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Why Good Isn’t Good Enough

By Austin Cappa  |  January 19, 2015

This entry was posted in SR SDK, SR Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , .

Some in the technology space say that location is good enough as it stands – that there’s no reason someone would need more than 100 meters of accuracy – but I beg to differ. I think there’s a more accurate way to place me on a map. And here’s where it shows:

Case 1: the morning jog
Ready to start off 2015 on the right foot (no pun intended), I set up MapMyRun, synced it with MyFitnessPal, and hit the trail. Well, street and trail. After I completed my 20-minute jog, which I estimated was about 2 miles, I glanced at my phone:

WGIGE 1

The result bore greater resemblance to a Jackson Pollok piece than a running route. Positive that I was not spastically sprinting for the last twenty minutes, I was fairly certain I could attribute this abstract art to another case of GPS gone awry.

And unless I’m running down the middle of the street, this type of inaccuracy is commonplace. Heard of the ‘snap-to-road’ algorithm? The built-in OS GPS has been optimized for driving navigation. So while this optimization generally gets us where we need to go, it’s not able to properly track distance on a sidewalk or trail.

Case 2: the lunch meeting
My meeting in Arlington was just a couple miles from our Dupont Circle office. I plugged the destination into Apple Maps and my Prius Nav (I like to make sure I’m taking the optimal route). Apple quoted my ETA as 18 minutes and the Prius said 17. ‘Perfect, I’ll be there early,’ I thought. I arrive in the general vicinity 25 minutes later, confused that my ‘arrival’ puts me on Nash Street when the restaurant is located on Oak Street. I park my car and roam the adjacent streets until I finally ask for help. I’m directed to the second floor of a nearby building – at least two blocks from my ‘arrival.’ I finally walk into the restaurant, mortified, 15 minutes into the 40-minute meeting.

Here’s what happened:

WGIGE 2

As I dashed from entrance to entrance on foot, even though I was walking on the sidewalk along major roads, I wasn’t traveling fast enough for the GPS to accurately register my location; it was off by about 15 meters. What really complicated the issue here is that the building has multiple entrances across three streets and houses many businesses. Note: there’s a single pin to represent the entire building and the various businesses inside.

Case 3: the ride home
After a long day, I finished yoga class feeling satisfied and accomplished (minus that lunch meeting debacle) and requested an Uber to take me home. Shortly, my phone dinged ‘Driver is arriving now.’ A few minutes passed. I stood staring out the window with no car in sight. The driver eventually called, upset that he had been waiting for me for so long. Trying to further explain my location wasn’t going to help, so I started walking. After a full block of awkwardly looking into every parked car, I finally found the driver.

Here’s what happened:

WGIGE 3

GPS is only accurate within 10-100 meters. And unless you manually move the pin when setting your pick-up spot on apps like Uber, you actually have TWO inaccuracies to account for – your GPS and your driver’s. This means you could reasonably be 200 meters (about two city blocks) away from each other, with a GPS reading that indicates you’re in the exact same place.


Did any of those issues I experienced mean life or death? No. Could I have had a much more productive day and saved myself some stress along the way. YES. So when you hear that location is ‘good enough’ – it’s not. You need the kind of venue and location data that are true to life. And if you are an app developer, your users deserve the better experience that will afford.

>> Emily Wrobel is the VP of Product for SocialRadar. Twitter: @ewrobes <<

Developers, check out the SocialRadar SDK to access powerful location technology + robust customer location insights for your app.

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