Checking in on a family member in 2016 is much easier than ever, and perhaps less invasive, too. We don't have to call or text to see that Sally hasn't left the house or that Dad is driving and should be home by 7.
We have apps that can passively keep an eye on friends and family members' whereabouts, and that's a huge relief. No more worry when someone forgets to call or is held up. A quick glance at your tracking app tells you all you need to know -- and then you can relax.
If tracking the people you love sounds shady, or you're worried about spying, don't worry. These Android and iPhone apps are safe and I've used all the ones I recommend below. Contacts have to agree to be tracked, and the apps come with very clear instructions for use.
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 with the phone turned off.
Designed around the simple notion of at-a-glance-tracking, Glympse lets you decide who you want to see your GPS location, and select how long they can track you.
Although location sharing ends once the time interval is up, it's possible to manually stop the transmission at any time. Along those lines, it's also possible to tack on extra tracking time.
Glympse is perfect to turn on when you're headed home from work and want to let your spouse know where you are. It's also great for friends to keep temporary tabs on one another when you're planning to meet up at a park or public event.
Glympse also lets you share real-time locations, estimated arrival times, and travel speeds through email, text or social networks. I especially like the calendar integration, which shares location and your ETA with everyone.
Glympse is free for both Android and iPhone.
Life360 Family Locator
This free app lets family members track one another in real time. One great feature automatically lets family members know when someone has entered a predefined location, like home or school. You can choose two such spots. So when the kids come home after school, Life 360's app automatically checks them in and sends an alert to show they've made it.
The app also includes a full location history, which is nice for an overview of recent activity. The built-in "panic" option sends out an emergency beacon to designated emails, text and phones with your exact location of your GPS coordinates. The app can also be used to message family members.
While the app and service are free to use, a premium version sells for $5 per month (which covers the whole family) or $50 per year. That pro version comes with unlimited check-in places, roadside assistance, the ability to locate non-smartphones, and protection against stolen phones. Life360 offers a 30 day free trial to its premium features.
Download the free version of Life360 Family Locator for Android and iPhone.
Find My Friends
This app, which is also made by the Life360 guys, gives you a central place for sharing your location and messaging. Headed out of town for a few days of downtime? Plan and coordinate your trip with others before getting in the car. Likewise, the app can be used to quickly broadcast your location in an emergency situation.
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 and hospitals, among other.
For $5 a month, the premium version of Find My Friends adds 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.
Find My Friends is free for Android. (Not to be confused with Apple's own Find My Friends app for iOS.)
It might be tucked away in the corner, but Google's social networking service, Google+, offers the ability to share location. The design is reminiscent of the old Google Latitude and integrates, naturally, with Google Maps.
To share your location with others, send a request to that contact through the Google+ app. Once the person accepts, you'll be able to see each other through the app. It's worth noting that a friend doesn't have to share their location with you in order for you to send yours.
Google+ still relies on the concept of grouping contacts together in "circles." If you find yourself tracking tons of friends and family members, it's easy to filter your map by circle, say karaoke buddies. Conversely, you can toggle exactly who you share your "where" with, too.
Google+ is available for free for Android and iPhone.
Each of the four major US 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 ($5.99/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.
What about you?
Which apps do you prefer to use for such a purpose? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
This story was originally published June 26, 2013, and was updated February 5, 2016.