I’ve decided with this blog to get the definition of mobile location tracking out the way instead of spending the introduction building up to it:
Mobile location tracking is the ability to track the location of mobile devices using GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular networks, and other technologies.
The significance of mobile location tracking for businesses and individuals is that it provides personalized and contextually relevant experiences based on the user’s location. That leads to multiple benefits including increased engagement, loyalty, and revenue.
In this “everything you need to know” blog we’re going to be telling you literally everything you need to know about mobile location tracking because if it hasn’t been clear by our recent content output, in 2023, Roam is all about informing and being educative. No fun from now on, it’s all business. It’ll just be informative content as dry as the Sahara Desert. Just like an AI.
How does mobile location tracking work?
How on Earth do you collect and process location data through GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular network information? Let's break all three down.
The three methods
GPS is a satellite-based navigation system that uses a network of satellites orbiting the Earth to determine the location of a device. A few different satellite-based navigation systems are orbiting our planet including Russia’s GLONASS and ESA’s Galileo, but for the sake of keeping this simple, we’ll just be referring to GPS (you can also just substitute the names and the same logic applies anyway).
All mobile devices have access to GPS so that they can use signals from multiple satellites to triangulate their location. GPS is accurate within a few meters in ideal conditions, making it a reliable method for location tracking.
WiFi is an effective way of picking up location data, particularly in indoor environments where GPS signals may be weak or unavailable. WiFi positioning involves using the strength and location of nearby Wi-Fi access points to estimate the location of a device. This is done by measuring the strength of the signal from each access point and using that information to calculate the device's position relative to the access points.
When a mobile device connects to a cellular network, it communicates with nearby cell towers to establish a connection. It mirrors WiFi positioning because these towers can be used to estimate the device's location by measuring the strength of the signal and triangulating the device's position based on the signal's time of arrival.
On frequent occasions, mobile devices use a combination of these methods to collect location data. For example, a device may use GPS to get an initial location fix, then use WiFi and cellular network data to refine the location estimate. This helps to ensure that the location data is as accurate as possible, even in challenging environments where GPS signals may be weak or unavailable.
Basically, the collaboration of these methods means you can collect every location data point, everywhere, all at once (does that make sense? Probably not, but that's how I felt when watching the film).
Mobile location tracking can be integrated into applications using various methods, including APIs and development platforms such as iOS and Android.
APIs enable developers to integrate location tracking features into their mobile applications by providing access to the device's GPS, WiFi, and other location-based sensors. Popular location tracking APIs include Google Maps, Mapbox, and Apple Maps.
Apple's iOS development platform provides a range of tools for developers to integrate location tracking features into their mobile applications. The Core Location framework allows developers to access and use the device's GPS, WiFi, and other sensors to track the user's location. The MapKit framework provides access to Apple's maps and location services, allowing developers to integrate maps, directions, and location-based services into their applications.
Android's development platform provides a range of tools and APIs for developers to integrate location tracking features into their mobile applications. The Google Location Services API gives access to the device's GPS, Wi-Fi, and other sensors, and allows developers to build location-based features such as geofencing, location-based notifications, and activity recognition into their apps. With Google Maps SDK for Android, you get access to Google's maps and location services, allowing developers to integrate maps, directions, and location-based services into their applications.
Types of mobile location tracking
At Roam, when we refer to the types of mobile tracking we mean the passive, balanced, and active tracking modes. These tracking modes pick up location updates at various distances and time intervals.
Active tracking is the most intense of these modes, picking up locations at a minimum of 25 m intervals. Balanced tracking picks up locations at a minimum of 50 m intervals. Passive tracking picks up locations at a minimum of 100 m intervals.
What tracking mode you use is dependent on the service your app provides, and what state the app is in. You need active tracking if the user has opened a delivery app. This is especially true if the user has already made an order. Passive tracking is enough for a retail loyalty app to operate efficiently. This is especially true when the app is not open or only running in the background.
I’ve come to notice that passive and active tracking can also be understood for something else (but kind of related). Some people call passive location tracking "tracking of a device without user knowledge." This can be done through the use of a hidden app or malware. Active tracking refers to tracking a device with user consent and knowledge. This often occurs when a user first starts using an app. Requesting consent is a necessary step.
