GPS Tracking Apps Vs. GPS Tracking Devices:
What You Need to Know

Weighing the pros and cons of popular monitoring options

When it comes to using a GPS tracker to manage the whereabouts of family or business vehicles and assets, it is important to be educated about the variety of GPS devices and systems available on the market. With the constant emergence of new GPS tracking apps for cell phones, many consumers are wondering whether these alternatives to dedicated GPS tracking devices are able to meet their needs just as well. While there are similarities in the way these different types of devices can be used, there are distinct differences in their performance levels that users need to be aware of before getting started.

Popular Uses for GPS Trackers

Before you make a choice about the best GPS tracking method, it’s important to consider your tracking needs. GPS tracking has a variety of applications, but its primary purpose is to allow users to receive ongoing, real-time location information about vehicles, assets, and people.

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Vehicle GPS Tracking

One of the most popular uses of GPS trackers is vehicle tracking. GPS trackers can be used on individual vehicles or fleets of vehicles that you own. Trackers for vehicles can be used to inform you about where the vehicle in question is and has been, where it has stopped and for how long, how fast it has traveled, and more. Some more advanced GPS trackers even allow users to access more detailed information such as how much gas remains in the tank. Users can also set up speed alerts to be notified if a vehicle is driving unsafely and geofence alerts to track a vehicle’s movements outside of designated boundaries. These features are especially useful if the vehicle’s driver is an employee on a time schedule or a teenager with limited driving skills. Vehicle owners are also able to access historical and real-time location information via computer or mobile device.

Tracking People Using GPS Trackers

There are a number of applications when it comes to tracking the movements of other people, including parental tracking of children and teens in order to ensure their safety. Those same geofences that are so useful in vehicle tracking are especially useful here: by setting geofences around predefined areas, parents are able to be alerted the moment their child makes it to school and back home safely, or ensure that their teen driver isn’t veering too far from home. Speed alerts can also be set up to inform a parent when their new driver has exceeded a certain speed in the family car. All of this information and more is accessible remotely, giving parents confidence in the whereabouts and safety of their children.

Tracking Assets Via GPS

Asset tracking is another common use for GPS trackers, especially among business users and those who wish to keep an eye on personal property and valuables that are in storage or being transported from one location to another. Asset trackers have been deployed to monitor the location and movement of big-ticket items, from jewelry to classic car collections. Motion-activated alerts let users know if an asset has been tampered with or is unexpectedly on the move, allowing users to identify a stolen asset’s location in real time for recovery.

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Pros and Cons of Tracking Someone Via GPS Tracker or GPS Tracking App

Before making an official decision to use a GPS tracker or app to keep an eye on someone or something important to you, it’s necessary to consider the positives and negatives that may be the result of your choice.

PROS

Knowing the real-time whereabouts of someone or something that is important to you

Being able to see whether your teen driver is operating the family vehicle safely, giving you the ability to use the information you gather as a learning tool

Easier asset recovery in the event of theft, kidnapping, or another emergency

Appearance of independence for children, elderly, and employees, while also providing peace-of-mind for you

Detailed histories of the asset, vehicle, or person’s location are able to reviewed and stored

Discreet placement allows GPS tracking to be covert

Tracking of employee movements on the clock to help business owners and managers ensure efficient use of time and resources

CONS

Knowing the real-time whereabouts of someone or something that is important to you

Being able to see whether your teen driver is operating the family vehicle safely, giving you the ability to use the information you gather as a learning tool

Easier asset recovery in the event of theft, kidnapping, or another emergency

Appearance of independence for children, elderly, and employees, while also providing peace-of-mind for you

Associated costs may vary depending on the device chosen: GPS trackers often have monthly costs, and cell phones utilize cell and data services, making them more costly for prolonged use

Depending on your use, ethical questions of how much information you really need about someone may arise

Employees or teen drivers who know they are being tracked could resent the apparent lack of trust

When choosing whether or not to use a GPS tracking device or GPS tracker app to monitor the whereabouts of another person, it’s important to take into consideration the moral and legal aspects of doing so. Tracking someone’s whereabouts can easily be considered stalking, which is illegal, if it is not done in a proper manner. For example, your legal rights to track a vehicle only extend to vehicles that you personally own. While tracking your children’s location out of concern for driving safety is considered a valid reason, it is important to ensure that you are not preventing your child from developing into a responsible, independent adult. When you choose where, when, and to what extent you should track someone or something, it is important to brush up on current GPS tracking laws, consider the possible consequences, and ask yourself whether you really need to know.

