More than 270 million US citizens have geolocation-powered smartphones in their pockets. Almost 67% of them use maps and other location-based apps monthly. Most of them don't disable geolocation, as it is quite convenient always to have direct access to location details or places of interest nearby.
Impressive numbers, aren't they? For modern businesses, ignoring them is a mistake. Location-based applications are sources of precious data. They can turn into actionable ways to satisfy users' needs in a better way, provide better, more valuable services, and create a more accurate picture of a buyer persona. Altogether, these factors can build a good ground for your business and accelerate your success.
COVID19 and the global isolation 2020 promoted the location-based apps' idea and potential. From on-demand apps like Uber to promising startups for social distancing like Lanterne.ai, every app has a chance to succeed. The thing is to build a robust solution and meet users' needs in the right way. Today, we are going to show you how to create a location-based app.
How does the location-aware app work
First of all, let's see what hides behind the location awareness.
The location-based app is a magic wand if you need to find a place, a person, or a service nearby. There are two major categories of location-based technologies:
- tracking the location outdoor,
- navigating inside a building or a complex.
Let's find out more about geo detection methods.
Outdoor geo detection
GPS, or Global Positioning System, is the most common geolocation technology. Mobile devices have a built-in GPS module. Once geolocation is activated, it sends signals to several satellites. GPS method is a fast way to get accurate location details. However, it consumes much energy. So, if you have your GPS always turned on, your battery life is shorter.
…stands for Assisted GPS. It combines signals obtained from satellites and cell tower data. Its high speed and economical power consumption make it one of the most popular technologies for geolocation. Also, it may be more expensive than other options as network providers may charge an extra fee for cell tower data access.
When GPS is disabled, Cell ID comes into play. Besides, weather conditions may influence the GPS signal. Once the signal becomes too weak to be detected, cell towers provide the signal data. The nearest mobile station receives your smartphone coordinates and helps to determine the exact location. Unfortunately, it isn't as accurate as GPS.
Indoor geo detection
Once you need to determine location inside the building, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technologies may come in handy. Special devices called beacons are placed all over the building. They detect the signal from your smartphone, analyze it, and determine your current location. Beacons are easy to install; however, they require continuous support.
Outdoor and indoor geo detection
You can use the WiFi network for location determination and tracking, too. Depending on a WiFi network user connects to, his or her approximate location is detected. As the WiFi network covers a relatively small area, it is not as precise as the methods mentioned above.
Geofencing is a service that triggers once a smartphone crosses a virtual "border." When it is triggered, or a user enters the limited geofencing area, he or she gets a push notification containing a coupon or another marketing offer. The technology is prevalent for marketing and advertising needs. Companies even claim to multiply their click-through rate using geofencing.
Now you know how your location-based app can collect data. Now let's see why the topic's so hot.
What industries would the location-based app be good for?
Day by day, the demand for high-quality location-based services app increases.
- First of all, it is caused by global pandemic: geolocation data is used to ensure people are social distancing. On-demand and delivery services available help users stay safe.
- Second of all, the reason is that users prefer complete convenience: a cab that arrives right to your current location, the ability to check restaurants nearby, or take pre-ordered products in a local grocery.
A new location-based services app may be useful for any industry. But these are industries where geolocation is a primary feature:
Online shopping has its cons: a customer always has to wait for a purchase to arrive. Sometimes it's not even entirely clear how long to wait. But there's an "order, collect and go" principle. A customer uses a location-based eCommerce or retail app, buys a product, finds the nearest physical shop, and goes to pick it. For example, the Curbside app creates a fast and easy way for retailers to sell more products, to cater to more needs. An app connects brick and mortar stores with mobile customers and provides flawless pick-up experience.
- Logistics and transportation
Geolocation features can take logistics companies and fleet management solutions to a new level. An app can provide you with real-time information about a vehicle's location, its speed, time of arrival to a destination point, etc. The same method works for public transport apps. Citymapper app for public transport tracking operates successfully in numerous cities worldwide. Users just open an app and find out when exactly your bus arrives!
