The GPS era is well and truly upon us. From the comfort of your pocket-sized smartphone it is now possible to record detailed information about your travels and location, yet only a few years ago this would have required a costly dedicated GPS unit, cables and software combination.
Not any more, as services like Google Latitude and the recently launched CheckMyTour offer a completely wireless and comprehensive tracking service that doesn’t cost a penny. At the time of writing there is an iPhone app (currently in beta, compatible with the iPhone 4 and 3GS only) available on the App Store and an Android app in development, expected to land soon.
I loaded the CheckMyTour app on to my iPhone and went for a short wander in the hills to see what the fuss is about.
Recording A Tour
After downloading and installing CheckMyTour, it’s best to register an account as the website tracks your activity in real time. It’s easy to sign up on the website or via the app, and once done so your next stop will be the main menu screen which offers two options and a lot of greyed out buttons.
Set the ball rolling by hitting Start and selecting a mode of transport from the four options: bicycle, car, motorbike or walking. On this screen you can name your tour (by default the date will appear) and toggle GPS auto-tracking which will consume more battery but provide more regular and accurate location reports.
Hit OK and the app will immediately try and locate you. Once your location has been determined your position will be shown on a map along with weather data and space for a comment. Hit Start Tour and your trip has officially begun – time to get going!
By now all those greyed out buttons should have come to life. You can end or pause your tour using the Finish Tour and Pause buttons and if you’re interested in where you are then Location will show your current position (providing you’ve got a mobile data connection to download the map). The Route button shows your thus-far recorded route and Tour Book lists your activity on the tour. This activity includes when the tour started, any pauses, the end of your tour and notes like comments or photos.
Picture and Comment both allow you to annotate your tour, either with a camera image (directly from your lens, or from the camera roll) or a simple comment about this point in your tour. Photos and comments you add are automatically added to the route with appropriate geo-tagging. This is definitely one of the main reasons to consider using CheckMyTour, and I found it worked pretty well.
Community is a simple link to the CheckMyTour homepage and Share offers up a really quick way to share your current location. If you have connected your social accounts, instant posting to Twitter and Facebook is available as well as good old email.
Once you’ve visited grandma, taken the dog for a walk, braved the Amazon rainforest or whatever it was you were doing that required a GPS fix, hit Finish Tour. Here you can amend your tour name, add a rating (stars out of 5), upload the tour straight to the CheckMyTour website and share to your social networks.
Check Yo’ Tour
Swiping right-to-left on the main menu will reveal another set of options, including Settings where you’re able to customize measurement units, privacy settings and the regularity of GPS updates. Also present is the Archive button which lists your past tours. If you’ve not uploaded a tour then it will be indicated by a red icon.
Select a tour to see detailed information such as your exact route, tour book with annotations and photo listings as well as tour statistics. Hitting Edit will allow you to delete or upload any saved tours and once uploaded, it might be worth checking out your trip in the CheckMyTour members area.
The home page lists your recent activity, much like a Facebook wall. At the top of the page there is quick access to Tour (a list of every public tour on a Google map) and Tour Book, which is a log of your travels. Access Tour Book and choose a route on the left hand side. You should see an overview of your trip, with photos on the right and a map listing your movements and additional notes.
Hovering points of interest on the Map tab displays relevant photos or comments (or a pause) for your trip. All your usual statistics and logs are there, much like the app.
The ability to tag photos and comments directly on your route without any manual intervention is a great reason to try out CheckMyTour. Like any GPS app, battery life could be an issue though turning off Wi-Fi and 3G will help. As your phone approaches 20% battery CheckMyTour stops using automatic GPS tracking and switches to manual waypoints – so your phone is still usable.
I did encounter a few crashes, though I’m not going to dwell on them as the app is still in beta. I did notice how the app remembered my tour, where I was and continued as normal after a crash, which softens the blow.
Beyond the app, your own tours and sharing your travels, CheckMyTour offers a community full of events, groups and even photo and video albums to explore. Once the userbase grows (its still fairly quiet for now) and the Android app comes to fruition then CheckMyTour is destined to be a very popular service indeed.