Tucked beneath a canopy of tower cranes in Seattle's booming South Lake Union neighborhood stands a single-story office building that houses Glympse, a 5-year-old internet startup with a laser focus on answering one question: Where the heck are you?
Not the existential, where-are-you-in-life sort of query, but the more practical where are you and when will you get here. And there lays the in-car potential. Glympse, whose app launched in 2009, allows you to share real-time location via a GPS-enabled mobile device with your friends (or the whole world, if you post to social media) for a period of time you choose. BMW/Mini, Ford, GM, Jaguar/Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Volvo have current or forthcoming integration in their multimedia systems.
I can see why.
Glympse one or more friends when you leave home, select a time frame — say 30 minutes — and they need not wonder (or pester you) for an ETA or location status. Your cohort can track you only during that time frame. Spouses could send a Glympse when they leave the office, or parents could make their kids send a Glympse for the duration of their night out.
Download the free app on a GPS-enabled smartphone, and it can send a text message or email with a custom URL. The recipients can click or tap the link, and a GPS portal opens in their Web browser with your location in real time — even your speed, if you want to reveal it. Your recipients don't need the app, and no one needs to create an account with Glympse. You can add time to an existing Glympse at any point or pull the plug early if you don't want them to see you anymore. It's sort of a Snapchat for GPS.
"It's a great use case because you're always driving somewhere and picking somebody up," CEO Bryan Trussel told me. He calls it a "pretty good example of safety meets functionality."
Cutting the Texts
Exactly how much could Glympse cut down on phone calls and texts while you're behind the wheel? Studies that categorize phone-to-phone communication are sparse, but in 2011 the Journal of the Research Center for Educational Training published a review of existing literature on teens and text messaging. The review documented one study in the 2000s that suggested 15 percent of text messages by college-age teens coordinated meeting points or activities. Another study suggested 20 percent of young people's texts dealt with appointments.
I dug into my own phone, counting the most recent 100 texts with my wife. Twenty-nine of them involved one of us asking or acknowledging where the other one was. That's high: Senior Editor Mike Hanley said just 10 of the past 100 exchanges with his most-texted contact involved location, and Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder reported just one of the past 100.
No matter the quantity, Glympse wouldn't eliminate every message you get behind the wheel. But it could reduce a lot — particularly during driving, where more communication theoretically involves your whereabouts.
That's why it has big potential for the much-ballyhooed "connected car" — mostly because, unlike many other apps, it actually belongs there. After navigation, "we should really be the No. 2 thing you put in a car," Trussel said. "Nobody goes, 'I really want to read my Facebook posts.' "
IHS analyst Peter DeMaio agrees.
"Things like Facebook and Twitter, obviously people use them all the time," DeMaio told me. "But when you're in your car, that's really distracting — even when they allow you to [hear] aloud."
"Glympse could be so easy because I don't think there's a safety issue," he added. "It seems like it's designed for the car."
If it all sounds a bit Big Brother, CEO Trussel said Glympse doesn't allow anyone to track you unless you explicitly share your location or post it to Twitter or Facebook. Third parties would only see you if you wanted them to — if you sent a dealership a Glympse, for example, because your car needed service.
"We wouldn't sneak it behind the scenes," Trussel said. "We just avoid the privacy conversation [altogether]."
But even DeMaio, who said he finds Glympse "really simple to use," cautioned that "a lot of people are hesitant to use it because of the privacy" concerns.
Trussel insists that Glympse is no Foursquare. The setup is simple: "I am telling you, 'Bob,' where I am. There's no bleed on that."
So long as it can sell that message, Glympse should have high potential. It's hard to say what other avenues are possible — the ability for your recipient to suggest a waypoint for you to run an errand, for example — but right now, Trussel said the focus is fairly narrow: "We feel like there's a big enough market with just the phrase, 'Where are you?' "
Cars.com photo by Kelsey Mays/Glympse image