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I Get by (and a Lift) with a Little Help from Find My Friends

I dutifully installed Find My Friends when Apple released the free iOS app. The program lets you invite people to see your location and ask to see theirs. Since I work in a fixed place in Seattle (my basement) and rarely travel, it seemed of only incidental utility. I and a number of people added each other, took screen captures, and then forgot about it.

Until I arrived at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) last Wednesday for Macworld | iWorld. I was planning to take BART, the local rail system that was built when I lived as a child in the Bay Area. I have a fondness for it, and a station is just a block from my hotel. When I landed at SFO and headed for the baggage claim, I spotted email inviting me to a Find My Friends temporary group of a bunch of colleagues-slash-friends. The temporary part of the app’s tracking is great: you can specify a period of time (and even cancel) when you’re reciprocally aware of other people’s whereabouts. When that expires, you go about your own private business again.

After accepting the invitation, I immediately saw one of the bunch was in Brisbane, CA, which I knew — from 50 previous SFO trips — was right near the airport. I used iMessage to contact her (she was, fortunately, the passenger), and found she and another friend were en route to pick up yet another buddy who landed 10 minutes after me. I was permitted to tag along, and we all met up a few carousels away. (Thanks for the lift, gang!)

For the next few days, I found myself using Find My Friends repeatedly. While the conference was at the Moscone West convention center, we all flung ourselves for a good mile out in every direction for meals, drinks, and special events. It was handy to pull up the map and see who was in proximity or where I was trying to get to. At one point, I knew a mate was in a bar somewhere in the Palace Hotel, and after getting as close as I could, had to call him for intra-building navigation.

Using Find My Friends requires that you know a lot of iPhone-toting people (or folks carrying 3G-enabled iPads). That’s likely, if you read this publication. It’s also worth noting that many cellular carriers offer similar services — for a hefty monthly fee. Find My Friends is free, and consumes just a tiny bit of data for updates and map downloads to display location.

The saddest moment for me on this trip wasn’t leaving San Francisco. I was ready to return after four days of business and fraternization to my wife and children in Seattle, and a quieter life in the basement. No, the saddest moment was when I fired up Find My Friends on Sunday, and saw all my buddies scattered back to their homes.

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