December 5, 2010

Do you like Android and knowing that your kids got to school safely? Man, have I got a deal for you!

We’ve just uploaded our first release of Whereoscope for Android to the Android Marketplace. First up, here’s some sceenshots to whet your appetite:

Just like the iPhone version, you can add places that you want to get notifications about, and invite your family over email. Once you’re setup, you’ll get notified whenever anyone arrives at or departs from one of those places. Whereoscope for Android is also our first release to be built on our version 2 server platform — what does that mean? More flexibility in terms of accessing your data, and better security.

To get it, tap “Market” on your Android 2.2 phone, tap the search button and type “Whereoscope”, tap the row that says “Whereosocpe”, and then tap “Install”:

This is our very first Android application, so we’re still learning what it is that makes an application great on Android. That said, we’re pretty proud of this release — a few weeks ago, it was just a bullet point on our TODO list. If you like it, be sure to leave positive feedback. And as always, if you run into any kind of problem, let us know! We love hearing from our users, and have been known to distribute fashionable where-o-shirts to users who have gone the extra mile in letting us know what they think of our work (both good and bad).

Whereoscope Android is available with a free lifetime membership for a limited time. We thought this was only fair, since we did this for our iPhone users while we were figuring out the bugs in our iPhone client.

Happy Whereodroiding!

James Gregory,
CTO & Co-Founder.

Stopping background location applications on iOS 4

November 25, 2010

As you may already know, iOS4 gives iPhones and iPads the ability to run applications in the background. Most people are also aware of the ‘task manager’ that you can activate by double-tapping the Home button. But how do you stop an application from running in the background?

Delete it. Seriously, that’s the only way (for location applications using the Significant Location Update service).

The ‘task manager’ is not actually managing anything, and the icons in there are not tasks. If you hold down the icons until they start to wobble and then tap the red X, you have terminated that application.

But location apps using the Significant Location Update service get restarted when:

  • the phone reboots
  • you change cell towers

So even though you’ve just turned it off, as soon as you get in your car and drive a mile, it comes back to life.

There are typically 3 reasons why you’d want to stop a location based application running:

  1. To stop it sending your location temporarily or permanently
  2. To test whether that has an impact on battery life
  3. To make the location arrow go away (this won’t work on iOS 4.1, see my prior post)

For case 1 and 3, you should really do what Apple recommend, and that is use the Settings application. Go to Settings->General->Location Services, and turn off either the specific application or all of them. The application will then be unable to get any location information from the CoreLocation API. This also has the effect of turning off the location arrow.

For case 2 your best bet is to delete the application. Turning off location access will remove an application’s ability to turn on the GPS chip, but that is only one of the ways to drain your battery. Continually sending data over the network via Edge or 3G is almost as bad, and the only way to stop that is to delete the app.

Version 1.6 is out!

November 9, 2010

Hey all,

Version 1.6 has been approved by Apple! Get it here:

Download Whereoscope

This version is mainly a bugfix release – we discovered that when Whereoscope is open but you press the Sleep button, it enters a state where it stops working. It still worked when you closed the app, but a handful of people were entering this state and getting pretty unhappy.

This version fixes that – it should work all the time!

In upcoming news, it looks like iOS 4.2 is finally going to be released by Apple, which means Whereoscope will soon work in the background on your iPads!



Thanks to all our translators!

October 27, 2010

Hey all,

As you know, a month ago we asked Whereoscope users around the world if they could help us out with translations, in exchange for tshirts.

We were blown away by the response, and are proud to announce that as of version 1.5 we have Whereoscope in 7 languages! Download it now at:

Download Whereoscope

Our sincere thanks go to:

  • Kanako from California for the Japanese translation
  • Zhiqiu from Duke University for the Chinese (Simplified) translation – check out his blog
  • Eduardo Martin Pailos from Spain for the Spanish translation – check out his awesome web coach company
  • Rafal from Poland for the Polish translation
  • Vini from Australia for the Portuguese (Brazilian) translation
  • Fon from Australia for the Thai translation
  • Jonas Huckestein from California for the German translation – check out his launchpad of awesomeness
  • Burak from Turkey for the Turkish translation (since version 2.0) – check out his home page
  • Rios Tam from Hong Kong for the Chinese (Traditional) translation (since version 2.0) – check out his home page

Where possible, we’ve also localized the App Store description, although not all languages are supported in the App Store.