A hotel booking app with no geolocation features has no chances to survive. Travelers need to have a map describing where they stay and how to get there. Just look at the most popular websites like Booking: geolocation features play a significant role here.
- Fitness and healthcare
Those who take care of their health (or have medical prescriptions to start doing so) appreciate geolocation functionality, too. Either if you are running or cycling, precise data about how many miles you've passed today is important and useful. Combined with other technologies, it can shake the market. For example, Runkeeper, the fitness tracker app even builds training plans for users!
The entertainment industry and gaming can profit with a location-aware app, too. That's a way to add something new to the old yet boring games and launch a new exceptional app. Remember how popular PokemonGo was (and it still is!)?
When implemented correctly, a location-based app will be useful for any industry. Just add valuable features and meet users' needs.
Six essential features of a location-based app
Depending on the industry your app will serve, its specifics and your requirements, the list of features may be massive. But the point is to start with minimum costs and effort. So here, we present you the basic functionality for your location-based MVP:
1. Real-time location determination
User location determination is crucial for a location-based app. This data allows you to recommend the nearest shops, best restaurants, or book stores in the neighborhood, as well as provide on-demand services and so much more. Just take a look at Uber app: how many troubles would appear if passengers had to explain their current location via phone?
When starting your development process, focus on functionality for location determination. To deal with it, your engineering team will use a specific API or application programming interface. There are native tools for each platform, like:
- Google Location API for Android apps development;
- Apple Core Location API for iOS apps development;
- Cordova geolocation plugin for cross-platform app development.
APIs effectively use the information obtained from GPS, Cell ID, and WiFi networks to determine the precise user's location.
How to use it for your app: let users share their location with others. For example, in messengers, add the Share the Location feature. Help them find each other quickly and with minimum efforts.
A detailed, up-to-date map is vital for your location-aware app. Take a look at Maps.me: you are aware of your current location, you see a plan describing the neighborhood around you, and you can choose your destination and get precise instructions on how to get there.
Google Maps APIs are one of the best choices for implementing a map in your application as they work well on any mobile platform. In 2018, Google Team launched some significant updates and introduced the entire Google Maps API Platform.
"Our core APIs work together to provide the building blocks you need to create location-based apps and experiences. One of our goals is to evolve our core APIs to make them simpler, easier to use, and scalable as you grow.", says Google Team.
Besides, engineers use Open Streets API, Mapbox API, or similar APIs and frameworks to implement mapping in a geolocation app.
How to use it for your app: allow offline access to maps as well. Online maps require a stable Internet connection, but for travelers, it isn't always available. Let users access maps offline, and make them love your app!
It's hard to imagine a location-based app without places. Depending on your industry and the app goal, put on the map cafes and restaurants, theatres and churches, monuments, and other places of interest. Augment each place with general information, accurate address, contact details, and visitors' review and the ability to build a route to reach it. More advanced functionality may also include Street View. Have a look at Foursquare. This apps provides recommendations about places, cafes and restaurants, parks and exhibitions, etc., near the user's current location.
Places API is a tool to access the vast Foursquare database. With more than 105 million places, that's a powerful API to opt for when adding places to your geolocation app. If you prefer Google products, Google Places API is always there for you with its huge community and detailed documentation.
How to use it for your app: start with an investigation. Each available API is good in its way. Discuss it with experienced developers and pick the tool that fits your app's needs best. There are lots of APIs similar to the ones we've mentioned, and you can choose from a variety of options. When augmented with the needed places, your app's map will be more valuable.
What do we have now? Your app's user can see his or her current location, map, and places nearby. What's next? Now, it's time to proceed with navigation and routing. Along with providing a detailed route, your app can recommend alternative routes to avoid traffic jams or crowds, or routes, that includes the most places of interest.
This feature can make navigation through a large building much more comfortable, too. No matter if the person is walking, riding, or cycling, thorough route planning is one of the most valuable app's features. Most of the US smartphone owners use their devices to get directions, so don't overlook a chance to respond to their demands.
Google Maps Directions API and Google Distance Matrix API are some of the tools to utilize for navigation functionality development.
How to use it for your app: consider indoor navigation as that's a wide field of opportunities. Large malls and university campuses can significantly improve their visitors' experience providing an in-door routing and navigation app.
