One of the strongest technology trends is the versatility. Modern smartphones, for example, are tooled with almost everything that you require for a daily life. People already use smartphones to browse the Internet, watch TV programmes, monitor health, scan documents… so why not use the same device for GPS tracking?

Sure, GPS is not an exception. Evolution of GPS hardware allows techies to make navigation and location based services a natural part of smart devices. That makes GPS tracking with a mobile phone or tablet more accessible and popular. But is there a real threat to GPS trackers then?

Mobile apps vs. personal GPS trackers

Many market players agree that it is a challenge for personal GPS tracking devices because they have lost its handicap even before the start of this nominal battle. Trackers can’t be used to make calls, take photos, receive messages and many more.

Some people even used to blame GPS tracking technology in general for their negative experience with portable GPS trackers. Fredric Paul, a NetworkWorld.com columnist, shares his resentment about the use of GPS trackers during his car trip in Spain. The post in his blog has tendentious title “Traditional GPS is dead. Long live smartphone GPS“.

“While Smithers fumbled his way around the countryside, we enjoyed full smartphone coverage, even on a remote beach in the Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that renting a standalone GPS, even in a foreign country, was a bad idea,” wrote Paul.

Most likely the reason was simple, however. It’s either cheap device which had poor quality or a kind of roaming issue. There are many travellers and long distance drivers who use portable and vehicle GPS trackers when they move among different countries. The hint is: don’t waste your money on the cheapest devices under unknown brands and remember to enable roaming. You can’t let your holidays get down the drain.

For sure, rent-a-car companies usually offer budget-class devices to minimize the final service price. As a rule, cautious tourist can ask for a more advanced model and forgets about such sad affairs like poor GPS signal or crooked tracking waypoints. Anyway, it will be cheaper than international roaming expenses.

Pitfalls of tracking while using your smartphone

There are many applications where the advantages of mobile phone based GPS tracking are not quite obvious. Why? Because smartphones are not focussed on minor features like GPS tracking.

First of all, it’s about the GPS accuracy. According to tests, the more expensive smartphone is, the better location data it provides to the apps running on it. The cheapest devices won’t give you a reliable and precise information about owner’s location.

Secondly, the battery life. If you take, for example, an iPhone and enable precise GPS location in a permanent mode, your battery will drain maybe in just 4-5 hours or even less (not to mention it becomes too hot). To compare, an average GPS tracker will work up to 15 hours in continuous mode and up to several months in interval mode.

In short, when you use a smartphone or tablet as a GPS tracker, you always need to have in view the balance between tracks quality and power consumption. But if you use tracking device mostly in a car (i.e. for taxi, goods delivery) where it’s being charged from a car adaptor, then mobile apps for GPS tracking look quite reasonable.

The perspective

Fredric Paul is quite right about the price of GPS trackers that has been getting lower in recent years. But it doesn’t have anything in common with the death of GPS. It is absolutely normal process of evolution: technologies are getting optimized and cheaper. A number of offers and competition level on a market increase enough to force companies like Garmin to cut their prices. Don’t we talk about the death of internet while telecom providers reduce a cost of their services for 100-200% in last 5-10 years? No, we don’t.

As people say, the Stone Age did not end for lack of stones. Technology just jumps in a next level leaving the outdated infrastructure unnecessary. With the highest chances it will happen with GPS services. But the truth of the moment that GPS tracking is a multi-billiard dollar market with evolving devices and progressive “fresh” services.

Traditional GPS tracking is definitely evolving. The technology takes the new step to become more affordable and popular. Its niche divided into two adjacent parts: classic (hardware-based) and mobile (apps-based) tracking. Each of them has its own strong suit. Status Quo is maintained.