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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Use your phone to track your family

25

August

With our daughter starting middle school this year came a change in our routine. After school she has to walk aboiut 1/2 mile to her after-school center and for safety's sake we wanted a way to track her. I looked at some small GPS devices made for this purpose but they were one-trick ponies. Essentially they were personal homing beacons but didn't provide any form of actual communication. Now that many modern phones have GPS capability many more options are available.

So using a hand-me-down iPhone 3G available after some family upgrades, we armed ourselves with an app called Family Tracker.

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Family Tracker allows you to track people through the app or on a special web site. The service doesn't require you to disclose your phone number but instead, tracks your phone using an email address. This is done using Apple's "ping" notifications instead of SMS messages. The notitications are free and work anywhwere in the world as long as your phone has an internet connection.

On iOS4 devices that support multi-tasking (iPhone 4, 3GS and 3rd generation iPods) the app runs in the background and location updates are sent automatically. Without multi-tasking (older iPhones and the iPad) when the ping notification is received and acknowleded by the receiver, the phone's GPS is updated.

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On the first day of school the software worked perfectly. I pinged our daughter and when she accepted the ping request her location was updated so I knew she had arrived safely at her after-school center. And I like that she has to manually reply to the request because if it were all automatic we could be tracking just a phone instead of a person. The peace of mind this provides, knowing where she is when she communicates with us, is invaluable.

Family Tracker is $3.99 for the iPhone or iPod and $5.99 for the iPad.

For those using Android and Blackberry phones a similar app called iLoci2 is another option. It's also available for the iPhone but when I compared features I felt Family Tracker was a better choice, so I have no practical experience with it. If someone out there is using it on any platform, please send me your impressions and I'll share them here.

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 5:42pm]

    

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