Google Latitude for iPhone

As an iPhone user who greatly enjoys the benefits of GPS, I’m perpetually frustrated with the lack of a fully functioning approved Google Latitude App in the App Store. Much comment was made at the time of Latitude’s release, hyped by it’s over-delay, when it emerged, crippled, as a web based app.

Certainly it was a functionally-rich Web App, blending layers of not just Google Map tiles, Satellite imagery, Buzz integration and of course friend location but Traffic information as well. Google was still pushing the boundaries of what could be rendered in a mobile web browser.

But so what? To allow your friends to know where you are you have to open Google Maps in Safari every time you go somewhere. Compare this to a pampered Android user who merely has to lazily switch on Latitude then proceed to care never again if their GPS location is being updated. Every time I check an Android-using friend on Latitude their location was updated minutes ago. iPhone users? Days. Weeks. Months. One’s coming in at a year and a half. It’s depressing.

So how to get past this? There’s an entire community dedicated to working out applications like this, jailbroken or otherwise. There has to be a way.

Scanning the blogosphere and the App Store, two main options present themselves, one approved in the App Store, one requiring a jailbroken iPhone:

Latitudie (from the developer behind Buzzie, the first iPhone client for Google Buzz) runs in the background and is designed to refresh Latitude regularly. It attempts to do this with some alacrity, updating a somewhat unnecessary several times a minute according to the history that can extract from the App. It also displays an impressive resiliency, refusing to be deactivated, suspended, turned off or destroyed – the locational icon at the top right of the screen simply will not vanish unless defeated by the option for Latitudie in Location Services. This is wrong; an app shouldn’t need to be made to stop via sideways and sneaky methods. There should be a button that says “off”.

I tested it on my trip to work the next morning and witnessed an alarmingly rapid consumption in battery power. When normally I reach work with still a full charge, or perhaps 99% after listening to some pick-me-up music, I arrived with under 90% available. Come the end of the day there was just over 50%, normally I’d be at around 60-70%. Latitudie was tearing through my precious battery life. I reasoned that a backgrounded Latitude was worth it, so upon arriving at work I asked an Android-using colleague, whom given the context I granted slightly more reverence than normal, if my location was now showing at the office instead of home. It wasn’t. It didn’t work.

Though iOS 4 has made my life better and has made switching between multiple Apps quite easy, it still doesn’t meet my needs.

Whilst that was clearly an epic fail from a user’s perspective it has worked for others; this and more is covered in the various user reviews submitted.

PlaceTrack

PlaceTrack is a polished and more featured offering that promises much; from a smart means of working out when the iPhone at hand is moving (thus only updating Latitude when necessary, saving battery life) to listing friends and their locations overlayed on a map as done in the web app, a fe. It offers the crucial “Background” mode which can be slid in and off, far more agreeable and reasonable than the enforced subterfuge required to stop Latitudie working. It also offers a “Fake” mode to allow the more furtive among us to provide false readings on our location, and can export our history via email.

The complaint about battery use applies to PlaceTrack as much Latitudie – the process simply uses up the battery more than one would hope. Whilst the idea of polling cell towers to establish if the iPhone is moving is a laudable one I’m left wondering if that process alone is battery-intensive, defeating the notion itself. What about just checking in with Latitude every 15 minutes anyway? Or even those cell towers? Crucially though PlaceTrack did work, and actually provides optional popups for when your location is being sent to Latitude for peace of mind. They’ll be swiftly disabled when you’re the move but it helps to know it’s working.

The drawback of course is that PlaceTrack, the more functional and better written-app, wasn’t approved, it’s only available via Cydia so if you’re not inclined to jailbreak then you’re left with Latitudie.

Which forces one to wonder, why on earth would Apple approve that one and not the one that seems to work?

They’re not planning something, are they? What do you think? Which App do you use for your Latitude needs? Do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

-Greig Byrne