5. Travel time estimation
Can you remember those times when you needed to wait for your taxi on a cold empty dark street for half an hour? It started raining, and you had no umbrella. The weather, the mood, the neighborhood looked terrible, and all you could do was just wait until taxi finally arrives.
Now, with services like Uber, you can leave your apartment right the minute before your cab arrives. Estimated arrival time is a feature your app's users are going to love. Are they expecting their food to arrive? Are they estimating when to depart to the airport to be there right at the check-in time? This feature will be of great importance in any case.
How does it work? A location-aware app tracks up-to-minute location, shows road traffic conditions, calculates the approximate speed, and, depending on a distance, provides time estimations. The APIs we've mentioned before, Bing Route Data API, and similar will serve you well.
How to use it for your app: let your app automatically detect queues, traffic jams, or possible car incidents. Here's how Google does it: the app analyzes the number of smartphones connected to the network in a particular location, how fast and in which direction they move. This helps to estimate the traffic condition or shopping mall congestion.
Sometimes this feature leads to unexpected and amusing cases. Recently, a man "broke" Google Maps walking a London street with a trolley full of smartphones. The app's traffic report turned from green (little or no traffic) to red (heavy traffic). This made numerous drivers change their routes, avoiding nonexistent jams.
Also, the estimation feature allows building an assumption if a supermarket or cafe is overcrowded, or if there's a car incident or jam on the road, etc.
6. Ratings and reviews
Location-based apps are of great importance for customer service evaluation. For example, based on places you've visited, Google can ask you to rate or review a popular café or a gym nearby.
How to use it for your app: if you are an entrepreneur planning to improve your business with a location-based app, this feature will work well for you. Collect feedback from real customers. Once an app detects that a customer has left your store, send push notifications asking to review and rate your business. It will help you find new ways to improve the products and services you provide.
This functionality, along with some typical ones like simple login via Facebook and user profile with customization features are the basis of your app. Other features depend entirely on the app's specifics, and later, you can add push notifications, travel history, and other improvements your users would prefer.
How to create a location-based app
How to make a GPS app? Follow our guide:
- Start with homework
The preparation process depends on your primary goal.
- Location-based startup
If you want to break into the industry with a new great app, you may have a unique idea. Or, you may want to use an existing one and customize it according to local market demands. In this case, to make an app go viral, you should demonstrate that it solves a particular user problem. Investigate the situation in the market or similar apps. Make sure (and prove) that you have something better.
- Existing business augmentation
COVID-19 makes us adjust to a "brave new world" of social distancing. This may be one of the reasons to upgrade your steady business with a new location-based app. Study users' hottest needs and ask their opinions about a new business app. Warm up the audience with a marketing campaign dedicated to a new upcoming solution.
In both cases, you need to build a clear vision of what exactly you would like to launch, how it should work and look like, and prepare a business plan canvas.
- Find a reliable partner
In his book "How to Build a Billion-Dollar App," George Berkowski, VP and CPO at Booking.com, says:
"Three key roles need owners: someone must lead the product vision; someone needs to build the technology, and someone needs to be focused on getting users and generating money."
You, as a product founder, should focus on its purpose, value, budget, and target audience. Thus, even if you are an experienced software engineer, you simply won't have enough time for engineering tasks. Engage a software development partner to ensure a high-quality and effective product development process.
In this section, we will emphasize the role #2: someone to build the technology.
Remote cooperation is "not a trend; it's here to stay." Some time ago, entrepreneurs may have been worried about the quality of remote work. However, spring 2020 shows us that in terms of quality, remote work doesn't differ from the typical office routine. On the contrary, specialists devote more time to their work and are more productive when working remotely.
If remote work is an option you consider, you may have already thought about outsourcing. Outsourcing software development is a method of cooperation when you delegate your engineering task to a competent partner overseas.
Outsourcing is a great way to cut development costs: software development services in popular outsourcing destinations like Ukraine are much cheaper in comparison to US prices.
- Design a prototype
Once you have chosen your partner, show what you have and what you would like to build. A simple app sketch or a prototype describing main screens and features is the beginning. You can create it by yourself using some of the popular tools like InVision or delegate it to your design team.
