Families outfitted with a fleet of smartphones have a lot of options for checking in that don't require exercising those texting thumbs or distracting a driver with a call just to find out exactly when he or she is coming home for dinner.
I've gathered a handful of Android applications designed to help smartphone users keep an eye on each others' whereabouts. Indeed, the first thing that comes to mind in this NSA age is whether or not this stuff is private. Rest assured, dear reader, I've got your interests at heart.
These are apps are opt-in and come with very clear instructions, as well as the best of intentions.
What you will find below are a few of my favorite apps to keep an eye on where your friends and family members might be. Most of what you'll encounter are cross-platform, meaning they work on Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and even the Web.
As you read through each selection, bear in mind that this is not an exact science and that GPS signals determine how precisely locations can be calculated. What's more, none of these will work if the smartphone is turned off.
Glympse is a very simple idea that allows users to share their exact location with others in very defined, short time frames. Headed home from work and want to let your spouse know where you are? Scheduled to meet up with friends and want to see where everyone else is? This free app gives users the ability to share real-time locations, estimated arrival times, and travel speeds through e-mail, text, or social networks.
Indeed, you can install and immediately share without signing up or creating profiles. Other Glympse users can track on a map within the app, and those following along on Facebook can make sure you got home safely.
One of the best features is that sharing automatically expires after a set time, ensuring your creeper friends aren't stalking your every move. Users can not only define exactly how long their location is visible, but also who sees it.
Also available for: iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry
Life360 Family Locator
This free app lets parent track children and other family members in real time. Features such as the check-in (two user-defined places) and messaging client provide peace of mind, especially in the event of an emergency. Need to know if little Sally is home from school and where she might be? Family Locator provides automatic alerts so that you know the moment she's in the house.
Additional noteworthy details include a full location history as well as a built-in panic feature. Should you or one of your family members find yourself in an emergency, this feature automatically sends a phone call, e-mail, or text message that includes your GPS coordinates to everyone in your connected Life360 family.
While the app and service are free to use, a premium client is available for $5 per month (which covers the whole family) or $50 per year. For your money, you receive unlimited check-in places, roadside assistance, the ability to look up non-smartphones, and stolen phone protection. If interested, you can test out Life360's premium features free for 30 days.
Also available for: iOS, BlackBerry, non-smartphones
Simple, clean, and intuitive, Cozi Family Locator is a great way for families to keep tabs on each other. The minimal design puts three key buttons (Check-in, Emergency, and Message) in front of the user at all time. This is handy if only because of the simplicity it offers in the event of a sticky situation.
The map can be used to identify nearby safety points such as hospitals and police stations, which are especially helpful for the younger family member. Additionally, the message feature provides a central place for communication and works well across a number of platforms.
Cozi provides a number of additional mobile and Web applications; each plays well with the others. For those of you who like to plan and organize your family, budgets, travel, meals, and calendar, Cozi offers something on all fronts. Cozi Family Locator is free to use; however a premium version $4.99 a month (for up to five family members) includes access to non-smartphone users and those on other platforms.
Also available for: iOS
Find My Friends
As a branded take on the Life360 experience, Find My Friends provides users with a central place for communication and location sharing. Headed out of town for a few days of downtime? Plan and coordinate your trip with other users before getting in the car. Likewise, the app can be used to broadcast your location should you end up in a seedy part of town.
Like other apps of its kind, this one uses Google Maps at its heart so it's a breeze to learn and understand. Along these lines, the map automatically lists places such as police stations, fire departments, hospitals, and other helpful places. Simply tap an icon and you'll be handed off to your preferred navigation app or phone dialer.
Much like Life360, the free Find My Friends experience might be enough for most users; however, its premium features open the door to additional options. Indeed, the $5 per month will add unlimited check-in locations, an expanded location history, roadside assistance, and support for non-smartphones. All users are invited to try the 30-day free trial.
Also available fo: iOS, BlackBerry, non-smartphones
One of the lesser advertised features in Google's social networking service, Google+, is the ability to share location with other users. The design is reminiscent of Google Latitude, the other location offering that is now embedded within the Maps application.
To share your location with others, you simply send a request to that user through the Google+ app. Once the two of you mutually agree, you'll be able to see each other through the app. The same goes through Google Maps under the "Latitude" tab.
It is also possible to share your locations via check-in with Google+ circles. To do so, simply open up Google Maps and navigate to the Check-in tab, then choose the appropriate business or establishment. Upon selecting the proper place you'll be prompted as to with whom you would like to share the check-in. This is handy for those Friday night scenarios where you want to let your circle of local friends know where you're enjoying a cup of coffee.
Also available for: iOS, Internet
Each of the four major U.S. wireless providers also offers its own particular Android app or service for keeping an eye on loved ones. All four feature a number of free services and individual options tailored to the user; paid features come at a monthly premium. If you're a subscriber to one of these carriers, then you may find one of these apps suits your needs.
The carrier apps:
- Verizon Family Locator ($9.99/month per account for up to 10 phones): Features locations, address, a detailed map, turn-by-turn directions, arrival and departure updates, integrated text messaging.
- AT&T FamilyMap ($9.99/month to locate up to two family members, $14.99 per month to locate up to five family members): Features ability to locate from smartphone or PC, find lost or stolen phones, maps with designated safe spots, schedules, notification options. Includes 30-day free trial.
- Sprint Family Locator ($5/month to locate up to four phones): Features ability to locate lost or stolen phones, automatic check-ins, text alerts, option to check from Web site, real-time locations. Includes 15-day free trial.
- T-Mobile FamilyWhere ($9.99/month to locate up to 10 phones): Features automatic location checks, real-locations, text alerts, ability to work with non-smartphones, schedules. Includes 30-day free trial.
Have your say
Indeed, there are other apps and services available for users to share their locations; I have only listed a handful of my favorites. Which apps do you prefer to use for such a purpose? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.