When I first saw My Tracks in the Android Market, I quickly passed it over never thinking it was something I would find useful. Why do I need a program on my phone that records my GPS tracks? I already have a TomTom in my car. What is my phone going to offer me that I couldn’t already do? Who would want to look at my tracks if I recorded them?
Only two days have passed since I began using My Tracks and I found the answer to all my questions. My Tracks may appear simple at first, but the possibilities are endless when you discover the full potential waiting to be tapped. Read along as I detail the interface and share with you my experiences.
When you first launch My Tracks, you will be greeted with a world map as your phone acquires a GPS fix. In my short time with the program, this normally takes 0-3 minutes. One press of the menu brings up the available options and with a tap of the thumb you can begin recording information. As you begin to move, an orange arrow will show your direction while a red tail shows the path. The display seems to keep the entire path visible on the screen while you are recording, but you have the option to move around the map by dragging it.
Tap on the screen and you are given two useful options. You can see detailed real time stats or view an elevation map. You can also toggle the satellite map to view geographical features which is valuable for outdoor activities. At any time during your recording you can insert waypoints or your current statistics. These are attached to your track and viewable by others after you have uploaded your map.
When you are finished with your trip, press stop recording to enter the track details. This is where you give your track a name and enter any additional comments. After saving the track, there are multiple options including send to a friend, upload to Google, or write to SD card. By uploading your track to Google you can also upload the statistics directly to Google Docs. This will generate a spreadsheet that you can continue to update over time. If you are recording any physical activity for training, you can analyze the results and make adjustments.
Another new feature launched with My Tracks is the ability to edit Google Docs directly from your Android device. Currently this only includes spreadsheets, but the other document forms are in development. From your phone, you can sort by row or column and edit each field. The interface is a bit limited for now, but expect expanded usability in the future.
Currently this application is marketed toward outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, or running but there is no limit to the ways this program will be utilized. It is great for outdoor activities because of the ability to record, share, and analyze right from the phone. No longer will you need to wait to get home, hook up a cable to your pc, or worry about installing software.
I get excited when I start to explore the other potential uses for My Tracks. I live in a city where two major industries are tourism and outdoor sports. Corpus Christi has repeatedly been named “Birdiest City” in the nation and you could easily create a bird watching tour including waypoints of each location and details about the birds you could expect to find. Or imagine a course of the area beaches with a description of each one. A downtown hotel could create a map with directions to popular tourist destinations such as the USS Lexington or the Texas State Aquarium. Local businesses could create a map with all the popular seafood restaurants in the area.
Another way I used My Tracks was to record my driving routes for work. Google maps includes estimated drive times but they are often very conservative. By recording my own drive times and logging them, I am able to better determine my actual ETA when I travel out of town. I can also generate real time statistics of my driving without having to type in any information.
Google My Tracks is the easiest GPS tracking software I have ever used. The interface is easy to learn and you can begin using the program as soon as you install it. When you add the ability to share everything with friends or the web directly from your phone, I believe you have the best GPS tracking platform around. Best of all, the application is free and this is only the first release. Google has a history of updating their apps and adding new functionality. I look forward to an improved interface for Google Docs. I encourage you to download the app and give it a test drive.
I have included one of my test maps to demonstrate the waypoints and statistical information you can attach to any map.