My tracks

By UrbanAnthropod, May 24, 2010 7:59 am

Google has announced that they will be open sourcing the My Tracks app for android devices. Anyone familiar with this blog will note that some entries are accompanied with maps and GPS traces. Additionally, I’ve provided GPX and or KMZ files that accompany my strolls. The fact that Google is releasing this app under an Apache-style license means that the app will be enhanced by the community. The spread of Android as a mobile operating system is growing rapidly and new phones are being introduced with improved features. Android, itself, is an open sourced system centered around the Linux kernel that has unofficial builds.

I primarily use a standalone GPS logger for geotagging and keeping tabs on where I’ve been. This is extremely useful when I come across something but don’t know what it is. I don’t have an Android phone. I don’t even have a smart phone! But I’m always looking forward to the day when I make the purchase. I have an use Maemo Mapper on my Nokia N810 (the predecessor of the N900 phone) to identify where I am, but the GPS unit takes a long time to fix. Using an additional bluetooth GPS receiver helps to enhance the GPS signal, but it becomes cumbersome have multiple devices. While the logger just clips onto me, it only logs. Maemo Mapper tells me where I am at the moment and allows me to add points.

I’m excited to see that this app has been open sourced because Android has made it’s way into devices that aren’t phones. Tablets and standalone GPS navigation systems can be built around this system and enable a rich marketplace for consumers. It’s true that the iPhone/iPad can also do these things, but I’m not a fan of closed systems and walled gardens at a premium. Using mapping on Android devices with Google Goggles can also help to identify objects and structures. While I really like my N810, I’ve been resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t purchase an N900 or related phone since the Android system is developing at a faster pace. This might change since Nokia and Intel have merged their mobile Linux platforms together, but for the near future, Android seems more enticing.

The main reason I began recording traces was for geotagging photos. But the secondary motivation was for contributing to Open Street Map. With My Tracks being opened, it’s simple enough to provide an alternative map repository to utilize OSM as well as providing a simple on the go editing tool. I’ve mentioned before that Google Maps can have better quality maps, but I believe in the concept of OSM and would like to continue to support it. My Tracks combines with other Google services to record traceroute information as distance, elevation, velocity, etc. in maps and spreadsheets. This is really useful for people who are training in some capacity. In fact, very expensive GPS enabled watches also do this for that very purpose. The only thing current Android phones are lacking (for now) are heart monitors. I currently use uTrack in conjunction with my logger to generate detailed reports of my excursions. It’s a great online tool but it depends on the reliability of my GPX files.

This might not be exciting news for most, but this announcement makes me more anxious to replace my current set-up and for the further enrichment of the device environment that is to come.

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