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How to Build a GPS Tracking Application?

Remember how some ten years ago you’ve used to meet up with someone and explain to them how to get to your place? Three blocks down, turn at the corner second corner on the right, walk till the house with a blue door and then turn into an alley and then it’s the second door on the left.

While some of us still give those scattered instructions, more often we just choose to forward a map dot indicating where we stand. And that’s the beauty of GPS and location tracking in action.

You don’t need a map or asking strangers for directions. Your phone will guide you towards the place you need and indicate where’s the exact thing you need – a 24/7 taco stall, closest pharmacy or a prospective date. For businesses location-based services offer a wide range of opportunities as well – from enhanced customer service to more precise marketing and higher in-store traffic. For startups those have opened up a whole new level of product and services opportunities.

Now before we go into the tech nitty-gritty, there’s another really important question you should ask yourself: why do want to develop a GPS tracking application in the first place?

Define The Purpose of Your App

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The purpose of location tracking it rather straightforward – to receive information about the user’s current position. But this data and functionality can be used in a multitude of ways across different industries. Here are just a few ideas and examples:

  • GPS location tracking can be paired with time tracking to identify your on-ground/remote staff productivity and performance. Additionally, you can choose in incorporate automatic reporting and payroll based on the added hours and voila – you have a powerful employee management tool in your hands.
  • Location tracking is often used to optimize fleet management – you can provide your drivers with mapping and routing functionality, have the app generate reports for you and send out alerts in case of emergencies/unexpected changes. Having a GPS tracking application, in this case, eliminates the need to purchase and install GPS handheld devices.
  • You can choose to build a GPS tracking app for outdoor and sports fans so that they could plan their daily routes, receive reports on the distance and never get lost.
  • The majority of modern social media apps feature a geolocation component e.g. Periscope or build the entire product concept around it like CityHour – a location-based networking app for entrepreneurs and business owners or apps similar to Around.Me. Dating apps like Tinder and similar one’s use location services to match users with the prospects nearby.

And the list goes on to – weather apps, city guides, doctor booking apps and local events guides and even some unlikely candidates like Flashlight or Mobile Bible apps.

In fact, according to Carnegie Mellon research, certain mobile apps tend to snoop on users’ location a few thousand times per day without having their direct permission for that. Hence comes the following point:

Mind The User Privacy

Some of the study’s participants indicated that the frequency of access to their location data was rather surprising:

“4,182 (times) — are you kidding me? It felt like I’m being followed by my own phone. It was scary. That number is too high.”

And that’s not just one lonely concern.

Another research conducted by Pew Research Center mentioned that while in most cases people feel comfortable about sharing their personal data in exchange for a “pay off” – more customized deals or another tangible benefit, there are certain cases when such close surveillance becomes intimidating:

  • 45% of respondents say it’s unacceptable for an insurance company to offer them monitoring their driving habits and offer rewards/discounts for safe driving.
  • 51% feel reluctant about social media apps that gather their location and other data and use it to deliver custom ads (or re-sell it to other parties)
  • 55% would never install a “smart thermostat” that would track their in-house movements and make temperature adjustments to reduce the bill.

When you are working on your app concept, make sure that location-based functionality indeed brings in benefits for the users. Test your assumptions with the target audience and clearly, communicate why users should opt to share their location with you.

Understand How Mobile Location is Obtained

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So how to build GPS tracking app that is accurate enough? Let’s take a look on what influences the data quality in this case:

  • User movements and the frequency of re-evaluations you have to conduct as their position changes.
  • Multitude of location sources.
  • Both GPS, Cell-ID, Network data and Wi-Fi can deliver information about the user’s location. However, relying only on one of them can have trade-offs in terms of speed, accuracy and battery efficiency.

The latter have resulted in the emerging popularity of Assisted GPS – a mode that uses both GPS and network information to obtain location information. Google Maps and a few other Android map applications typically use this mode and suggest having your device connected to the network for better positioning.

Here’s another issue to account for in GPS tracking app development – location information obtained 5 seconds ago from one source can be more accurate than the current location obtained from another (or even the same source). Certain stabilization may be required to receive better data.

APIs for Location-Based Services

If you want to create a GPS app for iOS, go check the Core Location framework and related APIs first. It will allow you to determine user’s position and direction, configure and schedule the delivery of location and heading events (aka routing), set up a geofence if needed and make the app compatible with iBeacons.

Wondering how to make a GPS app for Android? Well, things are a bit less straightforward here as there are two different ways to obtain user’s location on this platform:

Here are some tips for developers to consider in each case:

Android Location API

This API was released earlier and uses three different providers to obtain user’s location:

  • LocationManager.GPS_PROVIDER determines location using satellites and it may take quite a while to render the data.
  • LocationManager.NETWORK_PROVIDER determines location based on the availability of a cell tower and WiFi access points.
  • LocationManager.PASSIVE_PROVIDER will return locations generated by other providers. You passively receive location updates when other applications or services request them without actually requesting the locations yourself.

You can learn more details from the Location Strategies guide.

Google Play Services Location APIs

Google now actively promotes this option as a more powerful, less battery-draining and more powerful solution for determining user’s location. It’s part of Google Play Services APK and is build on top of Android’s APIs.

This provider will automatically choose what location source to use based on the accuracy and battery usage and allows setting up more advanced features like geofencing.

Important note: To use these APIs, you’ll need to install Google Play Services first. Not a big deal, right? But then there’s a user side of the problem – if Google Services are unavailable in the user’s region or Google does not support the firmware, location services will then not work on their device.

If you need more APIs for building a location-based app, check out this huge list from Programmable Web.

And if you already have a product idea in mind and would like to chat about the design, development timeline and price, get in touch with our team using the form below!

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