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Dear Apple:

I understand that Wifi location services is the only method the iPod Touch can use to determine it’s location. I also understand that mapping the location of every access point in the US is a difficult, if untenable goal. In this age, this sort of huge effort is much improved by using crowd-sourcing. As a geek who loves organizing information, I would be honored to help Apple and Skyhook improve their access point maps, but this is very difficult because of the lack of effort on the part of Skyhook, and to a much lesser extent, yourselves.

I live in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and it is very clear that Skyhook has never sent their trucks through my area. My home access points, those I use at my university, the public APs found at grocery stores and coffee shops all provide no location information on my iPod Touch. What’s worse, is the location check actually spins for about 40 seconds before just giving up, instead of quickly recognizing that the AP is not mapped. Location-aware applications ask to check my location multiple times, near constantly, and some applications simply do not work if location detection fails.

To begin to remedy this situation I have begun submitting MAC addresses with location information directly to Skyhook but the process is very rough. Their web page for doing so is very inconvenient as it lacks any sort of location search, and instead requires you to zone into your location from a global view, which is error prone and time consuming. None of my submissions thus far (the first sent in 2 weeks ago) have been added to your database yet (and thus location-based apps DO NOT work at all for anyone in my area). There is no iPod app for submitting access points, and the iPod does not reveal the AP’s MAC address to me. Therefore, I must boot my laptop to find the MAC address of my current AP, which means using the Skyhook submission page on my iPod is pretty useless.

On top of that they have totally botched the Linux support for their Loki toolbar, meaning I must use ‘iwconfig’ to get my AP MAC and plug it into that terrible web page each and every time I want to submit a new AP. Mac OS X is a UNIX system like Linux, do you really want to work with a partner who offers a UNIX “installation script” that looks like this?

(the file is called “LokiPlugin_Installer.sh”):

— beginning of file —
Self Extracting Installer

installer_actions.sh
npplugin.tar

Running Installer

libnploki.so
loki_logo_dialog.png
Installation complete
— end of file —
Figure 1: This is what happens when you let a moron manage your Linux support

My university has one of the most advanced WiFi networks in the central United States. Intel frequently does WiFi-related internships here and just this year they launched a WiMax testing program. As you can imagine, there are literally hundreds of APs spread across our fairly large campus, which would be a massive amount of wonderful data for Skyhook and yourselves, and could offer very (VERY) fine grained location data to our students and staff.

I posit to you Apple, that you replace Skyhook Wireless as the location data provider for the iPod Touch for one which is more capable of managing the ends of the business that affect your customers. I know it is very possible for Apple to change location providers or completely drop the features with an OS update, and I suggest you do so. With the exception of the location services system, I have been incredibly impressed and happy with my new iPod Touch 3G, which makes the utter failure of such services even more in sharp contrast to Apple’s usual reputation for ridiculously good quality (I have *never* gotten a proper location).

Even if there are no viable databases you could adopt that would provide the scope that Skyhook already does, there is no reason you could not improve upon their reporting by integrating location submission into the iPod Maps application. There is no reason the dialog which says “Could not determine your location” couldn’t have a button which says “Map my current location”, which opens Maps and allows you to stick the pin on your current location, which is submitted to you, and eventually to Skyhook. Please AT LEAST make it possible to use Location-aware apps even when Skyhook inevitably fails to determine your location.

Thank you for your time. I hope you address this problem as soon as possible.

Sincerely, your devoted iTunes and iPod Touch customer,

William Lahti

(This letter was sent to Apple Feedback and Support shortly after posting this.)

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3 Comments

  1. Hi William, we’d be glad to help you get over your challenges with your iPod. As you can imagine building a coverage system like our takes a fair amount of effort and there are some place in the country where we just haven’t reached yet (like the UP). We do have a mechanism for adding access point but as I am sure you can understand that with any user generated content system, quality is a concern. So we have to build in controls to make sure the user additions don’t negatively effect the overall system for everyone. We also can’t build an app for the iphone to automate this process since Apple doesn’t expose the scans via the SDK. If you send me your MAC addresses I can check on their status.

    We also work directly with university to bulk load their AP maps (which the IT guys usually have) into our system to iPod enable your entire campus. Let me know if you’d like to connect us with the right people there to do that.

    Ted Morgan
    Skyhook

  2. I am a Skyhook Wireless Driver and have worked with the company as an Independent Contractor since early 2008. On Skyhook’s website, under “Who We Are” you can fill out an online application to be considered to become a Driver in your area for Skyhook. If you would like additional info, please ask.

    Lewis

  3. Thank u Ted for the quick response. I was not aware of the possibilty of using NMU’s own map data. I will look into this.

    Thank you Lewis as well, sounds like an interesting job.

    Naturally there are still concerns unaddressed here that I hope will make their way to the right people at Skyhook (most importantly the Linux “support”)


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