GPS vs. the iPhone's Locate Me Feature

The latest free iPhone software update was released a few weeks ago, and one of the new features is a "Locate Me" button in the Google Maps application.  When you tap the button, it uses triangulation / multilateration from cell towers and wifi hotspots to determine your location on the map:

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Out in the country, it’ll usually be relying on cell towers, and its accuracy is within about 1 mile.  In urban areas with lots of wireless routers, the accuracy improves to the 50-100 feet range.  That’s pretty impressive for a free update to a device that lacks a GPS chip.

The main advantage that GPS has over the Locate Me feature is accuracy -- which is certainly a big advantage in many cases.  But if you’ve ever used a GPS device, you know that it requires a clear view of the sky, and therefore doesn’t work at all indoors, nor in the woods under tree cover for example.  And it often takes 30-60 seconds or more for a GPS device to display your location.  The iPhone’s Locate Me feature wins big in these areas: it takes just a few seconds to work, and it works outdoors, indoors, in the woods -- anywhere there’s a cell phone signal, which nowadays is virtually everywhere.

It’s likely that the iPhone will get a GPS chip in one of its next hardware revisions, simply because most phones and cameras are going in that direction.  In the iPhone, the GPS chip will become a third source of location information, making the Locate Me feature even more useful.  But for now, for owners of the iPhone v1, the Locate Me feature is a pretty sweet upgrade, and you can’t beat the price.

Posted by Anthony on reply

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