I’ve had a GPS device in my car for years and wouldn’t think of driving into unfamiliar territory without one.
In addition to finding addresses, most GPS systems can also find “points of interest” such as gas stations, restaurants, hotels and other establishments. I once relied on a GPS to find the nearest hospital after a family member became ill on a vacation.
But I’m writing today’s column from Washington D.C., where I’m getting around by foot, cab and Metro. Still, I’ve found GPS enormously handy, though instead of using the portable device that I have in the car, I’m using my smartphone and Google Maps to find my way around the nation’s capital.
Now, I’m no stranger to D.C — I come here on business every couple of months — but this week I’m mixing pleasure with business, taking a few extra days with my wife Patti to enjoy some museums and restaurants.
Despite the humidity and 100 degree heat, we’re doing a lot of walking and — as it turns out — the Google Maps application that I’m using on a Sprint EVO 4G that runs the Android operating system is doing an excellent job helping us find the places that we’re visiting. There is a similar version of Google maps for the Apple iPhone, though I find the Android application to do a better job fixing on a GPS location whether in a car or by foot.
For example, for lunch Tuesday I wanted to visit Cosi, a chain of restaurants on the East Coast that has great sandwiches. I know there are plenty in D.C., but I had no idea how to find the nearest one.
As I walked out the door of my Capitol Hill hotel, I clicked on the Maps icon, then clicked on Directions and typed Cosi as my “end point.” By default the starting point is your present location as determined by GPS. Turns out there’s a Cosi 0.7 miles from the hotel, which Google estimates to be a 14-minute walk. I could have also gotten driving or public transportation directions or even the recommended bicycle route which is estimated to be a 4-minute ride from here.
Of course sometimes you don’t know the name of the place you want to go.
Washington has a lot of great museums including many free ones operated by the government. Not knowing which were nearby I searched maps for “museums” and clicked on the list option, which brought up a list of museums with the distance from my location and easy access to details including hours and reviews. The same process brings up restaurants (sorted by type) and other establishments.
While I’m on the subject of smartphones and GPS, there are also technologies available that you can use to share your location. Lately, I’ve been playing with Glympse, which lets you send out your location in real time to a family member, a friend or group of friends.
For safety, you have to specify how long the person can track your location. The maximum allowed is four hours, so there is no way to empower a potential stalker to always know where you are.
The service, which currently works with iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile, allows you to send an e-mail to a friend with a URL that they can go to locate you on a map that’s displayed on a web page either on a PC or a phone. If you’re moving, they can see your motion on the map, including your speed.
A few weeks ago I took the Bolt Bus from Washington to New York, sent myself “a Glympse,” and posted that URL on Twitter so that all my Twitter “followers” could follow my bus journey.
Several people commented that the bus was exceeding the speed limit as they tracked my progress. Good thing that the New Jersey State Police didn’t follow me on Twitter or the bus driver on I-95.