Location, Location, LOCATION!

Today’s theme is: Where am I? Where do I want to go? Where have I been?

It’s pretty commonplace for a smartphone, or even a feature phone, to have geolocation capabilities. Back in the day, geolocation relied solely on wireless tower triangulation. It’s accuracy was sketchy at best. Today, there are much more sophisticated methods for acquiring your location…like, um, GPS :) They still use the towers for an approximate location. They even use WiFi hotspots to triangulate your location.

Well, now that my phone knows where I am, what’s next?

The obvious answer is: Directions. Using the GPS technology, in conjunction with your data service, you’re able to search for points of interest or just punch in an address to get detailed driving, walking or even metro transit directions. Some apps will give you turn-by-turn voice guidance.

Maybe you don’t know where you want to go. Maybe you’re just looking for a killer nightspot, or an auto mechanic, or would just like to know more about your surroundings. There are plenty of apps that can help with that.

For the hardcore geolocators out there, you can track your location, allow folks to see where you are on a map, or drop waypoints to know where you’ve been.

I present to you, my favorite location based apps (and honorable mentions)

For everyday directions, I use Google Maps for Mobile. It was preloaded on my G1 (and on my Helio Ocean, back in the day). It works pretty much exactly like the web version. The mobile version offers driving, walking and transit (where available) directions. The little blue dot will follow you on the map. It doesn’t provide turn-by-turn or voice navigation. For that you’ll have to download something like CoPilot Live. Sure it costs $35, but it utilizes a hardware you already own. One less gadget to manage. Waze is a unique app that relies on user generated content, including traffic updates, construction zones, speed traps. They even utilize the user’s GPS data to verify the road maps. If you look at the maps, you can see the roads that have been verified. it’s interesting to see other Android users in the area :)

If you’re trying to find a local place to eat (including Yelp reviews), gas prices, movies, traffic, newsweatherstarbucksyellowpages and so on Where is the app for you. It has all that and more. I’ve also downloaded Shepa recently. This app will be preloaded on the MyTouch when it’s launches this month. I haven’t used it much yet, but it looks like it includes a wide range of categories, like Where. It does all this with a very slick user interface. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Zland. Zland is was created by local Twin Cities development house Localtone Interactive

If you don’t care about where you’re going, but more about where you’ve been, then My Tracks is for you. You can record your GPS track log, drop waypoints, and insert statistics on the map. “Statistics” you say? Distance traveled, min and max elevation, total time traveled, moving time, and a bunch more. The best part of it is, you don’t need a data connection to do any of this. It’s all about dropping latitude and longitude points and some text data into a KML file. Yes, I said “KML”. Being a Google product, My Tracks seamlessly integrates with Google Maps. You can push the KML to your My Maps page or email it to a friend to view in Google Earth. You can also send it to your Google Docs account, where it stores the pertinent statistics for the track. My Tracks is by far my one of my favorite apps for Android.

After you upload you tracks to Google My Maps, you can open them in the My Maps Editor right on your Android device. With this app, you can edit the GPS track (line color, opacity, thickness), add/edit/move/delete waypoints, add photos to waypoints, and even draw lines and shapes, just like on your computer. This is synced with your online My Maps account. However, it doesn’t sync back to My Tracks.

Long story short, there is a lot you can do with location based apps. I imagine it will only get better as the new SiRFstarIV GPS technology is released in handsets. Faster GPS acquisition, less battery power, better coverage…it will only help an already impressive technology.

By the way, all of the apps that I use are free :) (I don’t use CoPilot Live)

Notable Mentions
Where am I? (…and what’s around me?)
Google Latitude – Built into Google Maps for Mobile. This allows folks in your contacts list see where you are on Google Maps.
InstaMapper’s GPS Tracker – This offers the same service as Latitude. However, anyone with your map link can see you on Google Maps. You can also embed your personal map on your webpage.
BrightKite – This app gives you a list of businesses/intersections near you and allows you to ‘check in’ to one of them. You can then see if there are other people or events nearby.

Where do I want to go?
Nav4All – Free GPS navigation. This was available on my Helio Ocean as well.
Telenav GPS Navigator – This is one of the few non-Market apps I’ve tried. There was a 30 day trial. After that it is $10 per month or $100 per year.

Where have I been?
RideTrac – This is a great alternative to My Tracks. It’s also free and doesn’t need a data connection to log your tracks. It supports KML and GPX.

Many, many apps allow you to geotag your location to the service the provide. Twidroid allows you to geotag your Twitter posts (you can also share My Tracks via Twidroid). The Android camera allows you to geotag photos. Qik, the only live streaming application for Android, allows you to geotag your location with your live stream.
Locale – Allows you to dynamically change your phones settings based on your location. For instance it will turn your WiFi radio on when you get to your favorite restaurant with a hotspot or it will put your phone into silent mode when you step into your local movie theater.

Note: The above apps are only a small cross section of what’s available. These are apps that I use or have used. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them in your comments.

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