We’d also like to thank Chelsea, who’s been working super-hard replying to all our Japanese users on Twitter and email.

James & I are really thankful for all the feedback we get!!


Version 1.5 is out!

October 26, 2010

Hi all,

Version 1.5 is finally finally out! Get it now at the iPhone AppStore.

Download Whereoscope

New features in this version include:

  • Faster to startup when re-opening the application
  • Much more reliable background updating. It should update at least every 10 minutes or so, even when stationary
  • On the various map screens you can see a circle indicating the accuracy of the location data. If associated with a ‘Place’, you’ll see another circle for that place.
  • On the “Everyone” map, tapping on a particular person jumps to their screen so you can zoom in on where they are.

Thanks for being patient!! I’ll be publishing another blog post soon thanking all our translators for this version!


Innovate!2010 Pitch Slam in Silicon Valley

October 11, 2010

We’ve been selected as one of 12 semi-finalists to pitch at the upcoming Silicon Valley Pitch Slam this Wednesday. You can read more about Innovate!2010 at:

The Pitch Slam is run by Guidewire Group and I’m pretty excited about it! If you can make it, please come along and support!


The location arrow on iOS

September 29, 2010

Hi all,

I wanted to take some time to talk about the location indicator on the iPhone, as there’s quite a bit of confusion about what it means. Let me start by talking about the 3 main[1] types of location information available on the iPhone.

  1. GPS. Most accurate (5m) when outside, with an extremely high battery impact.
  2. WiFi. Most accurate (10m) when inside, with a high battery impact
  3. Cell tower. Rarely accurate (around 500 to 2000m), with very little battery impact

It’s also important to know about the 2 main[2] types of location services available in the background on iOS 4.0 and above

  1. Core Location. This allows you to receive location updates of a desired accuracy or better, ad infinitum. To utilize Core Location in the background you must specify the application as requiring the location background mode. This then informs the user that the application will likely have a high battery impact. This mode is designed for applications such as turn-by-turn directions.
  2. Significant Location updates. This allows the application to be notified whenever the device changes cell towers. At that point the application can ask the operating system for a limited time (typically up to 10 minutes) to do any processing. This may include Core Location updates as shown above.

Now, with all that knowledge, let’s look at how things changed from iOS 4.0 to iOS 4.1

iOS 4.0: Show the arrow only when Core Location is running i.e. high battery impact

This really allows user to know when an application is going to significantly impact their battery life, allowing them to turn off such applications. Most application using Core Location will turn it on in such a way that it ends up activating the WiFi or GPS radios.

iOS 4.1: Show the arrow when either Core Location or Significant Location services are running i.e. privacy impact

This educates the user more about privacy – they can know whether any application currently has access to their location. But just because the arrow is there doesn’t mean the phone is actually processing anything, it may be entirely dormant.


Many people got used to the idea that the little location arrow would only appear when the GPS was running. As of iOS 4.1 this is no longer the case.

Any application that is currently registered Significant Location updates will have the arrow visible at all times, even if the phone is stationary and dormant.

Interesting side note

Turning off Location Services for a given app doesn’t completely turn it off.

For those who don’t know how, the standard way is to go to Settings->General->Location Services. You can either turn off location for all applications, or for an individual application. You’ll also see an arrow next to any application that has requested location data in the last 24 hours.

What it actually does is cause a callback to fire saying there was an error collecting location data every time location data is collected for another app. Let me illustrate.

1) You are running GoodApp and BadApp on your iPhone

2) You turn off Location Services for BadApp but leave it on for GoodApp

3) Every time GoodApp gets a location, BadApp is told “Sorry, no location for you”.

Of course, I would have expected BadApp just not to receive anything at all. In the current framework, BadApp is actually receiving some form of data: that another application is accessing location and the phone is likely to be moving.


[1]. Yes there are more complexities to interactions between these types, and some cell tower information is available even when no cell signal is available. However I considered that outside the scope of this article.

[2]. There are additional hacks to gaining background location using various other background modes, jailbreaking, or other techniques. The vast majority of iPhone location-based apps use one or both of the 2 mentioned.