New York City. December, 2009: My NYC based friend had to pick me up from one of the metro stations, but I got down at the wrong side of the station. After about 3-4 calls of “Where exactly are you?” and 10 minutes of searching, we were able to find each other. At that time, I thought of an idea for an app that would allow two users to see each other’s location on a map, and this location would be updated regularly as the users move. I had just started using smartphones and was getting used to the idea of “There’s an app for that!”, but my friend instantly dismissed this idea as being too intrusive, to which I suggested that the app could allow users to share their location only for a specific period of time. We talked about this for another 2-3 minutes, and then, I completely forgot about it.
Months later, I got to know about Glympse and realized that when I was thinking about the idea, the app was already in business. It had everything that I had thought of in my idea, and more. (So, another business idea goes down the drain! 🙁 ) Since then, it has been one of my favorite and most frequently used apps.
Glympse uses your smartphone’s built-in GPS to locate your whereabouts, and then, it allows the recipient to see your location using Google maps for a pre-defined period of time. As seen below, sending a Glypmse is really simple:
The only two mandatory details are: phone number/email of the recipient and the duration of the Glympse (default is 15 minutes). Message is optional, and so is destination. Usually, I fill in both these fields too, especially when the destination can be picked very easily from your last used destinations or your address-book.
Once the recipient clicks the link in email/text message, he can view your location with real time updates. Typically, it is updated every 9-10 seconds. On right, you can see a screenshot of a Glympse that I recently sent to a friend. This is the view in the Glympse iPhone app, but the view in mobile browser or on a computer is not too different. As you can see, the view includes not only my location, but also my speed and estimated arrival time, if I have specified a destination. (No, I am not over-speeding here! I am in a BART train! 🙂 ). In the pic, the green line shows one of the possible paths from my current location to the final destination (perhaps the default path between two points as per Google maps), while the blue line indicates the route that I have taken since the start of this Glympse session. Of course, like usual Google maps view, you can zoom in or zoom out for the required level of details. One really good feature which I discovered recently is how the app handles the change of destination. As a sender, you can “Modify” a Glympse and change the destination. The recipient does not receive this as a separate message. Rather, at the next location update, the checkered flag indicating the endpoint is moved to the new destination.
There are so many use-cases I can think for this wonderful app . Here are some of them (most of which I have already tried!):
- Giving your family peace of mind when traveling at night: One of my most common uses of the app. When for any reason I am a bit late to get back home, I send my wife a Glympse while coming back. Being able to track me is very reassuring to her. And if unfortunately, anything bad does happen, she would immediately know the last good location before I stopped or was made to change directions.
- Meeting a friend in crowded public place: Especially, when things are too noisy for a phone call, sending a Glympse may work just right! (I used this while meeting my cousin at 4th of July fireworks in SF)
- Allow others to catch up at the right place when your plans are dynamic: You are in a new city for a day, and your friend plans to join you some time in next one hour. Problem is that you yourself are driving around, and don’t exactly know where you will be when your friend is free. Send your friend a Glympse, and he can join you wherever you are!
- Avoiding “Where are you” calls when you are late: Instead of 10 “I am almost there” calls (9 of which are lies!!), simply send your friends a Glympse and let them know when you’ll join them.
- Letting friends track you in a marathon, a bike-race or a long drive: This idea came from a friend, who loves to bike and often checks in on Foursquare/Facebook while on a bike-trail. He was really delighted to know about Glympse, as instead of checking in at individual locations, now, he can let his friends track his whole trail!
One of the best things about Glympse is that the recipient does not need to download the app to see the sender’s location. Because of this, it avoids the problem of Network effects that many emerging technologies face. Many of these are excellent ideas, but they never really take off, because they are not very useful till a good number of people start using them. For example: think of the initial fax machines. Nobody bought them as they had nobody to send faxes to! Once the fax-network crossed the critical mass, the sale of fax-machines skyrocketed! Unfortunately, many good ideas die without ever crossing that chasm. Glympse avoids this problem by freeing the recipient from the hassle of downloading another app he hasn’t heard of. As long as he is connected to the Internet through a phone/ tablet/ computer, the sender’s location can be tracked in a web-browser (although there is an option of using the app, if you are on a smartphone). Most of the time, recipients of my glympses love the way they are able to track my location and end up getting the app. (It’s free!)
There is just one downside of this awesome app: It’s a battery hog: both on the sender and receiver side! So unless you carry a car charger for your phone, you may not want to use this for long duration. This is understandable, as the app regularly needs to send/receive the current location of the sender. Again, this is not unique to Glympse, but a problem that is common to a number of Location Based Services. So, Glympse is no more a battery hog than Google Maps is.
Some features I would love to see added to future releases:
- Ability to change location update frequency: While it is fun to see real time updates, the utility part of getting updates every few seconds is debatable, and if my phone is running low on battery, I may want to control the update frequency. For most situations, an update every 1-2 minutes would be perfectly okay. For longer trips (Anything more than 2 hour) even an update every 5-10 minutes would serve the purpose. This should result in a big drop in battery consumption. Of course, this will almost kill the fun part of the app, but will still maintain the utility aspects. Another option maybe to provide users an option of selecting an “Intelligent mode”, where the update frequency would vary inversely with the remaining duration of the journey: At the start of a 4 hour trip, updates may be sent every 10 minutes, changing to 5 minutes in last 2 hours and finally switching to default real time updates in last 30 minutes!)
- Trip recorder: Yes, the link provided to a recipient should expire after a specified time, but how about allowing the user to send oneself and save a Glympse of his own location? There may be numerous use-cases for this: Allowing one to retrace his path for a lost wallet, embedding one’s completed bike-trail in a blog, or simply remembering an alternative route to a destination.
Tags: app review, apps, iOS apps, iphone, Location based services