It's 106 miles to Chicago, it's dark, and we've got an app


— 11:15 AM on March 6, 2012

On this, iPad 3 Eve (and apparently Apple TV 3 Eve, as well), I thought it might be nice to step back from X-raying all the leaked parts and turn our collective attention to something even more exciting than discussing pin-outs on display connectors: auto performance apps for iOS. And by "apps" I mean the one I ponied up for with my own cash money. But more on that in a moment.

Back when I was a college boy, full of boyish vigor, a hint of boyish vim, and clad in pinch-rolled Bugle Boy jeans, I owned a Mustang. Actually, I owned two Mustangs. Not at the same time. The first was a 1990 LX 5.0 coupe (or notchback to those in the know) with a five-speed transmission. I had managed to add a cat-back exhaust system the summer between my junior and senior year to give it a really nice sound. I then managed to hydroplane along I-70 outside of Grain Valley, Missouri, slide across a ¼-mile wide grass median into oncoming traffic, and get smacked—not head-on, thankfully—by a minister. First, no one was seriously injured. Second, I was actually doing 10 miles per hour under the 65mph limit at the time. Regardless, the car was toast. It was replaced a couple of weeks later with an '87 GT. Neither my dad (who had an '86 LX 5.0 coupe) nor I were big fans of the GT with its extra, obnoxious body cladding and higher insurance premiums. But I needed a ride and the car was being sold by one of my dad's friends, so we knew it hadn't been driven for six years by someone like me.

At the time, my friend and now fellow-TR scribe Andy "Dr. Evil" Brown also had a 5.0. We both installed new rear gears, assorted traction-aiding devices, and headers. Then, one day at an unclaimed salvage place where we occasionally unearthed electronic treasures, we found them: car timers. For, I think, fifty bucks or so. Remember, this is early 1994, long before the days of G-Tech meters, when the only thing I owned that had a built-in accelerometer was my own brain. Which was not attached to a timer.

This particular timer came with a display you mounted somewhere on your dash and a sensor that you mounted in a front wheel well. The sensor had to be aimed just so at the inner rim of your wheel. Oh, and you had to mount magnets on the wheel. Those button magnets you find at craft stores whose main purpose is to be ingested by the less-astute of the kindergarten population. Andy and I spent a lot of time epoxying magnets to our wheels. The more magnets you used, the more accurate the timer would be. We thought. But wheels get quite warm when driven, and our choice of epoxy wasn't quite correct—and so numerous magnets were left scattered along the byways of eastern Jackson County, Missouri.

To calibrate the timer, you had to drive one mile exactly. This required finding a highway, with mile markers, where it was safe enough to pull off onto the shoulder. Which we did with ease because we were 21-years-old and bulletproof, hydroplaning experiences be damned. The timer would then know how many magnetic pulses it read in a mile and could then calculate your speed and assorted times. It was cool. Really. Even with the old-school digital clock-style numbers. And if I recall correctly, my best 0-60 was 5.3 seconds.

Fast forward 18 years, and I'm walking around with a computer in my pocket equipped with three accelerometers, a GPS chip and other location-based hardware and code that The Administration uses to track all Texas residents. And, as of yesterday, my iPhone 3GS sports an app called Bosch Light 'Em Up. At $4.99 for the paid version, it was $8 cheaper than the identical Dynolicious app. And I mean identical (I think). The apps are produced by the same developer, BunsenTech, and produce the same results. Even the dev's website lists their features as being the same. But apparently Bosch paid for this version, so it's cheaper. I don't know, and I don't care. If the Germans want to subsidize my app budget in hopes of me buying their Titanium Hasselhoff Edition spark plugs, I won't argue.

The unfortunately named Light 'Em Up measures acceleration times in 10mph increments, ¼ mile times and trap speeds, lateral G forces, braking G forces, horsepower and skidpad. You can set it up for multiple cars and email or post your results to Twitter and Facebook if you want to stick it to that guy in the IROC ("He had t-tops, man! He was screwin' with me!"). Like to tinker? You can catalog your mods and see if adding that Folgers can-sized fart pipe actually gained you anything besides an annoyed girlfriend.

Setup is both easy and frustrating, depending on what you wish to measure. For all measurements except horsepower, all you have to do is a simple calibration upon launching the app for the first time. You literally turn the phone on all its axes so the app can measure the accelerometers. If you want horsepower numbers, you have to input the weight of your car. Which is easy to find online. What is not easy is continually adjusting for the amount of gas in the tank, the girth of your passengers, and the amount of gray market Quad Lokoo you have in the trunk. And if you want to know how much horsepower you're turning at the crank instead of at the wheels, you'll need to input a driveline loss number, which a simple Google search will probably reveal.

Frankly, I gave up on the horsepower number fairly quickly. After making my best guestimate at total weight, the app told me my almost-vintage 2004 WRX wagon made 295 horsepower during a less than wide open throttle run. And I doubt that Fram AirHog filter added 68 horsepower to my car. Other users have fared better with the horsepower numbers. But these folks appear to regularly strap their cars on actual, rolling dynos and can, therefore, play with the app's setting accordingly. Once dialed in, folks report accuracy within just a few HP, which is pretty good for a cell phone.

For timed runs and skidpad numbers, though, Light 'Em Up is pretty sweet. Stop your car, hit start, take off, and do your business. The app stops timing automatically after 30 seconds (because if your car is that slow in the quarter, get out and limp) or if you slow more than 10mph. You can even set rollout parameters and how many G's it takes to trigger timing. I approve.

Is Light 'Em Up the best auto performance app out there? Of the one I've tested, yes. But you're welcome to put your own money where my mouth wasn't (hmmm, ewww) and try others. Like gMeter, g-tac or Rev. But please, use them responsibly on closed roads with a HANS device and full-face helmet. Also, I do not accept collect calls from the hoosegow, so don't bother calling for bail.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled rumor-mongering and gear-lust-anticipation-lust. If you need me, I'll be in the garage Gorilla Gluing some magnets to my kids' trikes.

Later,

Fox

   
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