Update to MapTools Pro brings true (external) GPS to WiFi TouchPad
One of the less-discussed but still annoying missing features in the WiFi TouchPad was true hardware GPS (the GSM TouchPad was reportedly going to include a-GPS). Without actual GPS, location services for TouchPad apps were limited to the estimations made by Google Location, based upon detection of nearby WiFi hotspots whose physical location had been stored in a central database. This can suffice in some circumstances, but it is far less accurate, and provides far less information, than actual GPS hardware, making location-based applications less useful on the TouchPad.
One possibility that had been raised was whether the TouchPad could utilize a standalone Bluetooth GPS receiver to provide location information. Beginning with webOS 2.0, support for Bluetooth Serial Port protocol made this theoretically possible, but a new software service would be needed for apps to access the data. In response to a question at a recent NYC webOS Dev Meetup, Robert Burdick, Senior Developer Evangelist with the HP webOS Global Business Unit, confirmed that Enyo (the webOS 3.x development environment) supported custom services, although he wasn't aware of anyone doing one for GPS.
Now, one developer has taken on the challenge, at least for its own app. The latest version of MapTool Pro from MetaViewSoft included within its changelog, "support for external GPS devices." After pairing our TouchPad with an old Bluetooth GPS (the iTrek M3; newer ones are available in the PreCentral Store), we verified that Location Services were switched off and launched MapTools Pro. While the application itself is not yet TouchPad-optimized (it still runs in a Pre-shaped emulator card), it searched the list of paired Bluetooth devices and presented our GPS as one choice for location information ("Internal" was the other). We selected it and, as soon as the GPS had gotten a satellite fix, our TouchPad showed us the exact current location within the MapTools Pro screen.
While this unfortunately does not yet work with other TouchPad apps (MetaViewSoft did not patch the entire OS, but merely runs its interface as part of the app, much as DigiOBD does for Bluetooth OBDII auto scanners), it is exciting to see this as a proof of concept. MetaViewSoft has already offered to share its work with other developers, who can hopefully expand it into a full, system-accessible Enyo service, enabling a richer and more accurate set of applications and uses for the TouchPad.