In our terms, active and passive tracking has nothing to do with whether a device is being tracked with or without consent. That’s because we’re specifically talking about mobile location tracking of apps that a user downloads. These apps need user consent to use location tracking.
Anyway, I apologize for the confusion. I must have missed the meeting when this was decided. It was probably during my lunch break, but if you stumble across the other meaning of passive and active location tracking just know it’s not the one I’m talking about here.
Advantages and challenges of mobile location tracking
We love to talk about the advantages of mobile location tracking, and I’m proudly guilty of it. The benefits for businesses and individuals vary from improved customer engagement, and enhanced safety and security, to better logistics and transportation management.
That said, I’m fully aware of the limitations and risks as well. GPS can struggle to pinpoint location accurately, especially in busy cities. This can lead to 'drifting' and other frustrations. Hence why you have WiFi and cellular network towers to help triangulate location data.
But this adds to the technical challenges of setting up and managing location tracking, which is already complicated on its own. Then again, that’s why you have software development kits to help you out.
The other risks to mention have ethical considerations. Data privacy violations are something you have to keep an eye on when you’re using location tracking. If you’re on the wrong side of the GDPR and regulations alike you’ll be in the mucky waters of concerns about surveillance, privacy, and the potential for unintended consequences and misuse.
Application and best practices of mobile location tracking
This entire section is basically a sneak peek into what we refer to as solutions provided by location technology. Mobile location tracking can be applied and best practiced in various ways.
Just make sure that whatever you do as a business, use the data responsibly and ethically, such as by obtaining user consent and providing transparency about the data collection and use.
I just think it’s important to hit that point home before one of you has a bright idea and all of a sudden you’re drinking water awkwardly during your senate testimony (and becoming an internet meme).
- Retail and shopping: location tracking can help personalize recommendations, coupons, and promotions to customers based on their location and purchasing history. Target uses location data from its mobile app to provide in-store maps and location-based promotions to customers.
- Transportation and logistics: tracking the location of vehicles and optimizing transportation routes. This leads to increased efficiency and cost savings.
- Healthcare: This isn’t an obvious example but mobile location tracking can be used to track the location of medical equipment and personnel, as well as to monitor patient movements and vital signs. Hospitals have used location data to track the movements of IV pumps and other medical devices.
- Tourism and hospitality: A popular example, location tracking can help provide location-based information and services to visitors in hotels, museums, and other tourist destinations.
- Sports and entertainment: it can be used to enhance the fan experience at sports stadiums and other entertainment venues, by providing location-based services and personalized content.
- Cybercrime: With location tracking, you won’t need Robocop to prevent cybercrimes (I’ve never watched Robocop, but this will be evident to fans of it). Location tracking can be a useful tool in preventing cybercrimes such as credit card fraud. By tracking the location of a mobile device, authorities can identify suspicious transactions that are made from a location that is different from the user's usual location. For example, if a credit card is used to make a purchase in a foreign country while the user is in their home country, this could be flagged as suspicious activity. Mobile location tracking can also help to identify cases of identity theft, where a thief may be using a stolen credit card to make purchases in a different location from the victim's.
I really hope I’ve covered everything you need to know about mobile location tracking for 2023.
We have a textbook definition of mobile tracking.
We understand the methods and integration process.
We are aware of the types of mobile location tracking.
We know the advantages and disadvantages.
Lastly, we are familiar with some of the best practices.
We haven't discussed future trends for the coming year. Unfortunately, I don't have a crystal ball to tell us what they will be.
Last year, last-mile delivery was a major topic of conversation. It was predicted to significantly alter consumer behavior. A year later, that sentiment no longer holds as strong. My point is, it’ll be important to keep an eye on how mobile location tracking is used by companies and monitored by governments and regulations because things can change quickly.
Thank you for reading! If you’re interested in developing a mobile app with location services and want to power it with reliable and accurate location tracking, check out our location SDK. It offers customizable tracking modes, always-on tracking, offline location tracking, and mock location prevention. With low battery drain, your app can offer top-notch location tracking without draining battery life. Check out our location SDK page to find out more.