Since those who have a smartphone typically always have it with them, a good way of finding a person is often simply a matter of finding their phone. And since modern smartphones have location tracking functionality built into them, this is often only a matter of using an app tactic to locate them. One of the simplest programs to find a friend’s iPhone is actually one of the new iOS apps that is a free download in the Apple App Store. This app is called Find My Friends.
When you first install this app, you will need to add your friends to the list. It doesn’t populate itself from your contacts list, but rather is very specific in who it will track. Furthermore, your ability to track someone must be approved by that person on their iPhone or other iOS device. In this way, you can only locate those who are important to you, and only those who you trust are allowed to find you.
To add friends and family to your Friends list, which can be found along the bottom of the screen, you simply tap the + button in the top right (much like many of the other Apple apps). The screen that comes up then prompts you to enter the contact name of the person whom you would like to follow. So, if you wish to follow your wife, you simply put her name in the To: field at the top, tap in the message area below if you would like to attach a personal message, and then tap the Send button in the top right again. This sends a request to your wife’s account, which pops up as a Find My Friends notifications request on her phone. By choosing to View, the Requests tab of the app will open and give the opportunity to either Decline or Approve the request, as well as give the chance to follow back. Approving will allow the requester to obtain location data whenever the app is accessed on their phone.
The steps above allow for continuous following of your friends. That is, once you’ve been approved, you will always be able to locate them. However, if you have a situation where you want your friends to be able to find you only for a little while (like if you’re going to the beach), there is a button along the bottom called Temporary. Here, you can invite your friends to temporarily follow you, and you can specify who to invite, name the event, and decide when the event is over and you no longer want to be followed. As stated on the invite page, everyone who accepts the invitation can see each other’s locations, so this is a great way to coordinate large gatherings where it might be challenging to easily find each other.
Once you have friends and family who have approved your following them, you can view the continuous and temporary accounts on the Friends tab. All of the people that you follow will appear on the map as a dot. You can tap on the name of the friend to zoom into their location, or simply tap on the map and manually pinch to zoom or scroll around to look at where everyone is. The dots will update fairly regularly, so you can easily see when people are on the move. I’ve noticed it update within a minute or two, so you can tell if they are driving and stuck at a red light or speeding down the highway. However, I have also noticed a few times where it failed to find someone that I normally would be able to follow, or it updated only after a seemingly very long time, like after half an hour. Despite these glitches, this app work wonderfully more often than not.
There are two cool features of this “find a friend” app that I have to mention here. The first is how you can label specific locations, so that at a glance it is more meaningful than just an address. So, instead of saying you are at 123 Apple Street, you can label this as Home, and that what it will tell you. To do this, tap on the Me tab on the bottom, and below your location info you can tap to “Choose Label.” (While you’re in the Me tab, you can also tap the Account button in the top right to set account details.) Then you can click on whichever label is appropriate, or Add Custom Label at the bottom to specify “Town Center Track” or something similar. Along the same lines, if you tap on your friends’ names in the Friends tab, and then tap the “i” button next to their name on the map, you can also designate a label for their current location as well. By doing this for several locations, you can build up a location database that your phone can associate place names to addresses.
The great part about this is that Siri can access this location data as well. So, you can simply ask Siri “is my wife at home?” and she will respond with “Yes, it looks like it.” This is a great feature, especially for when you are driving or otherwise can’t look at the phone.
The second awesome feature of this app is the Notify function. By activating this, you can have your iPhone or iPad notify you when the person you’re following arrives or leaves a certain location. This works through Apple’s “geofencing” concept. The app basically sets a virtual fence around a designated area, and when the person either leaves or enters a fenced area, it triggers an alert for you. To enable this functionality, tap on the person from your Friends list for which you would like to be notified, and then tap the Notify Me button in the top right. Then you can specify the location details for the alert: select either for when they leave or arrive, and then tap the location button below and select the place. Then tap Done in the top right, and your iOS device will notify you when the condition is met.
At first glance, some may think that this app is sort of creepy in how it can tell people where you are whenever they want to know. However, it is important to realize that you control who is entitled to this data. Furthermore, the app is incredibly helpful if everyone in the family has an iPhone or location-aware iPod touch or iPad. This way, you can find out when your significant other is leaving work so that you can conveniently start dinner ahead of time. Or, more comforting, you can tell when your child leaves school and that they are on their way home, and where they are if they don’t arrive at home when expected. So, hopefully you can see that this app isn’t creepy at all, but rather much more about security and convenience.
This review has focused on the app that is available for Apple phones, iPad, and iPod Touch. However, similar apps are available for other systems. In particular, I will note here a similar version of a Find My Friends Android app. It is called Google Latitude. Since Android is Google’s smartphone and tablet software, Latitude is the name of its service that allows you to find the location of your contacts. It requires the same type of request and approval system as the iOS app I’ve talked about, and it works great across all devices that have allowed Google permission to track location. This includes iPhones as well as Android phones, whereas Find My Friends is exclusive to Apple devices. If you have an Android device, this is a great app to use. For Apple owners, this service also works well, though its notifications won’t work as well outside of the app.
Whatever your device of choice, having an app that allows your friends to be aware of your location is a smart move. When it comes to either coordination of schedules or the safety and security of knowing that those most important to you are safe, this is a very simple app tactic that you can use.