Typically, this stage takes not more than 1-2 weeks but plays a significant role. A prototype is the very first version of your geolocation app. It is your chance to test the concept before hard work starts.
- Choose a tech stack
At this stage, your main task is to analyze the available options and decide on technologies.
Multi-experience is one of the hottest web development trends. It means that your geolocation app should look and work impeccably on any platform, OS, or device.
- Choose MEAN stack (MongoDB, Express.js, Node.js, and Angular.js) to launch a powerful web application;
- Opt for Flutter, React Native, Cordova or Ionic, to produce a user-oriented, cross-platform mobile app.
Let your engineering partner come up with suggestions. Developers you work with have the experience in different directions, with different technologies and products. They can analyze your requirements and offer the best tools to take your idea to life.
- Launch an MVP
How to make a GPS app the right way? Start with a minimum viable project.
MVP is a tried and tested way to roll out a solution fast, with minimum costs. It is a way to attract investments, collect users' feedback, and proceed with upgrades and new features.
The development process may take years and cost thousands and millions of dollars; however, this is not the thing you should worry about right now. Define your initial budget and do the best you can with it. Start attracting first users and draw the attention of people who can invest in your product growth.
Time is money, so save both of these launching an MVP.
- Raise your business
"Don't ever listen to people who say it (the product) is good enough because it never will be. Building a great product is a fluid, ongoing process."
This quote from Berkowski's book has taken us to the last but neverending stage of product development.
Marketing, functionality upgrades, and design improvement never end.
To become the best, you need to follow the latest trends and satisfy users' wishes in the best way. To remain the best, you need to do the same.
Just take a look at Uber: this location-based app has started its path in 2009. And more than 2,000 software engineers work on Uber products today. Even though the company is one of the unicorns with $997 million of net income, it keeps on improving its software products to keep the leading positions.
Three tips for building a location-based app the right way
As a bonus, we have prepared these three tips that will help you launch a location-aware app that will survive in the intense competition.
- Let the users make a choice
People don't like being watched; 35% of smartphone users disable geolocation, and most likely, they avoid using location-tracking software. This is why you need to always ask for a user's permission. Once he or she opens an application, ask about the geolocation setting. Explain clearly why you need it to make users trust your location-based service app.
- Protect users' data
The two-steps authentication, message encrypting, secured data storage, SSL certificates, and other best practices for data protection are required when you build a geolocation app. The software collects personal data, and there were numerous cases when companies sold this data without permission. Or the data was stolen. To win back the trust, companies worldwide should prove they are reliable, trustworthy partners.
If you target European countries, get acquainted with GDPR law.
- Optimize battery consumption
Location-based apps are one of the reasons our batteries die so quickly. Think about the optimization and employ the best practices to minimize energy consumption and let the smartphone live longer. It may become one of your app's competitive advantage.
As you can see, location-based app development isn't a piece of cake. But once you have built a business plan and found an engineering partner to rely on, you can focus on product growth and reach the desired positions.
- Focus on basic functionality to launch a high-quality MVP as soon as possible;
- Let your development team choose the best tech stack;
- Organize a process conveniently and choose an Agile software development methodology to be involved in a process and always keep a hand on a pulse of your newborn product;
- Building an app, do not underestimate data protection importance and power consumption optimization.
- What is a location-based app?
A location-based application is an app that provides services based on the user's current location.
- What is the purpose of the location-based app?
Location-based apps have communication, information, and marketing purposes.
- How location-based apps work?
They use specific technologies for outdoor and indoor location tracking, like GPS, BLE, WiFi, Geofencing, etc.
- What apps use geolocation?
A variety of apps can use geolocation: digital maps, weather apps, navigation apps, eCommerce apps, travel apps, recommendation and reviews platforms, games, banking apps, etc.
- How to build a GPS app?
To build a location-based app, you need to:
- Start with a viable idea;
- Find a reliable engineering partner;
- Decide on key functionality;
- Launch an MVP;
- Collect investments and users' feedback;
- Upgrade MVP to a full-feature app.