can take our fun and games with us. While on the real road of life you probably don't have a well armed, zombie-shooting pal in the backseat, you do in the iPhone gaming world. Zombie Highway is another one of those addictively simple games that takes advantage of the iPhone's motion sensors and multi-touch screen to provide for killer game play in the space of a deck of cards. Unlike most other driving games, but like all zombie games, your mission in Zombie Highway is to survive the gauntlet of the reanimated hordes that lurk alongside the highway. You can either shoot them off as you gain weapons or you can get rid of them the old fashioned way by passing extra close to the abandoned wrecks that litter the highway, scraping off the brainless creatures as you go.
  • Image Credit: Terry Shea

If you are using your iPhone in your car, you're going to want a dashboard or windshield mount. It's far easier to operate as a navigation, music and communications device in the car when you don't have to worry about holding it at the same time. The rest of us on the road will appreciate that you buy one as well.

There are many of these mounts on the market, but we like ones that will do landscape mode as well as portrait, which is typically more useful when driving with a navigation app. We also like a mount that doubles as a car charger since GPS apps tend to work an iPhone's battery hard.

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