Create The Ultimate Tracking Device (Part 1)

10/15/2012 2:31:37 PM

Keep track of family and friends, wherever they may be – it’s easy with Android

At a glance

Skill - Straightforward

Tome needed – 5 mins

Suitable for – Android smartphones and tablets

Most, if not all, modern phones boast GPS support, as do some tablets. All these devices support Wi-Fi at the very least. Plus, our devices are location-aware. This enables us to use our phones and tablets as a Sat-Nav in the car, and our phones as a personal location device while out walking and geo-caching. Combine this functionality with good quality maps, and it’s hard to imagine ever getting lost again, or being at a loss for interesting things to do.

Description: “There are concerns when it comes to giving out your location”

“There are concerns when it comes to giving out your location”

The scope for applications that are based on your location is an untapped well of potential, and we’re only just beginning to see some interesting apps that exploit such information. Security is an easy one to tap into, with a lost or stolen phone suddenly able to position itself on the global map. Where’s my Droid? Is a great example of implementing such a concept. If you’re close enough to your phone, it will increase the volume and set off an alarm so that you can locate it quickly. If you’re further away, it will show you on a map exactly where it is. This does require that the phone still has sufficient battery to operate, but there’s always going to be limitations about using phones with no charge.

There’s an element to these devices that is somewhat under-used at the moment, though, and that’s how we use them to interact with each other. We may be tweeting and updating our blogs or statuses constantly, but few of us are using this location-aware information to state where we ate that fine meal, had that great drink or saw that amazing exhibition. The tide is turning, though, and the push for location-aware social media has begun. Both from specific apps that hope to tie everything together to add-ins and add-ons that bolt on to the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Google has not behind the concept as well, producing Latitude, its location-aware addition to Google Maps. As long as your friends and family have shared the information with you, you can see where they are, what they’re doing and who they’re with. You can use Latitude to arrange get-togethers in restaurants, bars or specific locations in parks, or in fact anywhere in the great outdoors. Once you’ve reached the place where you’re meeting, you can use the check-in functionality of Latitude to let everyone else know you’ve arrived – great if you’ve managed to get there early, and want to broadcast that everyone should get their skates on.

Description: Find out where your friends are with Latitude

Find out where your friends are with Latitude

Checking in

There is something of an inherent problem to this way of tracking your location, though, and that is own to the fact that the GPS signal will be lost the moment you walk into a building – you need line of sight to the satellites, and in built-up areas the accuracy drops noticeably. You can manually search through a list of business names when you arrive somewhere – which you may do for the first few times you use a service such as Latitude- but you’ll soon get bored of manually setting where you are. Plus, in the bigger complexes, you’ll find it a real chore simply finding the company name based on a slightly dodgy location.

The solution, as presented by Latitude, is to set up lists of places that you regularly visit. Anywhere you use the check-in option is added to a list of places that you’ll potentially visit again. So if you’re in the area at a later date, Latitude can be configured to automatically check in to that place. We are creatures of habit, after all, and chances are if you’re ending up in the same general area, it’s probably the same café that you’re ending up at. It’s worth noting that you need to be careful with this feature – there’s no point announcing to the world that you made it to work every day.

Such automated location tracking is great for meeting up with people, particularly if you’re in an area or city you don’t know so well, but which is quite complex to navigate in traditional ways. If there’s one coffee shop or bar on a street, then chances are you won’t have a problem bumping into mates, but if it’s a busy city, would be easy to get lost without the likes of Latitude.


There are obvious security concerns when it comes to giving out your location to just everyone, and you need to use at least a modicum of sense when picking who to share such information with – family and close friends you can trust. Security and privacy concerns are mounting as technology integrates with our lives in this way, and one area that has made the headlines recently is when recording your movements.

Google Latitude boasts a feature called location history, which enables you (and it promises only you), to see where you spend your time. It takes a couple of days of using this feature before you can get anything meaningful, but seeing that you spend more time in the office than you do with your loved ones is always sobering. This is pitched as a fun mass of statistics for you to stare at, but the implication is there that if you can see it, then others can potentially learn your habits as well.

It’s reasonable to suggest that only paranoid people should be concerned about such data being seen by others, but at the same time, you need to be aware of what can be gained by anyone knowing your regular routine. When you leave for work in the morning, for instance, how long you spend in the pub at lunchtime, how long your house stays empty during the day… such information isn’t broadcast in traditional social communication, and the same should be true for the likes of Latitude – interesting as a one-off look into your life, but probably best turned off after that.

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