Is Google My Tracks 2.0 update a failure?

I was out of office the past two months on a business trip, and Google released the location app My Tracks 2.0 version during that period of time (now available on Google Play). So I wasn’t able to write something on that in time. This is not a major upgrade, but quite controversy. This post is kind of late, but better late than never.

My Tracks made its debut in 2009. It’s a piece of open source app designed to track cell phone owners’ paths, trips using mobile GPS (including coordinates, speed, elevation and distance etc). If you have a GPS enabled Android phone, you could track all your outdoor activities using the app. As a matter of fact, Google once used it to record the tracks of HTC- Columbia in Tour of France. Later it’s also used to record the tracks of ski.

If you ever read my blog, you may know that I once introduced an app called Map My Tracks. Well these two apps are all intended for the same purpose. However Map My Tracks is not available to Android devices, so I never have a chance to try it. But My Tracks works terrific on your Android phone, and it’s from Google!

Once finish recording your trip, you can play it back on Google Earth for mobile. You can also share your tracks in a few ways later to anyone you wish:

1 Upload it to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ etc.
2 Post it on Google Maps, or Google Docs, or Google Fusion Tables, all are Google products, or
3 Save it as a .KML, or .CSV or TCX file and send it to your friends.

Compared to the previous version, My Tracks 2.0 has some new features, including a new UI, improved charts and additional statistics for evaluating performance trends. If you are a biker or hiker, this app could help you greatly.

Although the new version has some handy improvements and features, many reported that it’s less accurate and stats are incorrect. Others even said it’s less reliable and crashes from time to time.  What’s more, some useful functions were removed. Many are really confused.

I do not have the time to test it myself. But I will share my thoughts on this app later. Anyways, it’s time for Google to face these issues now although My Tracks is a less-known and less popular app. At least, test the new version before rolling it out.

2012-Sep-Sat | Comments Off

View network coverage using OpenSignalMaps heat map

The US has four national carriers (AT&T and T-mobile merger is not completed yet), yet none of them can cover the whole country. In specific areas, local mobile operators even have better network coverage. That’s why customers have been complaining to AT&T from time to time that they have week or no signal at all. If you are ready to enter into a two-year contract because of your favorite cell phone or low rates, it’s highly necessary to check if your region is fully covered by the carrier.

We lack such tools to view cell phone network coverage in the past, but now with OpenSignalMaps you can easily compare the coverage of each carrier in any city around the world. OpenSignalMaps logs and stores about 618,657 cell towers in their database belonging to 633 cellular networks across the global. The data collected include network name, network type, signal strength, latitude, longitude and distance etc. With such a vast number of cell sites they could produce a global heat map of cell towers and network coverage, and the users can use it to view and compare local coverage of each carrier.

Log on to opensignalmaps.com, and you will be presented with a heat map of your city. If you are familiar with Google heat map, it won’t sound strange to you. The heat map has two modes, coverage map and tower map. When you first visit it, the coverage map will show up by default. Basically, orange indicates strong signal, while blue means weak signal. If you see a vast cloud of orange, then it means your region has good coverage.

When you switch into tower map, it will show the cell sites found, its number, type (2G, 3G or 4G) and the carriers, like AT&T, Verizon wireless, Sprint and T-mobile etc. When you point the mouse to the little bubbles in different colors, it will display relevant information, including CellID, LAC, carrier and GPS coordinates. You can also zoom in to see how many cell towers there are around your home or working place. If you want to have a look at the cell towers of other cities, they do have search in place. Simply type a zip code or an address, and it will bring you there.

However it’s worth noting that their data is not complete and not updated in real-time. When I look at some remote areas or small cities, the number of cell towers found is way less than the large cities. It’s said they use Android app to collect cell sites and WiFi routers (yes, wireless routers), so it could be that Android cell phones are not so popular in those regions. If you have an Android mobile devices, their app will provide more information. For example, you can find which cell tower your handset is connected to and its data, it can also help you connect to a nearby WiFi hotspot and displays its SSID, MAC address and IP address and more. In the meantime, the app will log your nearby base stations and access points as well. They have not yet created an iPhone version, though.

The cell phone giant Apple, Google and Microsoft all have been recording cell towers and Apple and Google even got sued for tracking user whereabouts.

2011-Sep-Wed | Comments Off

Yes I know where you are

We have talked a lot about how to track a mobile devices’s location already, but what you may not know, when your browse the internet, the websites you viewed could track your location as well.

People who use Google Maps for mobile know it can determine your approximate location, based on which it will calculate the route to your destination. As a matter of fact, Google brought it to PC a few years ago. If you visit their online mapping service, a blue button shows in the top left corner of the map. If you click on it, it will show a blue circle on your location on the map.

When I click on My Location button, Firefox alerts “maps.google.com wants to know your location”, while you have four options, Show location, Always show, Never show, Not show. If you select Show location, it will bring you to your location on the map.

By visiting the Firefox’s help about Geo-location, I come to know how it works:

If you consent, Firefox gathers information about nearby wireless access points and your computer’s IP address. Then Firefox sends this information to the default Geo-location service provider, Google Location Services, to get an estimate of your location.

Type about:config in your browser window and you know that they pass the information (MAC address, signal strength etc) to Google location server http://www.google.com/loc/json, which will return your location.

If you connect your laptop to the Internet using DSL, it may only show your city because it uses your IP to query your location. But if you are connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot, the accuracy could come to a few meters. In my case, unfortunately it placed my circle on another street which is a few miles away. I use ADSL, you may guess correct.

I did not try IE, Google Chrome, if you are interested, it may be worthwhile to give them a shot.

When you trace your friends or family member, you need to install mobile tracing apps onto their phones, unless you are the police and could gain access to mobile operators network and location database. So it’s unlikely you will be tracked by your handset. But if you can be easily tracked when you use a PC to visit various website, then can obtain your location information easily (Yes I know where you are and you are under arrest :-)).

Fortunately, we still have privacy. You can keep them away from your personal information before they even try it.

2011-Mar-Wed | Comments Off

Facebook place app is coming to Android cell phones

Three days ago, Facebook announced that its LBS (location based service) app place and groups are coming to Android mobile device, and its location API is opening up, which means other apps can use its API and provide location sharing features as well.

Facebook place, like Google latitude and Foursquare, lets its users share and view locations among their friends. Half a year ago, it’s reported that Facebook added some JavaScript file in its sub domain http://touch.facebook.com which would let iPhone and Android device users to share their geographic locations include latitude, longitude, altitude and speed, in other words, you can keep track of your friends’ locations with cell phones.

Facebook included this service in its apps for iPhone with the popular check-in since, and its latest version is 3.3.1 which supports English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese etc. But Facebook did not release its Android version in the past few months until Nov 3, 2010.

Facebook place for Android has single sine-on, you only have to sine in once and other apps will come to know that you are already logged in, and then you need not to sign in again.

However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said they have no plans to develop Facebook cell phone.

Update, Facebook location based service Place seems rather moderate, not many people use it to check in or talk about it. On the contrary, Foursquare is very popular and is gathering users. Facebook needs to come up with something that could attract peoples’ attention.

Update 2, about two months ago, rumors had it that the first Facebook handset is to be unveiled; it will come with two models, made by the Taiwan based mobile device maker HTC. Facebook mobile phone running Android and will have in-built Facebook app. But two months past, there is still no news, a post from a Chinese blog tech2ipo.com said the author had a Facebook Smartphone four days ago, it is a combination of Facebook + Spotify + Android. But again, the news was not confirmed.

We will update you on future news about Facebook mobile phone and Place.

2010-Nov-Mon | Comments Off

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