iPhone apps help your friends find you

The iPhone’s Maps app and Google Maps on the Web are great tools for figuring out how to get somewhere, but only if you know the precise—or at least rough—location of your destination. (Obvious, I know. Hear me out.) But what about those times when you’re out and about, trying to meet up with a friend, and neither side can figure out exactly where the other is? Solving that problem is the goal of a slew of new apps for the iPhone.

These apps—Breadcrumbs, GeoNumbers, Here I Am, Here I Am (yes, two apps with the same name), Over Here, and Ya Mapped—take advantage of the iPhone 3G’s GPS functionality to determine your location and then let you email that location, as a Google Maps URL, to anyone else. (You can edit the subject and body of these automatically-generated email messages.) The recipient can then open the URL in Google Maps in their Web browser to see your location and get directions to you. Even better, if the recipient receives the email on an iPhone, the link will open in the Maps application, which can also pinpoint their location and show exactly how to get to you; there’s no need to find a computer with an Internet connection. It's a simple function, but one that can be quite useful.

(Unfortunately, none of the apps can send the URL via SMS. It's also worth noting that these apps do work on the iPod touch and the original iPhone, but not nearly as well, due to the fact that these models use nearby WiFi networks, instead of GPS, to determine location—you’ll get much-less-precise results, and even then only if there are known WiFi networks nearby.)

While we won’t be formally reviewing these six apps, I did test them all; here are my impressions. But first, a tip: It’s a good idea to check your location in the iPhone’s Maps app before using one of these programs, because there are places the iPhone’s GPS feature doesn’t work well. If you're currently in a place where the phone is accurate only to within 10 miles or so, you could end up sending your friend somewhere else entirely.

Over Here

I found Gareth Townsend’s free Here I Am 1.2 (the Here I Am app with an icon that looks like a white pushpin on a red background) and Ed Lea’s $1 Over Here 1.1 to be too inaccurate to recommend; neither waited long enough to let the iPhone’s GPS circuitry get a good reading, resulting in “locations” that were often 2000 feet (or more) from where I actually was. The other apps allow you to decide how long the GPS feature chugs away. Given enough time—a minute or so—the others correctly placed me inside my house, with location coordinates within 10 feet or so of my actual location.

(Here I Am actually provides you with a preview map that lets you make adjustments to the measured position by moving the map “pin.” However, this requires that you actually know exactly where you are, making it great for pinpointing your home, but not so good if you’re in an unfamiliar place. In addition, you can’t move the pin anywhere beyond the current screen, so if the accuracy is considerably off—as it often was for me—you can’t move the pin enough to get the correct location.)

GeoNumbers

David Schreiber’s $1 GeoNumbers 1.0.0 and Arboretum Software LLC’s free Here I Am 1.1 (the version of Here I Am with an envelope icon) were both solid. Each shows your location (in terms of latitude, longitude, and altitude), along with an indication of the current accuracy (in terms of an approximate distance range; for example, within 45 feet). By giving the GPS circuitry time to narrow down your location, you can increase the accuracy. Once you’re satisfied with the accuracy, you tap a button to email your location. GeoNumbers’s emails use the default subject line GeoNumbers: [latitude] / [longitude] / [altitude] (with the actual coordinates instead of the names, of course); the body of each email includes those coordinates along with a Google Maps link. You can choose a default send-to email address, the format used for coordinates (dd° mm’ ss” or ddd.dddddd), and whether to express altitude in feet or meters. Here I Am’s emails use the subject line hereIam, with a body that says simply I am at [Google Maps link].

Interestingly, when the accuracy is 200 feet or more, GeoNumbers doesn’t include a Google Maps link, instead including just the coordinates. The rationale here appears to be that an inaccurate link is worse than no link at all, although I wish there was a way to override this feature.

Ya Mapped

MetalBarcode Software LLC’s $1 Ya Mapped 1.0 works similarly to GeoNumbers and Here I Am, but offers a couple unique features. The first is the ability to bookmark your location. So, for example, if you want a friend to meet you at your current location, but at a later time—or even on a different day—you can bookmark that location and then send an link to it at any time, even if you’re no longer there. (You can also use this feature, as I did, to add a bookmark for your home so you can quickly send that location to future visitors.) Ya Mapped also includes a Preview Map button that switches to the Maps application and displays the surveyed position. Unfortunately, when you return to Ya Mapped, it re-determines your location, which, thanks to the vagaries of GPS, could be slightly different than the original measurement. A better approach is, as I mentioned above, to just check Maps to begin with.

Ya Mapped emails are created with a blank subject line and the simplest message body of any of the apps: a Google Maps link called Location details.

Breadcrumbs

My favorite of the six apps was Decisive Tactics Inc.’s $1 Breadcrumbs 1.0.1. Like the others, it shows the currently-determined coordinates, along with the current level of accuracy; when you’re satisfied with the accuracy, you tap Send Position. But Breadcrumbs also displays an icon indicating whether or not you’ve got a solid GPS signal—useful so you don’t sit there waiting for a good position reading when GPS isn’t available. It also has the best interface of the lot, in my opinion. Finally, while Breadcrumbs’ email subjects are simply My position, it creates the most-informative messages: the body of each message includes the Google Maps URL, the date and time the position was taken, the accuracy of the coordinates, and a useful warning to the recipient that GPS is sometimes inaccurate.

As a final note, there’s one minor drawback to all these apps when sending to someone else with an iPhone: clicking on a Google Maps URL in Mail opens that position in the Maps app, but the resulting view—what you see when Maps opens—is often somewhere halfway around the world. The solution is to zoom way, way, way out, scroll to the correct continent (you’ll see the red map pin for the location), and then zoom in. This is apparently a bug in Maps itself, so we'll have to wait for Apple to fix it.

Update 8/21/2008, 9:30am It turns out I missed one: Exploding Orange's $1 IAmHere. IAmHere lets you add a default note to its email messages and choose the default send-to email address; you can also edit the actual email template. The app lets you wait until you get an acceptably-accurate reading, displaying the current accuracy on the screen. However, IAmHere doesn't display the actual coordinates of your location; those are visible only in the resulting email message. I didn't like IAmHere as much as I did Breadcrumbs or Ya Mapped, but it's a solid app in the same range as GeoNumbers.

  
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