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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Track your friends and family privately with the new iOS Footprints app

21

June

Most modern smartphones either have a GPS or a simulated GPS that approximates your location based on your signal or connection the Internet. This means when you have your phone, you're a blip on a radar and can be found. There are many apps for both iOS and Android phones that share your location each time you post a photo or do a check-in (Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla, for instance) and if you're concerned about privacy, you need to be aware of this.

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There are times when it would desirable to track friends and family privately, however, and the new Footprints app for iOS devices has this capability. With Footprints, your geo-location data is only shared with people with whom you explicitly grant permission to see your location. Whether your phone is in your hand or in your pocket, the tracking runs in real-time in the background.

When traveling or when just at the mall, you can keep track of your group. Parents can track their kids when they're walking home from school or driving around in the family car. Parental controls in the app can make it so tracking is always on and cannot be turned off by your child, so you'll always know where they are (or at least where there phone is).

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What makes Footprints unique from other tracking apps is that you don't have to "ping" the person you want to track. Real-time tracking means that when the person you're tracking moves you will see it within seconds.

Additionally, Footprints can be linked to your Facebook account for sharing and tracking of locations through Facebook Places. Once the app is linked to your Facebook account, this feature happens automatically and you can view the check-in locations of all your Facebook friends in one place. You also can view your Facebook friends and your privately-tracked friends on the same map, in either map, satellite or hybrid views so you can always where everybody is.

The private tracking feature is free for the first three months if you register with the Footprints.net site. After that it's $.99 for three more months, $2.99 for one year and $4.99 for two years of private tracking.

Here's a complete list of features:

  • Tracks movement throughout the day and logs waypoints without user intervention. 
  • Runs in the background – without draining your battery – by leveraging Apple's Significant Location Change technology, which monitors location changes as your device “sees” new cellular towers. (Footprints typically logs a waypoint when there is movement of 500 meters to 3 km or a quarter-mile to 2 miles, depending on cellular coverage in the area.) This default setting provides a good balance of timely location updates without draining the battery.
  • Lets you share your tracked waypoints by granting specific permissions. For instance, you can share your last 10 waypoints with a friend for two days. 
  • Parental control feature allows for sharing locations at all times, without a disabling option.
  • Ability to share your current location manually at any time.
  • You can even configure Footprints to log your location every few minutes, but this setting will drain your battery much faster.
  • Designed to sync seamlessly between your iPhone and iPad. 
  • Runs natively on all Apple iOS devices from the 3rd generation on (iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd and 4th generation, and on all iPad models).

img_0168.pngFootprints requires iOS 4.2 or later. To have private tracking, the app must be installed on all devices sharing locations on the Footprints network, and each device must have it's own subscription. That means to have private tracking for a family of four for two years it would be $20.

The developer notes that the iPhone 4 and iPad track very well and are very accurate. The iPhone 3GS, however, is less accurate. Devices without a GPS and cellular connection (iPad Wi-Fi, iPod touch) can only track and share waypoints when connected to a Wi-Fi network. Continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life. There are several preferences within the app that can be used to strike a good balance between tracking and battery life.

The app is free and if you you just want to use it to track your Facebook friends on one map, it works well for that. The private tracking features, however, are what really make this app shine. With the automatic, real-time tracking services provided at a reasonable cost, many people will find this app useful.

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 9:25am]

    

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