Are We Using Geofencing Wrong?

When Apple announced their reminders app, and a new API, that allows geofencing in iOS, I was pretty pumped. To be able to schedule a task to alert you the moment you enter or leave a location seemed pretty cool. But, as with many things, the demo proved to be much cooler than the actual real world use case.

My biggest gripe with geofencing is that most apps that implement it do not allow you to set the radius for the geofence. For OmniFocus that means that even driving by certain places will set off the reminders. This is not only not helpful, but I find it down right annoying.

Sometimes a wide fence is good, but most of the time you need the geofence as tight as can be — say 10 yards. Even at that it’s just not accurate enough most of the time to be a feature I find useful in day to day situations.

Are We Holding It Wrong?

Or, better yet are we using the geofence technology wrong? Was Apple’s application of geofencing for reminders simply the only example they could think of within the current apps they had and wanted to offer?

I think this may partly be the case. I just posted about Instapaper’s new geofence for background updates — a task that simply doesn’t need to be massively accurate to be performed well. In my mind this is a better use case for a geofence, as the service currently exists, than something like location based reminders.

Another Problem With Reminders

Most of the time geofence reminders reminding you when you arrive somewhere is simply not that helpful. I hardly want to be reminded of 59 tasks the moment I get home, so I rarely use arrival reminders because, overall, I find them to be very invasive. (They are handy if you want to be reminded of something you need to do the moment you get home, but those times are pretty rare for me.)

What’s even more worthless is reminders when you leave. In my life there are simply very few use cases where I want to be reminded after I leave a place. What I really want, and what I expect many really want, is a reminder when I am just about to leave.

“Don’t forget your keys!”

That reminder is worthless after I have left, and worthless when I arrive and if you don’t leave at the same time everyday, you can’t set a time based reminder for such an item.

Now, I have no clue how to do this, but it would be pretty great if I could exclude my garage from the geofence. Therefore once I get in the garage my phone assumes I am leaving. How you do that? No clue.

Even if my car could talk to my iPhone and tell it “Ben is in his car now” — that would be a great time to trigger a couple of reminders.


A lot of what I want relies on more accurate GPS locations and dreams. What does make me excited is to see more applications that use geofencing in new ways, much like what and Instapaper are doing now.

Here’s a thought: geofence based calendar alerts. If my meeting is at my office, and I too am in my office, set the alert to only 5 minutes before. If I am at home and my meeting is at work, set alert for 15 minutes before.

That would be cool, and that would be helpful.

Here’s to better usage of geofencing.

Originally posted for members on: June 4, 2012
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