Palm Pre Plus owners have known since day one that the aGPS on this webOS handset is not functioning properly. When using Google Maps on the Pre Plus, it takes several minutes for the handset to find your location, while its VZ Navigator counterpart can pinpoint your position within seconds. This marked difference is related to Assisted GPS which sends the location information derived from cell tower triangulation to VZ Navigator but not to third-party apps like Google Maps.
This aGPS lock-down is nothing new with Verizon; the wireless carrier has hobbled GPS on its Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and now its webOS handsets. Not so ironically, Verizon’s Android handsets can access the aGPS data with ease.
Th webOS community has been vocal about this issue; complaining to VZW brass about the hobbled GPS on Verizon’s Pre Plus handset. After some wrangling, Jonathan I Ezor, an active member of the webOS community, has finally received the official word from Bruce Simon, director of data sales for Verizon Wireless in the New York metro region. Simon writes:
Both standalone GPS and assisted GPS (aGPS) are available from Verizon Wireless on the Palm Pre Plus, however, aGPS is only available in support of VZ Navigator. We are working on offering location APIs / LBS enablers for our developer community. Please check the http://developer.verizon.com for updates. Later this month at our VDC Conference 2010 event, we will be talking about these LBS/location enablers in detail. More information can be found at http://www.vdcconference.com/techtrack.html. Standalone GPS is available to support third-party applications. David Bessemer confirmed this availability in tests of Google Maps and Minimap; he conducted his test outdoors, with auto-locate turned off.
In a single paragraph, Simon confirms that Verizon has locked down aGPS and has set its aside for exclusive use by VZ Navigator, which, by the way, costs customers $10 per month. In the future, any webOS app that wants to use location information will have to send out calls to Verizon’s proprietary APIs and LBS enablers; not the location services provided natively by webOS.
By using proprietary APIs, developers are forced to write a Verizon-specific version of their application if they want to use the instant location information available from aGPS. As a consolation, Simon points out the standalone GPS is accessible to third-party apps but what good is that to a Foursquare user who has to wait five minutes for his Pre Plus to get a satellite lock before he can check-in.
To make matters even worse, Simon insults the webOS community by saying they misunderstood Verizon’s advertising for the Pre Plus which states that the handset supports “Assisted and Standalone GPS”. According to Simon,webOS owners mistakenly and incorrectly assumed these two features extended to third-party apps. While Verizon believes this “third-party” interpretation is a stretch, it is, nonetheless, removing all references to “Assisted” in its advertising for the Pre Plus.
What started out as a minor annoyance has turned into a debacle that raises more questions than answers. Did Verizon intentionally hobble GPS on its Palm Pre Plus or is this simply a bug Verizon does not want to fix? Why are webOS handsets subject to this restriction while Android handsets are not? Is this disparity due to Verizon’s inability to lock down aGPS on Android or is it done intentionally to give Android an advantage over its competition?
In the end, Pre Plus owners can fix this aGPS limitation by installing the GPS Fix application available in Preware or by manually launching VZ navigator to the splash screen before firing up Google Maps. Enjoy this fix while you can, though. Mr. Simon also confirmed that Verizon is aware of this VZ Navigator workaround and acknowledged that it is a “hole” that the carrier intends to close.