Tehula Finds Friends Without Fuss but Flirts With Disaster
Tehula does one thing and does it well. It's a simple friend-finder app that sends a location request to someone on your contacts list and lets them decide whether or not to accept. Tehula swears up and down there are no Big Brother snoop technologies built into the app, but it does bring up a question or two regarding privacy.
07/16/12 5:00 AM PT
Tehula is brand new in the Apple App Store, and I've got to say, I haven't been so excited about an app in a long time. Faithful readers will likely recognize that I prefer simple apps that do one basic thing really well instead of bloated jack-of-all trade apps. And what does Tehula do? It locates your friends on a map.
Seriously. That's it.
It's drop-dead simple. Works fantastically. And it's so freakin' awesome that I'm actually physically jazzed about it and the possibilities it presents.
Huh? Don't We Have Apps That Share Locations Already?
Of course, there are other apps that share your location with your friends, and their are apps that give status updates wherever you are, and there's even Apple's Find Your Friends app that has some basic privacy controls, time-limit controls, and parental controls. Tehula is not all that. It's far simpler. It's bare-bones. It's better.
Here's why: Tehula is lightweight and unobtrusive. It's pretty fast. It's uncluttered. It works from your Contacts list. If a friend doesn't want to be found, they can ignore the message or decline to share their location. And if you trust and believe the one-person developer who created this app -- his first -- no information is stored, saved, and added to your profile, which will not be used, abused or sold to data aggregators who are looking for ways to manipulate your choices, change your habits, and pretty much get you to spend money in ways that benefit them.
Right now, at least, it seems to do what it says it does, quickly and easily, for just a buck.
Works For Your Android-Using Buddies, Too
Here's how Tehula works. You launch the app, then tap a standard text message button, which launches your Contacts list in your phone. Choose a person, choose the phone number you are trying to reach them at, then look over the text message that will be sent: It says who it's going to, followed by something like this:
Where are you?
If you hit Send, the message goes out the door and you go to a Location Requests screen. If you've made several requests, their names are in a simple list. If a request is pending, you'll see a little hour glass icon next to the name. Once the person responds to your request, you'll get a pop window with a View or Dismiss button. Hit the View button, and boom, a pin drops down into a Google-based street map. You can zoom in or out of the map.
And what does the recipient see?
The recipient gets the text message above on their smartphone, and if they tap the link, they'll see a browser-based page that says something like, "Chris Maxcer requests your current location." There's a big green "share" button. Tap it and boom, your location gets sent.
Of course, if this message came to me on my phone out of the blue, I'd be suspicious. I'd probably ignore it. I'd likely think it was some sort of scam. To help mitigate suspicion, the request has some fine print: Your location will only be temporarily stored on Tehula's server until it is delivered to the recipient. If you do not wish to share this information, you can safely close this page. No information has been transmitted yet.
OK, that's well and good, but really, can you trust a scamming scammer? No. So when does Tehula work best? With people that you know, with people who you know are trying to find you in the heat of the moment.
Here's an example: A few months ago my niece came to town with her father to play in a soccer tournament. If you know anything about soccer fields, you'll know that many of them are all jumbled together, one after another, on the available turf. There are usually hundreds of kids running around kicking balls, along with lots of parents. The landscape is flat, chaotic, and it's tough to know where to go to get to the right field. On this particular Saturday, the game was moved across town. Of course, there's a name of the general field, but since I don't play soccer all over town, I only vaguely know where it is. So I go there. And what do I see? Hundreds of kids playing soccer in a mass of running and kicking energy. How do I find my pony-tailed niece out in that mess of kids who are all wearing similar uniforms?
Barely possible. Fortunately, I really just need to find her dad. So I do that on the phone. Unfortunately, we entered the fields from different parking lots, and he doesn't know where he is, and there's not much in the way of landscapes. Finally, through some shouting into our phones and then stand up waving, we find each other.
With Tehula, I would have just sent him a text message.
He would have known it was coming and I would have found him much faster. And it wouldn't have mattered if he had Tehula loaded on his phone or not, or if he had an iOS device at all. All he would have needed was a GPS-enabled smartphone capable of receiving a text message and launching a browser.
Of course, this is a brand new app. And it seems to have been created by a single guy from France. If it takes off in popularity, I hope his servers keep working. I have no reason to suspect they won't, just that we've seen this sort of thing happen before to other small app creators. But back to limitations that I see right now.
Let me be clear, though, while these are limitations, I really consider them to be opportunities that I hope the developer will implement in future versions.
For starters, the map is a basic Google street map. There's no satellite view or hybrid mode. So when I called a buddy to see where he was (he had an Android phone) his location showed up on a golf course. He's getting paid to play golf (he's in sales). And while I could see where he was, the map didn't show me what hole he was on. With a satellite view, I could see his position out in the rough where he probably was flailing at the results of his wicked slice.
Another limitation is the inability to export out the GPS coordinates -- so I couldn't find a way to move his location to a new map. If he was lost in the woods with a broken leg, I'd get a bit of a picture of where he was, but only somewhat close. Would be nice to drop his location into a topo map.
While having the built-in Contact integration is nice, it's also a limitation. You have to go through your Contacts in order to send a location request. If you want to send a request to a number not in your Contacts, you might be able to select a contact then edit the resulting number, which would be a hassle.
That brings up the last limitation, which really isn't a limitation so much as an acknowledgement of the loss of your expectation of privacy by the very existence of this app. If you decline to share your location as you're talking to your spouse -- of even if your spouse is just snoopy -- the fact that you decline might rouse suspicion that maybe you're not where you say you are or maybe you're someplace you shouldn't be.
There is no good way around this. And I find that sad and troubling. If I'm at the mall finding a birthday present and I say I'm just picking up some milk at the grocery store, I could suddenly have a perfectly acceptable white lie busted wide open. Plus, what if you need to do something nefarious? I haven't in as long a time as I can remember, but what if? A guy likes to keep his options open, you know. That's freedom at its core, and freedom is valuable. A better world is not a place where people can't do anything wrong -- a better world is where people can do the wrong things but choose to do the right things.
I'm just saying.
Tehula is an awesomely simple and powerful app. And at the same time, it opens up the ability to pry into someone's privacy with very few options for avoiding the issue.