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2008-09-01

iPhone 3G, InstaMapper App and Google Earth: Tracking the Thames Clipper

A year ago we ran a post on tracking a train using the Nokia N95 and Sports Tracker. The iPhone 3G is perhaps playing catchup but with a rash of new navigation orientated applications in the Apple Store it is now possible to add tracking capabilities to Apples phone. We took the free InstaMapper application for a spin on a Thames Clipper over the weekend to see how the iPhone 3G's GPS tracking shapes up.


InstaMapper stands out from the crowd as a free service that allows you to track a person or vehicle online in real time using a GPS-enabled cell phone. Simply install the app, tie it to your free account with InstaMapper and if you allow sharing anyone can see your location update via Google Maps in real-time.

The data sent to InstaMapper includes location (latitude, longitude, speed, etc.), a timestamp, and a randomly assigned id. By default the iPhone tries to transmit location data to InstaMapper every 5 seconds if you are moving 20 mph or faster and if someone is currently tracking you online. If you are not moving, the minimum update rate is 60 seconds, if are not being tracked online, the minimum update interval is 30 seconds.

The track can be download as either a KML or CSV file, we used the application to map our route on the Thames Clipper from Waterloo to Woolwich, London. The movie below illustrates the route exported to Google Earth using the timeline function:


InstaMapping for iPhone: Tracking a Thames Clipper from digitalurban on Vimeo.

With battery life coming in at around 4 hours, InstaMapper is an excellent application, let down slightly by the need of iPhone Apps to run in the foreground. The iPhone maybe playing catchup in terms of applications but it is perhaps the first dedicated GPS in a mass consumer device. As such, InstaMapper is, in our view, the iPhones first 'must have' app.

Of note InstaMapper also works with the old iPhone using cell triangulation or known Wifi locations. We will be taking a look at other navigation apps on the iPhone 3G over the coming weeks - notably one that allows integration with OpenStreetMap.

You can find out more details and a list of supported devices at http://www.instamapper.com/

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