What to Expect From a GPS Phone App

GPS apps are designed to provide the benefits of GPS affordably as they utilize a device most people already own: a cell phone. Many users enjoy such benefits as tracking the shared locations of friends and family members, sharing their own locations, and geotagging locations with photos and video in order to connect with other people in the same geographic area. Some popular social GPS apps include Connect and Find My Friends, two apps which place people’s locations on a map based on their social check-ins; GLYMPSE, which allows users to share locations and ETA details with friends and family members; and of course, Phone Tracker and Mobile GPS Tracker, which are designed to be covert trackers of another person’s phone.

Many of these GPS apps are designed for more social purposes than straightforward GPS tracking devices. Users who are looking for more serious GPS tracking find themselves noticing a number of common concerns. According to the reviews of these popular apps, some of these are:

  • Phones were not designed to run GPS continually, so it will drain the battery much faster than a normal phone on standby waiting for a call
  • Apps are often limited to one specific functionality rather than offering a range of tracking features
  • Background apps commonly slow down or shut off the GPS app
  • Customer service is poor in comparison to the service provided by companies that offer dedicated GPS tracking devices
  • Apps are often unreliable since cell phones are not designed to be tracking devices
  • GPS apps rely heavily on cell phone signals rather than actual GPS satellites, making location positioning much less accurate
  • App drains phone battery too quickly
  • Data service is required
  • Covert tracking is often faulty as most apps are designed to work both ways and require user permissions to function properly

There are other concerns that users often have about GPS tracking apps, namely the question of whether to place the app directly on the phone of the person being tracked or on a burner phone hidden in a vehicle or bag. While one of the plus sides of using a burner phone is that the app is less likely to be interrupted or discovered, the downside is that a phone battery generally lasts for less than a day, making the tracking device largely ineffective for longer applications. Additionally, most apps have limited features that do not reflect the options available on dedicated tracking devices.

At BrickHouse Security, we have considered the value of GPS tracking apps and have chosen to steer away from that market as dedicated GPS trackers have proven to be much more effective, overall.

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A Case for Dedicated GPS Trackers

GPS trackers, on the other hand, are specifically designed for the purpose of providing real-time tracking information, and as such, boast a number of exceptional benefits that users cannot find from cell phone-based apps. These devices have hardware and software optimized for GPS tracking and reporting, making them highly accurate and functional. Many customers have reported benefits which include:

  • Interruptions are not as likely since GPS trackers are not being used for external communication and do not have social connections
  • Many dedicated GPS trackers utilize mobile apps to support their functions, giving users the convenience of remote tracking without complete reliance on a cell phone
  • Longer battery lives because GPS trackers do not have background functions running which may consume battery, and they often feature standby modes when not in use
  • Dedicated customer service and support
  • Cell phone service is not required to obtain location data as GPS trackers utilize global positioning satellites, pinpointing locations with exceptional accuracy, to within 15 ft.
  • Dedicated trackers come in a variety of form factors, depending on the application

The assortment of GPS tracking tools available on the market is as varied as the needs users may have for them. Whether you are tracking a vehicle, person, or asset for personal or business reasons, there is a GPS tool for your purpose. GPS apps for smartphones are convenient and affordable, and many users are pleased with the social components and their ability to share location details with other users.

For more serious applications, however, users are likely to want to utilize dedicated GPS trackers. Specifically designed with tracking in mind, these devices cut out many of the social functions that bog down tracking apps, making them better suited to meet your needs. With no background applications running down the device’s battery and greater accuracy in pinpointing locations, a dedicated GPS tracker is the best choice for straightforward tracking applications. And, with a wide variety of form factors to choose from, there is a device designed to meet any tracking need a user may have.

Published November 11th, 2016