iPhone App Idea: Almost There!

May 26, 2009 By: erik Category: Geeky, Musings 2,289 views

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One of the most forehead-slappingly clever iPhone app ideas I’ve heard is iNap, an alarm clock for public transportation commuters to wake them up when they get close to their intended stop. Rather than setting a timer, you set the location of your stop on a map and then your iPhone 3G follows your location and the alarm goes off when you are within a specified range of your target. As someone who has spent several years going drowsily to work on public transportation, I applaud the developers of iNap.

The other day, I was driving home to pick up my wife to go somewhere, and, as I approached our neighborhood, I wanted to call her with my mobile phone to tell her to come down from our apartment and out to the street so I wouldn’t have to park. But there were a few round-a-bouts to negotiate and I didn’t feel comfortable using my cell phone while I was driving (it is actually illegal in Spain), so I ended up parking and going up to the apartment to get her.

Okay, here’s my idea:

I want an iPhone app that:

When I get within a specified radius of a geographic point, the app will initiate a phone call to someone, play a recorded message (e.g. “Hey honey, I’m 10 miles away. Be there in 15 minutes!”), and hang up.

It can be called “Almost There!” or “Honey, I’m almost home!” or “Hot Meal”.

Favorite Sites – You would be able to save several “favorite” geographical destinations (e.g. Home, Work, Grandma’s House, etc.) and reuse them quickly without having to launch Google Maps. Of course my contacts’ addresses should be available as well.
Active Time Window – It should also have an optional time of day and day of week when the trigger should be active. If my work takes me to a client site that is near my house, I don’t want it calling my wife to tell her I’m almost home from work for the day.
Missed Call – It might also be nice to avoid the recorded message and have it call a number, let it ring once, and hang up. This old “no charge communication” trick has been used by penny pinching phone users for decades. If your recipient has been briefed on what a missed call from you means at a certain time of the day, why go through the trouble of playing a recording?

As someone who often prepares lunch for my wife when she gets home from work, I find it really helpful when she can give me a ring to say she’s leaving work and will be home in 15 minutes. When she does that, the meal is always on the table and piping hot when she walks in the door. Advising loved ones who are preparing food for you seems like the most useful application of this iPhone app, but I suppose that calling your office assistant or friends would be helpful too. It sure seems like quite a few people would pay $4.99 for such an app.

Why I’m not writing it

I have no iPhone API experience and no free time to learn it. This idea is quite complex and uses four main interfaces of the iPhone API: maps, call initiation, audio recording, and GPS. It’s not a good starter app; it requires an experienced developer. Also, I have no idea if you can even play an audio file into an initiated call or not. If someone wants to write this, great. If it’s already written, by all means, let me know and I’ll buy it.

  • KTran

    I like your idea. Mind if I implement it myself? Unless someone already did so.

  • Go head, KTran! Any attribution you’d like to give me in the final app would be appreciated. But if you make $1M, I expect at least a beer.

  • KTran

    I’m not sure if this has already been implemented, but if it has not, then I also have a number of enhancements that will make the app even better. Looks like I have to search the app store for this. Maybe you can remove this post. =) Then I can take my sweat a$$ time and you will earn many beers.

  • I did no app store searching myself. I’ll be happy to remove this post if you’d like to offer me a percentage of profits. 🙂 Report back here if you can’t find anything similar in the app store and are serious about writing it, and we can negotiate by email.

  • KTran

    I thought about it a little more and I’m not sure if this can be done since it would require the app to always be running in the background. I don’t think the iPhone OS currently supports this. The app would need to be running all the time which probably won’t work since most people configure their phones to sleep after some time or else the battery would drain too quickly.

    Its a good idea and can probably be done a slightly different way which it a little more complicated.

  • That was pretty much the conclusion I came to, as well, KTran. The OS isn’t quite ready for this app. But one day in the near future, some GPS-enabled phone is going to provide this functionality.

    The “you have to leave it running” argument isn’t the killer, though. There are other GPS-heavy iPhone apps that work well as long as you don’t try to do anything else, and you shouldn’t while you’re driving anyway, as is the case with this app. I suspect that the shortcoming will be that no phone OS is going to let an app control an active call after it is initiated. That’s where this idea dies. Perhaps they will let apps send SMSs someday.

  • KTran

    There are apps that can already send SMS messages through some SMS server on the internet and it’s free. You do not even need a SMS plan. This was one of the “enhancements” that I alluded to earlier. I do think that the “leaving it running” argument is a killer because most people don’t want to have to turn on the phone, turn off the sleep feature and then launch the app. This is really a convenience app and this takes the convenience out of it. It should just work seemlessly. Anyways, I heard that Apple is contemplating allowing apps to run in the background in the near future so we’ll see. Thanks.

  • KTran

    Erik R.,

    You are right though. It CAN still work, but it’s a little annoying.

  • Nosh


    Excellent idea. Although not possibly worth it for the iPhone platform, it may be worth it for other platforms. I’ll make sure to drop you some bones if I ever get around to making anything similar. Do not remove this post so that I can find you should I ever need to.


  • Daniel

    Sounds like a neat idea, and it’d get people to drive safer. If it’s not currently possible, there’s a really good chance that Apple will allow background apps in a coming update. They’re going to have to do this for the iPad eventually, I expect it to carry over. Have you considered submitting your idea to http://www.appswell.com? It’s a site (and an app of course) where you submit your app ideas, everyone votes, and the most popular idea every month gets built. Winner gets $1,000 and a share of the profits of the app. Better than a beer! (Because money can be exchanged for goods and services, like more beer)

    • Yeah, thanks. I think I’d rather not click “I agree” on a legal document that gives all rights to my idea to a start-up company. I’m fine with negotiating with a single developer that’s willing to make it, but I dislike “any idea you put into this field will become the property of The Company forever and ever” terms.

      And what’s with forcing you to submit your idea by typing it on your iPhone’s keyboard? Yuck.