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Geolocation in Mobile Apps: What’s Important

14th Jul 2021Posted by Admin

In this article, we will go through the best practices of creating location-based services for mobile apps and explore typical development mistakes that are better to avoid.

Think of the recent apps you have used – maybe a weather forecast app, online food delivery services, Uber, Adidas Runtastic, or a dating app? The list is endless for apps that have made our lives easier and more convenient by using Geolocation as an integral part. Not only large businesses are realizing the potential of this versatile technology but start-ups and SMBs start using them to build a strong value proposition.

In recent years there has been a boom of geolocation-enabled apps. This versatile technology has become a centerpiece of dozens of world top mobile solutions, offering real-time convenient service; it has also disrupted the marketing landscape, enabling brands to improve their outreach and drive more personalized promotions to the local audience.

Geolocation app development: the guidelines

More and more SMBs and large companies operating in various industries turn to mobile application development and thus reinforce the value proposition of their mobile software. But even though geolocation services seem to be quite straightforward, their implementation into consumer-oriented mobile applications appears to be not easy due to technical nuances, data security, customer privacy, and other concerns.

These are the most important steps to take care of while creating a mobile app with geolocation technology.

  1. Choosing the right tech stack
  2. Ensuring data safety
  3. Getting a permission
  4. Battery life control

Choosing the right tech stack

Choosing a geolocation technology is an important step toward ensuring the overall quality and efficiency of the app. There are two main factors that would normally influence the choice:

  1. The platform (iOS, Android, Web)
  2. Business objectives (whether it requires outdoor technology or an indoor one).

The newest geolocation apps use 2 APIs, the first is designed to detect the user’s location and the other - to place those coordinates on the map.

Outdoor geolocation technologies

  1. GPS (Global Positioning System) network consists of 30 active satellites that are constantly circulating the orbit of the Earth. Nowadays, every smartphone has an In-built GPS technology inside. This is the most popular choice for position detection outdoors. It works everywhere, does not require any Internet connection and Its accuracy is down to 49 feet. The only downside is that it uses lots of energy and influences battery life.
  2. Cell ID. It is used as a fallback option if GPS is not available for some reason (for example, it is switched off). The device can be found using the location of the nearest cell tower. It is a great alternative to GPS. But keep in mind that it’s not that accurate and is used mostly in rural areas.
  3. Wi-Fi positioning: It is accurate within 25 meters and saves battery life. Sounds great right? The only problem is that it’s necessary to have a stable Wi-Fi connection every time you want to use it.

Indoor geolocation technologies

Accuracy within 49 feet is not effective if the user is located indoors and needs further directions. Like in the case of in-store mobile apps. For more accurate positioning within a building, the following technologies are used:

  1. iBeacon and Eddystone: iBeacon was introduced by Apple while Eddystone is a Google service. Both use BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) for indoor location fixing. Their identifiers will trigger actions that are customized in various mobile apps. For example, the famous US departmental store called “Macy’s” gets alerted when customers with Shopkick app on their phones walk in. They get notifications about deals and items that could interest them
  2. Geofencing: This young technology uses GPS, cellular, and wi-fi data altogether. It creates a so-called virtual boundary that triggers pre-programmed actions when a person enters. There are 3 instances when a trigger can be set off – Static (uses the position of a device to a specific place), Dynamic (uses a device location based on dynamic changes), and Peer-to-peer (user’s position in relation to other users). An example of geofencing inaction could be Amazon’s Alexa app that turns off the lights when the user walks out of the door.

Get User Permission

While being willing to share location information in exchange for a benefit, people also want to feel secure when it comes to giving permission. In 2018, the EU implemented the General Data Protection Regulation, making it mandatory to get users’ explicit consent before starting location tracking. Although the US and many other countries do not have such data privacy laws, their citizens expect the same fair actions from tech companies.

Ensure data safety

Location data is also called ‘heavy data’. For consumers, sharing personal details with brands might be stressful and undesired. McKinsey’ survey on data collection and privacy shows that the concern over location security is in 4th place, higher than contents of chat correspondence or search history. The top three were email content, email correspondents’ identities, and downloaded files.

Furthermore, Pew Research Center reports that 35% of clients have their geolocation disabled in their applications because of that fear. While 81% of the participants (US adults) feel they don’t have enough control over their personal and location data. To ensure this safety, certain guidelines should be followed during the mobile application development process.

Following the central and state laws is the first step. It is important to find a suitable technical solution that ensures data encryption and safety. Nowadays, utilizing an incorporated, master location database as the single source is the best practice for managing location data in app development.

How do make the users feel comfortable? The answer does not bombard them with numerous consent tabs right after the download. In case the data is only needed when users want to get access to a location-based feature, it is better to ask separately each time. Specialists say this increases the overall trust in the company.

Don’t log or store GPS data when it is not necessary. The data can be used one time without storing it. Some applications use GPS automatically (for example, Camera, which frequently geo-labels pictures). Our advice is: try to strip only the EXIF data from the picture.

How to make a GPS app secure:

  • Choose multi-factor authentication, which makes it harder for hackers to compromise accounts.
  • Encrypt communications and use such tools as an SSL certificate, Network Security Configuration (Android), or App Transport Security (iOS)
  • Do not store sensitive data on user devices, or encrypt it with algorithms like AES-256 or RSA if needed.

Avoid consuming heavy battery life

According to surveys, if an app uses more than 10% of battery life/an hour, users are very likely to start searching for an alternative, limit the usage, or even eliminate the app. The best way to avoid this is to set an appropriate action towards battery life control.

Even though GPS accuracy is important there are many ways to get around it. For example, when polling for GPS location, if it does not change for several minutes then your app can instantly lower the frequency of polling. If the location is changing rapidly (like in the situation when the user is driving a car), the app can analyze the speed and choose the appropriate frequency of polling.

Alternatively, you can run automated tests to track energy consumption. They can also be device-specific. If you find out the energy consumption is too high, you might need to adjust the action thresholds.

Conclusions

Geolocation-based apps are great for brands who want to provide their customers with a convenient personalized experience and additional functionality while using their app. Following the steps and recommendations listed above, companies can avoid typical pitfalls associated with the geolocation technology setup and deliver valuable and secure mobile apps for their users.

If you need help with your mobile app development or geolocation technology setup, contact our team of experts, and we will be glad to help.

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