We’ve all been there. You’re late for a meeting with friends, stuck in traffic and unsure of when you’re actually going to arrive. You call them with updates like “well, I’m closer now, but still not sure…” and a shaky “maybe I’ll be there in 20 minutes?” What if your friends could track exactly where you were without the frustrating back and forth? Glympse, a new location-based service that is decidedly not another social network, is looking to help you do just that. Glympse is launching tonight on Android, and is coming soon to the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and “other leading smartphone devices” (read: Palm).
Now, Glympse isn’t the first application that allows you to share your location with friends. But while other services like Loopt ask you to create a permanent connection with your peers, Glympse recognizes that oftentimes we don’t want all of our contacts to know our current whereabouts. Sure, you could adjust privacy settings on a per-user basis to specify who to share your location with and when, but that’s a hassle and can be easy to forget about. So Glympse takes a different approach, instead asking you to create temporary connections with other people that last for a maximum of four hours. The service doesn’t have any concept of long-time friends – you establish a connection, and it’s gone four hours (or less) later.
Glympse is the kind of application that sounds a little pointless at first, but the more you think about it, the more you realize how great the service could be. I can’t remember how many times I’ve told a friend or colleague I’d meet them at a restaurant “in about an hour”, only to find that I get stuck in traffic and wind up calling them multiple times to tell them when I’ll actually show up. With Glympse, I could just send them a message when I left, and they’d be able to track my progress. I wouldn’t have to be overly selective about who I shared my data with, as their permission would expire only a few hours later.
Reestablishing connections with your peers could get old quick, so Glympse is making it as painless as possible (you can initiate a Glympse in well under a minute). After opening the application, Glympse will ask you who you’d like to share your current location with (you can either enter their phone number or Email address manually, or you can select from your contacts). Then you specify the duration, which determines how long this contact will be able to see your current location. You can optionally also enter a message to accompany your location, as well as a plot for your ultimate destination (I could send a map to a friend with a marker that says “meet me here”). Hit Send and you’re done – a message will be sent to your contact informing them of your current position.
The message itself will contain to a link unique Glympse website, which pinpoints the sender’s current location on a dynamically updating map. You can view the website from mobile phones, and you can also share it with friends. This opens the door to some minor privacy issues (I could potentially Tweet a Glympse link and let the world see my friend’s current location) but since it would expire in a few hours anyway it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. Glympse isn’t launching with notifications (you’ll have to manually track your friend’s current status on the map), but the company says that it will soon issue an update that adds the feature soon. This means that you’ll be able to receieve a text message or Email whenever your friend arrives within a certain radius of you. Very cool.
This all sounds great, but there’s one major obstacle that’s going to hold Glympse back, and that’s the lack of background updating on the iPhone. Glympse is really only useful when your peers can keep track of your current position – not where you were the last time you remembered to check in (similar problems affect many other LBS services like Loopt). If I wanted to use my iPhone in the examples above, I’d have to leave the application open for my entire drive. Android does support background updating, but this can be a battery drain and the Android Marketplace doesn’t have nearly the momentum of the App Store. In any case, Apple is rumored to be trying to bring background updates to the iPhone, and other platforms like the upcoming Palm Pre support them, so this weakness may wind up being shortlived after all.