How to Build a GPS Tracking Application

Over the centuries paper maps have been showing our ancestors the way through deserts, seas, and continents. Since 2003 when GPS navigators have started its winning streak on our planet, paper maps selling decreased. Later smartphones with GPS navigation have proven the paper maps time has passed. Of course your smartphone navigator is not always precise, but in any case, it works faster than a piece of paper.

Why would you now need a paper map? In case your battery died, or satellite was destroyed. Today, with a variety of portable battery chargers and impossibility of the second, neither is the case, so smartphone navigator is a way better than a paper map. Remember how you used to explain the way to someone you were going to meet, describing in details the street view, the shops or other remarkable places? All you do today is send your location via the smartphone and the person on the other side of the invisible wire will be able to find your position to within one meter.

While some are still using paper maps and weird instructions, the others are making the best out of modern technologies, using location-based services. GPS technology has changed the mobile market and opened the door for new startup ideas and businesses. Some apps are entirely based on geolocation, and some are using this feature as an addition to the core functionality. Games, such as Pokemon GO, utilize GPS feature as an inherent component of gameplay. In all cases, users get new experience and a variety of apps to choose from. And there is still enough space for new apps and games with GPS tracking. In this article, we are enlightening what it takes to build your GPS tracking app.

What Is Your App Purpose?

The market is full of the variety of apps utilizing GPS functionality. In order, you could feel more determined about what type of app you would like to develop, look through the types of GPS tracking apps.

  1. Maps & Navigation. The first and the basic functionality meant under GPS is actual navigation, an ability to show your exact location using information from satellites. Google Maps, compasses, public transport schedules, car navigators, etc.
  2. Health & Sports Apps. Moves, Runkeeper, iOS Health app and other fitness and health apps let the user track their sports record, daily activity and distance walked.
  3. Places & Recommendations. These apps use user’s location to offer best places, rated by other users, in the nearby area. The most famous are Foursquare, Yelp, TripAdvisor.
  4. Geosocial Apps. Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram offer content based on user’s location. Dating apps like Tinder and Badoo show the nearest partners according to your location.
  5. Taxi & Delivery Apps. Apps like Uber or Lyft offer an online tracking of the car coming to a user. You can see the actual time and distance on the map.
  6. Weather Forecast Apps. According to statistics people more likely turn on geolocation in weather forecasting apps, about 65% compared to 38% of social networks. Such apps like Yahoo Weather and others can deliver forecast according to your static location or your actual GPS location.

There are lots of apps that use GPS as an additional feature to the fain functionality. Among other, there are event and appointment apps, business and vacation apps, augmented reality apps and games, e-commerce apps like eBay or Amazon and many other. All of them use the information about the user’s’ current position to provide the better service for them.

How Does It Work?

The GPS system provides critical positioning capabilities to military, civil, and commercial users around the world. GPS satellites continuously transmit data about their current time and position. GPS receivers monitor multiple and determine the precise position of the receiver and its deviation from true time. At a minimum, four satellites must be in the view of the receiver for it to compute four unknown quantities (three position coordinates and clock deviation from satellite time). The user segment is composed of GPS receivers under the supervision of governmental institutions and hundreds of millions of devices, owned by civilians.

Integrating Geolocation In Mobile App

To develop an app with geolocation, you need to use both mapping and location services. There are several ways to do that using GPS, Wi-Fi or Cell ID.

  • GPS location. All the tablets and smartphones now have built-in GPS module. The GPS signal is fast and accurate. However, it is not always available. Also, it is effective only for outdoor uses, accuracy: 30-100m.
  • Cell ID. (based on the ID of Base Transceiver Station (BTS) this type of location service uses GSM base stations to determine user’s position. The smartphone knows to which cell tower it is connected at the moment and by knowing the cell station coordinates it is possible to determine smartphone location on the map. Accuracy: 200-5000m.
  • Wi-Fi location: Wi-Fi works the same way like GPS but covers smaller areas. It can work with RSSI (identifying the location from Wi-Fi points database) or Google Maps geolocation/Google Places geolocation. Accuracy: 3-10m indoor, 20-30m outdoor.

APIs for Location-Based Services

If you are developing an iOS GPS app, look at the Core Location Framework and related APIs. It allows determining the user’s position and direction. You can also make the app compatible with iBeacons.

If your choice is Android platform, there are two different ways to get the user’s’ location on Android:

Privacy Issues

By using GPS technology in a car or a smartphone, users agree to use government-owned tracking system, which means they are willingly sharing their location information. It would be fair to mention that a lot of users are concerned about sharing the information about their location. This can be explained by the fact that they are afraid that this information could be used to harm them. Turning off a smartphone does not necessarily turn off the GPS feature. To protect the US from terrorism, the law had to become that invasive. So, when working with GPS tracking system, you should be aware of privacy concerns of your potential users and offer them a significant value from using your app. People should know that privacy of others is something they should respect, in return they can expect the same attitude from those, whom they trusted their data.


The interest to location-based apps is still high, which means the tendency of GPS tracking will continue to transit from tablets and smartphones to watches, cars and other mobile devices. This will result in appearing more mobile apps on different platforms.

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