3rd party apps cannot access aGPS on Verizon Palm Pre, Pixi Plus | webOS Nation

3rd party apps cannot access aGPS on Verizon Palm Pre, Pixi Plus

by Dieter Bohn Thu, 06 May 2010 10:22 am EDT

The good news is that we've finally gotten to the bottom of the mysterious location issues that have plagued Verizon webOS users. That's also the bad news. 

On Tuesday's PalmCast, I said there were three possible explanations for the location issues on Verizon:

  1. We are crazy and everything is working fine
  2. It's a strictly technical issue that can be resolved via technical means
  3. Verizon is actively denying 3rd party apps full access to GPS

As is often the case with GPS troubleshooting, the real answer is a combination of all three possibilities. 3rd party apps do have full access to GPS and to tower-based location, but there's a third kind of GPS called aGPS - that's assisted GPS. In this context, aGPS means that Verizon's towers are able to provide satellite and other location information to handsets right away, which massively speeds up getting a direct GPS lock. It's of course complicated, but if you want to learn more, our sister-site WMExperts covered the differences between GPS and aGPS two years ago.

We've confirmed with Palm that the root of the issue is that Verizon has a proprietary aGPS system - a system that only VZ Navigator can access on webOS devices. 3rd party apps can still use GPS, of course, but they will first have to use basic tower location and then for an exact fix they'll have to wait for the traditional, slow-to-find-a-fix GPS receiver to find its satellites.

Palm has updated their developer page for GPS with the following:

Some carriers may not support, or may limit access to, Assisted-GPS (A-GPS) for location services. This can dramatically increase the time necessary for an initial position fix. This can be mitigated to some extent by choosing the parameters "responseTime:1" and “accuracy:3” when requesting position information. These settings, when combined with Google Services, will return a low-resolution fix within 30 seconds in most environments. Once the low resolution fix is acquired, updating the location using ‘responseTime:3’ and ‘accuracy:1’ will provide a high resolution location fix when available.

"Some carriers" is of course code for "Verizon." It's a serious bummer all around. It's a bummer for Palm and for the mobile space at large that Verizon is limiting access to their aGPS data for certain devices - we'd be interested in hearing if any Android devices suffer from the same limitations, we bet not. It's a bummer for users, of course, because it means that it is much more difficult to use Google Maps. It's also a bummer for developers - there's a thread up in Palm's forums where it's clear that developers with Location Based apps are getting negative reviews because of an issue they cannot control.

At the end of the day, it's Verizon's network and it's their aGPS data, so demanding they open it up isn't likely to change things. A charitable person might even say you can't fault a company for profiting off of the hard work they've put into their aGPS system. We'd like to say we're in a charitable place right now, but our Verizon Pre Plus phones are still trying to get a location fix.

Thanks to Arthur and Kevin for the tips!