No matter how many times I explain it to people, it never really seems to sink in: I can’t answer my phone or text you back while I’m riding. Sorry, I just can’t. That might sound simple, but it’s a problem because, in 2012, people are used to being able to check in any time, anywhere. Now, with iOS 6, there’s a solution: FindFriends. It will pinpoint any user’s location in seconds using GPS.
Use Case 1: A couple nights after getting home from hospital, I was really, really hungry, but had no food in the house and wasn’t able to walk very far. No problem, Sean MacDonald said he’d bring me some tacos. But when I say I was hungry, I mean I was ravenous and, half an hour later, he still hadn’t arrived. Where the hell were my tacos? Pulled up FindFriends, looked up Sean (top image) and there he was, headed north on the 101, past my exit. Great, those tacos were going to be a while (and were a little cold when they arrived).
That might sound silly, and it is, but swap out the hungry cripple for a girlfriend wondering when she should start dinner or business partners waiting on you to start a meeting and you can start to see the usefulness.
FindFriends is free and is one of Apple’s own apps, so it works seamlessly. It also requires that both parties in any tracking situation give their consent, so some random stalker can’t use it to figure out where you live. You can also grant temporary authorization (say during a weekend ride) or turn off tracking altogether whenever you want. To track or be tracked, you need iOS 6 and the app.
Use Case 2: You’re out for a group ride and have stopped for gas, candy, group hug, whatever. But, that slow guy who always brings up the rear hasn’t been seen in 20 minutes. No need to hope you’ll both be stationary with your helmets off at the same time to check in, you can just pull up the app and see both their location and if they’re moving or not. That’s good for organization and group piece of mind. “Don’t worry, Sean’s just lagging behind, he made the turn and it looks like he’ll be here in five.”
The locations provided by FindFriends, at least while testing it in and around Los Angeles, have been shockingly precise. I can see which direction people are headed in on the highway and, if I zoom way in, I can even get an approximate idea of which room I’m in in my house. Looking here, you can see I’m on my back porch. Sure is nice out.
That level of precision might sound a little over the top, but imagine the piece of mind it’ll give you if you’ve lost a friend during a ride and you can see that he is on the roadway and moving, not lying in a ditch, completely still.
Simply by being able to report your location back to your friends or loved ones, in the absence of texts and phone calls, is actually a powerful, useful thing. It’s probably not appropriate or positive 100 percent of the time, but when it’s needed it can create piece of mind, help people find you if you’re lost or hurt or broken down and help people keep tabs on your movements when it’s necessary or useful for them to do so. That’s a big step into the 21st century for life on a bike.