My phone should know when I start a trip

Every day I get into my car and drive somewhere. My mobile phone has a lot of useful apps for travel, including maps with traffic and a lot more. And I am usually calling them up.

I believe that my phone should notice when I am driving off from somewhere, or about to, and automatically do some things for me. Of course, it could notice this if it ran the GPS all the time, but that's expensive from a power standpoint, so there are other ways to identify this:

  • If the car has bluetooth, the phone usually associates with the car. That's a dead giveaway, and can at least be a clue to start looking at the GPS.
  • Most of my haunts have wireless, and the phone associates with the wireless at my house and all the places I work. So it can notice when it disassociates and again start checking the GPS. To get smart, it might even notice the MAC addresses of wireless networks it can't see inside the house, but which it does see outside or along my usual routes.
  • Of course moving out to the car involves jostling and walking in certain directions (it has a compass.)

Once it thinks it might be in the car, it should go to a mode where my "in the car" apps are easy to get to, in particular the live map of the location with the traffic displayed, or the screen for the nav system. Android has a "car mode" that tries to make it easy to access these apps, and it should enter that mode.

It should also now track me for a while to figure out which way I am going. Depending on which way I head and the time of day, it can probably guess which of my common routes I am going to take. For regular commuters, this should be a no-brainer. This is where I want it to be really smart: Instead of me having to call up the traffic, it should see that I am heading towards a given highway, and then check to see if there are traffic jams along my regular routes. If it sees one, Then it should beep to signal that, and if I turn it on, I should see that traffic jam. This way if I don't hear it beep, I can feel comfortable that there is light traffic along the route I am taking. (Or that if there is traffic, it's not traffic I can avoid with alternate routes.)

This is the way I want location based apps to work. I don't want to have to transmit my location constantly to the cloud, and have the cloud figure out what to do at any given location. That's privacy invading and uses up power and bandwidth. Instead the phone should have a daemon that detects location "events" that have been programmed into it, and then triggers programs when those events occur. Events include entering and leaving my house or places I work, driving certain roads and so on.

And yes, for tools like shopkick, they can even be entering stores I have registered. And as I blogged at the very beginning of this blog many years ago, we can even have an event for when we enter a store with a bad reputation. The phone can download a database of places and wireless and Bluetooth MACs that should trigger events, and as such the network doesn't need to know my exact location to make things happen. But most importantly, I don't want to have to know to ask if there is something important near me, I want the right important things to tell me when I get near them.


Isn't this exactly what Android apps like Locale and Tasker do?

But the location-based event applications that I have seen don't quite do what I describe here. In order to track location well they usually have to do something very power-intensive, like keeping the GPS on or constantly surfing the wifi.

I propose a few other tricks, and also looking for a dynamic set of events. Bluetooth is lower power, and most cars sold today have bluetooth speakerphone in the radio, and that turns on when you put the key in the car, and tries to pair with the phone. That's a dead giveaway. Because of the lower power requirements, and the cheap cost of bluetooth devices like $5 dongles this is a cheaper way of determining if you are in, or leaving, locations you control.

I also proposed being smart and noticing when you start walking before firing up the GPS or wifi to find out more. I suspect these apps will do that soon if they don't already. While the phone sits still no need to be doing high power sensing.

The next step is to also notice as you move along common routes, and do things based on that. I have not seen any app that will notice I am approaching the highway in my car, and then detect there is a traffic tie-up on that highway, and warn me without me looking that I should check traffic. That's the ultimate goal -- I don't have to look. If the world is happy, don't bother me, but let me know for sure if there is an anomaly I need to know about.

If you know of such an app I would like to see it.

Your cell carrier presumably already has a rough idea of where you are if your phone is connected to a cell tower to be able to receive calls. But perhaps there is a valid argument against also sharing that data with other parties.

I would like this to be combined with speech synthesis. In the driving case, this should be less distracting than having to look at the screen. There is the question of what the right UI is for getting the speech synthesis to repeat what was said if the driver is focused on difficult traffic the first time the information is announced, though. Maybe having it recognize voice commands like ``traffic advisory repeat'' for an immediate repeat, and ``traffic advisory suppress'' could work, perhaps with it repeating the announcement every minute or two unless it gets the suppress command.

I've wanted something similar for the situation of arriving at a subway station to find that that subway line is running poorly, in a case where I'd walked from somewhere roughly halfway between that line and a different subway line that was unlikely to have been affected by the same problem, or for finding out whether there is any direction I could take that would cause me to meet a bus going in a useful direction with a minimum of waiting. I think a headset and speech synthesis could work very well for this. (In a car, of course, you probably want to use the car speakers, since headset use while driving is often not legal.)

For some users, time of day and perhaps day of week or weekend/weekday may be something worth looking at, in addition to rough location and direction of travel, in making a guess based upon the user's history.

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