Stay In Touch With Find My Friends

On October 4th, freshly-appointed Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to headline his first Apple event, and announced the release of the iPhone 4S and iOS 5. Under all of the exciting features that were covered that day were a few new Apple-designed apps. Apple doesn’t publish its own apps for download on the App Store very often, and when they do, the apps tend to be small companion apps and utilities (Remote or Find My iPhone) or productivity apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote). But on that day, Apple announced a few full-featured, standalone apps. One of those was Find My Friends.

When I sat down to spill out my heart about Find My Friends, I wasn’t sure whether to review it proper or to simply share some thoughts, given that the app was developed by Apple. After some time, however, I decided to give it the review treatment, because I think that there are distinct pros and cons that should be considered in the context of other apps with similar functions. For those of you who weren’t able to watch the announcement and demonstration, allow me to recap some of the features first.

Interface & Features

Now seems like as good of a time as any to mention that I am a huge fan of the light-colored leather texture interface trend that can be seen in certain OS X Lion and iOS 5 iPad apps, and now in Find My Friends. Even from the login screen you can see the attention to detail and gorgeous texture:

Log in with your AppleID.

Log in with your AppleID.

Once you log in using your AppleID, you’ll see the Me tab. Here you can notice where Find My Friends thinks you are. It pins you near a certain address, as opposed to Foursquare, which locates nearby businesses. You can add labels to certain places that you frequent — ”Home” or “Work,” for example.

You can hide from your followers at any time using the switch on the "Me" tab.

You can hide from your followers at any time using the switch on the "Me" tab.

From this tab you can also see all of the people who are following you. When you get an invite and approve someone to follow you, they have constant access to your GPS location — unless, of course, you throw that switch that says “Hide From Friends.” I’ll mention the battery usage more below, but I found that turning this on limited the apps battery usage, which was helpful.

The All tab shows you a list of all of the people you are following, and gives you the option to find them on a map individually, or all together. Here, I’ve decided to see where my brother is.

The map peels back to reveal view options, just like in the Maps app.

The map peels back to reveal view options, just like in the Maps app.

The Invites tab lets you manage your invites, naturally. From here you can ask others for permission to follow them, or give others permission to follow you. You can send out invites using the email addresses in your Contacts, and send a message along with an invitation.

Finally, the Temporary tab is, in my opinion, the most useful feature of the app. I have very little interest in constantly broadcasting my location, even to a close group of friends. Using this tab, however, to send invitations to a temporary location sharing session seems much more practical. Simply add the users you want to invite, decide on a expiration time and tap send. Users who accept will be locatable on the map until the set time, at which point they will vanish.

Temporary location sharing sessions seem to be a far more economic use of Find My Friends.

Temporary location sharing sessions seem to be a far more economic use of Find My Friends.

This feature seems to make the most logistical sense. I’m sure most of us have experienced that frustration when trying to orchestrate a group event, sending out a number of text messages to find out where everyone is and where everyone wants to meet. With a temporary location sharing session, this would be a breeze.

The Catch

This has always been a side-effect of using location services heavily, but if you elect to use Find My Friends to constantly broadcast your location, the app becomes a battery vampire. I typically get by with charging my iPhone at night while I sleep, and I’m able to use it moderately all day long. However, the day that I downloaded Find My Friends, simply playing with it here and there had my battery almost entirely drained by mid-day. Even in the screenshots above, which were taken within a period of a few minutes at most, you can see that my battery dropped by 4%.

I also found the same to be true with other new location services that involve constant-GPS use, such as Foursquare’s new Radar feature. I think these features and app functions are great, and have the potential to change the way we use our devices. I’d like to see the GPS optimized to use battery power a bit more efficiently though, or they may not achieve widespread use.

Conclusion

The concept is neat, and certainly useful with the way we use GPS on a day to day basis. Find My Friends executes it’s purpose well. However, I think that the battery issues as well as the logistics of such an app make the Temporary feature more useful. Organizing meetups or keeping track of your friends and family during a day at an amusement park, fair or mall seems like a more practical use for the app than constantly keeping tabs on your friends.

Of course, there is probably a use for the constant sharing feature in knowing where your child is (if you’ve decided to let your child have an iPhone, that is), and I can’t deny the use of that. For me, however, I will likely get more use out of the temporary sharing feature. There is certainly room for improvement, but overall, Find My Friends is a solid location sharing app.

So what do you say? Have you found a use for Find My Friends, or is it too much of a battery-hog for you to use it?


Summary

Apple's own brew of location sharing and social networking.

8