My little brother is driving across the country this week — from San Francisco to New York — and last I checked, he was making his way down route 80, passing through Lincoln, Nebraska. Vroom, vroom: There he goes. I watch him as he drives, his location easily trackable thanks to an often-creepy, sometimes-wonderful app that somehow already came installed on my iPhone (or on your iPhone, if your device is iOS 9 or later).
It’s called Find My Friends.
If you’re already thinking that you don’t need another thing tracking your every move, I’ll agree with you there, but that’s a whole other conversation that ends with both of us dropping our Apple devices down a sewer grate.
But for my brother, who granted me and my parents permission to track his road trip, it was pretty useful. We could check in on him anytime, see his cross-country progress, without having to text or call. For two typically anxious parents and and a younger sister still terrified of flat tires and dangerous hitchhikers, it was the perfect tool. And when my parents (who were on vacation in Florida) landed back in Boston, they called me to let me know they had gotten home safely. I told them I already knew — I opened Find My Friends and it told me.
Once you find it in your phone, the app is pretty simple. You give it the names of those with whom you’d like to share your location (and how long you’d like to share it — either for an hour, a full day or indefinitely) and that’s it. The app will literally Find Your Friends, populating with all the people you’re “tracking” (or just “checking in on,” if you’d like a more-casual-slash-less-terrifying way of putting it).
It’s not a perfect system, however. This past weekend, I convinced a group of 12 friends on vacation in Las Vegas to turn on Find My Friends so that we could all have an idea of where to find each other in the purposefully twisty-turny casinos. Jokes on me: Find My Friends (for now!) exists in a two-dimensional world: Turns out, my friend Kelly was not actually hanging out by the Ellen Degeneres slot machine, as the app implied; she was taking a nap in her hotel room, 11 stories directly up.
Other ways Find My Friends might be destructive? If you and your partner decide to track each other. Who would do this? Actually, my former co-worker, Ed, would. And he does so to improve his relationship, sharing his location with his wife through iMessage (which offers the same options as Find My Friends to “Share My Location” if you click “Details” in any iMessage thread) and vice versa, like when his wife is out with clients on business travel. “If I wake up in the middle of the night worried that I haven’t heard from her. I can see if she made it back to the hotel,” says Ed. “I could [also] check to see if she was still at work without bothering her.”
On the other (more dramatic) side of the coin, something like Find My Friends could lead your trusting relationship somewhere not-so-trusting. Take this 2011 forum post on MacRumors: I got my wife a new [iPhone] 4s and loaded up Find My Friends without her knowing. She told me she was at her friends house in the East Village. I’ve had suspicions about her meeting this guy who live uptown. Lo and behold, Find my Friends has her right there…Thank you Apple, thank you App Store, thank you all. These beautiful treasure trove of screen shots going to play well when I meet her a$$ at the lawyer’s office in a few weeks.” Bullshit or not, this doesn’t feel like the most unusual situation.
But if you’re just plain sick of having to repeatedly update your friends on exactly where you’ve decided to park your umbrellas and coolers on the beach, Find My Friends is a good way to expedite the “Wait, wheeeeere are you?” process.
Lindsey Weber is an editor at MEL. She last interviewed a ‘superdeveloper’ who created a Twitter to report on earthquakes.