Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Testing Geolocation for Mobile Web Apps

Using geolocation in a web application is really cool. The JavaScript API is quite simple. Testing it, can be a different story. Here are some useful tips:

If you only need to get the user's location once, testing is not too bad at all. First, you can actually use Firefox 3.5+. However, make sure that you are using wi-fi, or otherwise you will never get a location. Your app will just seem to hang. Anyways, being able to use Firefox for testing is great because it is a full desktop browser with awesome developers tools like Firebug. Often you will have some pretty complex JavaScript in a web application that uses geolocation, so being able to debug with Firefox/Firebug is invaluable.

Of course you will also want to test on mobile browsers. You can definitely use the iPhone simulator that is part of the iPhone SDK. Geolocation works great on this, but it gives you a bogus location -- the location of Apple's HQ in Cupertino, CA. If you actually live near Cupertino, this can be really misleading. Anyways, it will only give you this location, never anything else. So it is somewhat limited.

Testing on an Android emulator is another possibility. However, in my experience, it is currently broken. On an Android device, when a web page wants your location, the browser brings up a window to prompt you for permission. On the emulator's browser, I never see this permission window and the app just hangs and never returns a location. That's a bummer, since the Android SDK makes it possible to send mock GPS coordinates to an Android emulator. It would be great if web developers could take advantage of this.

Testing on an actual devices is of course a possibility. Your web application needs to be reachable by the device. This could mean using wi-fi on your device, so you are in the same intranet as your development sever, or it could mean deploying your app somewhere public. I like using the Google App Engine for the latter, and then test on the assortment of devices that I have laying around.

If you need to test location updates, i.e. when the user moves you want your web application to know about it and respond in some way, then things get trickier. The iPhone simulator is out of the question. An Android emulator still suffers from the same problems. So now you are down to devices. There is no way to send mock GPS to an iPhone, so to test on an iPhone, you need to actually change your physical location. Coding and driving FTW!

However, it should be possible to test on an Android device. The Android SDK theoretically allows you to send mock GPS to a real device. The command that should work is "adb -s XXX shell geo fix AAA BBB" where XXX is the serial number of your device (get it by doing "adb devices"), and AAA/BBB are the fake latitude/longitude. Sounds good, right? I tried this on my Nexus One, and got a big fat permission denied. Turns out you need to be root to do this on a real device. Ok, so I rooted my Nexus One. Then I tried it. Result? "gps: not found." Suddenly the gps command was not recognized. So ... coding and driving FTW!


matt m said...

I was just running into this same issue - turns out you have to telnet in order to issue the "geo" command, as it does not exist under /system/bin/ like the other 'commands' do (on the Android emulator at least).

So what I did was:
%>telnet localhost 5554
geo fix -122.45677 44.55554

Or using netcat:
nc localhost 5554 <<<"geo fix -122.45677 44.55554"

However, it doesn't seem to do anything... at this point I think my code is the issue.

Does it work for you?

Unknown said...

@matt -- Are you telneting into a device, or an emulator? Usually 5554 is the port of an emulator. If you are telneting into a device, how are you doing that?

Samuel ExpĆ³sito said...

I have the same problem, did you get any solution Michael?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. Gave me lots of tips for my first geolocated web app. Check it out. It's a simple group chat and coordination app.

Nick Christo said...

This can be made easier with a Mobile development platform. I work for GeoLoqal. We have a platform that lets developers build, test and monetize Location-aware applications. Developers can test exactly how the App would behave in the user's hands with this platform.Also, if you don't want to take the trouble of collating huge chunks of data, you can try a Mobile development platform that also has an integrated Places data. More user data also means relevant services to users. This opens up a huge market for developers to offer more value added services to users. I work for a company called GeoLoqal. The GeoLoqal Mobile development platform helps developers create, test and monetize Location-Aware Applications. You can also test how exactly the App would behave in the user's part in any part of the world. GeoLoqal’s back end data results in enhanced user engagement with NearU (events, news, geotagged data, deals etc) functionality.

There is a free sign up option to test drive the platform. Will be happy to schedule a demo!

Techie @

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