Today, location-based apps have expanded beyond the level of a simple local discovery. From Uber to Instagram, from Tinder to Runtastic, they have changed millions of people's lives. Numerous industries continue to develop such apps in order to make their customers’ daily experiences more comfortable and amusing at the same time. In this article, we'll outline how to create a location-based app, the key features of geolocation applications, and the basic steps you may need to make a location app.
Finally, we will share the experience of our own location based apps saving lives during the severe refugee crisis in Germany. Keep reading!
As the use of smartphones rapidly grows each year, thousands of new mobile apps appear on the market. By the end of 2017, the Apple App Store contained about 2 million apps, and Google Play featured 2.2 million apps.
Due to their particular usefulness, location-based services occupy an important niche in the mobile app market. As 77% of Americans now own smartphones, numerous industries have already benefited from location based service apps. In particular, location based apps remain highly in demand with retail, on-demand services, logistics, fitness, tourism, social media/dating, and even games!
Apart from that, all kinds of delivery services, from local pizza to global players, such as DPD or UPS, also allow customers to track their orders all the way from preparation to delivery. Uber, which is among the most popular on-demand location-based apps, allows passengers to track and monitor the closest driver, as well as track a driver’s arrival and the whole duration of the journey in real time. Different logistics geolocation apps help their customers find carriers in their area. For example, Cargomatic connects shippers with nearby trucks in real time.
All sorts of travel location-based apps are designed to simplify travelers’ experiences, such as looking for nearby hotels/apartments (for example, Booking and Airbnb), getting around (Google Maps, TripAdvisor), shopping (CityMapper), and meeting fellow travelers (Couchsurfing, Travel Pal).
In case you run on a daily basis, you may want to download such location-based apps as Runtastic or Nike+. They not only map your routes but also track your speed and connect with fellow runners in your area.
Social media and dating apps continue introducing people to each other and pairing together millions of couples across the globe with the help of geolocation features. For example, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat enable you to use geo-tags on posts. Therefore, people may instantly connect based on their actual location. Dating apps, such as OK Cupid, use their participants’ current locations to arrange chats and meetings with local singles.
Finally, some famous games use geolocation features as well. Do you remember the mega-popular Pokémon GO? Certain gamers even chased their Pokemons in the weirdest places like cemeteries and government offices. This is a great example of an extremely powerful location-based app.
In general, geolocation is a technology for a mobile interface, which is available for every smartphone.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of about 30 operational satellites regularly orbiting the Earth. At present, anyone with a GPS device (either a smartphone or a handheld GPS unit) can receive radio signals from those satellites. At whatever location you are on the planet, at least four GPS satellites remain ‘visible’ and transmit regular signals about their position. The GPS chip from your smartphone intercepts those signals. Then, it calculates how far at least three of those satellites remain from your current location. Based on this information, your GPS chip provides the exact coordinates of your location in a process called 'trilateration'.
Apart from GPS, a smartphone’s location can also be determined by several other means:
by signals of the cellular base stations where a smartphone is connected (the so-called ‘Cell ID’);
by signals from Wi-Fi access points;
with the help of A-GPS technology, which combines information obtained from the satellites and cellular base stations;
with the help of indoor geolocation technologies.
Therefore, the key features of every geolocation app include GPS coordinates, location tracking, and map integration.
In terms of classification, geolocation apps can be divided into ‘real time’ and ‘non-real time’. A ‘real-time’ geolocation app constantly tracks a user’s location. The most popular examples include Uber, TripAdvisor, and Pokémon GO. ‘Non-real time’ geolocation apps, on the contrary, do not require the constant tracking of a user’s location.
In addition, geolocation apps can be divided into ‘map-based’ and ‘location-based’. ‘Map-based’ apps are attached to a particular map or a set of maps, for example—Google Maps and OpenStreetMap. ‘Location-based’ apps, on the contrary, are not attached to maps, all they need to know is a user’s location at a particular time.
Even though location-based services can vastly differ from each other, there are several features they have in common. Some of them include:
Maps: Many geolocation applications include a map feature that shows the user's current location and allows them to search for and navigate to specific addresses.
Directions: Location-based mobile app can provide turn-by-turn directions for driving and walking. Also, users can search for suitable public transportation routes.
Location sharing: Some location apps allow users to share their location with friends and family in real-time, which can be useful for keeping track of loved ones or meeting up with friends.
Local search: Geolocation services often include a local search feature that allows users to find businesses, restaurants, and other points of interest in the area.
Personalization: Many location-based apps use the user's location and search history to provide personalized recommendations for nearby attractions and activities.
Integration with other services: Location-based apps may integrate with other services, such as ride-sharing apps or weather apps to provide a more comprehensive set of features.
Prior to creating a location-based app, we advise you to research the market, get a viable business idea, and define the type of your future app. Is it a ‘real-time’ or a ‘non-real-time’, a ‘map-based’ or a ‘location-based’ app? As soon as you are done with that, start with the following basic steps. Geolocation app development should obviously take some time, effort, and financial investments.
They may include GPS coordinates, Google Maps or other map integration, and location detecting — depending on an app’s type.
Selecting the right technology stack—a set of tools used in the development of a software product like Google Maps SDK or Mapbox—requires some patience and professional advice. Yet, once you are done with that, you are halfway through.
Remember that a location-based app is still a mobile app, which has to contain a user-friendly interface and a protected backend database.
As data protection laws become stricter worldwide, it's important to take into account the existing legal regulations in all of the countries your apps intend to target. After all, location-based apps are indeed to be very ‘data-heavy’ products; therefore, you need to protect the data of your customers.
A minimum viable product is an essential step in any app development process. It’s the first version of the product and contains only core functionality for real users to test. They will give you feedback about what to add and what to fix. Or, they may even say that your idea is not what they need right now. This result is also valuable since it saves you thousands of dollars you could have spent on app development.
When these steps are complete, you can release the full version and strat the maintenance work.
Although thousands of new geolocation apps emerge each year, some of them remain unnoticed in the App Store, while others make tremendous business cases. Here, we provide 10 great examples of location apps:
Navigation tool Google Maps
Transportation on-demand service Uber
Social network app Instagram
Chat app Snapchat
Dating app Tinder
Travel app TripAdvisor
Fitness tracking app Runtastic
Restaurants’ reviewer Yelp
GPS tracker Family Locator
Mobile gaming hit Pokémon GO
At the same time, geolocation apps have become so widespread that you may not even notice that they are a part of your daily life. For example, Dropbox desktop application asks for location permission if you choose to enable background uploads for the camera uploads feature.
Keep in mind that engineering and testing the app will require certain financial investments. Here are more factors influencing the final costs:
The app’s complexity
Hourly rate of the team
Development agency’s location
Your target audience
Select the developers’ team based on your financial means. The cost to build a location-based app varies across different countries. The location-based app’s development costs may vary from $20,000 for a simple app to $150,000 for a complex app.
Our two most remarkable cases of geolocation app development are a social communication tool Speakfree and a GPS activity tracker Racefully.
Speakfree is a social communication tool, which helps you find people across different ranges (for instance, 1 km, 2 km, 10 km). In addition, with the help of Speakfree you may look for people speaking particular languages. For example, you may find Japanese speakers within 1 km from you in San Francisco.
Originally, Speakfree developed as a Munich-based startup in Germany. The app became popular in 2014, when the refugee crisis started in Munich. A number of humanitarian organizations used Speakfree to gather thousands of refugees in need of urgent help.
From a technical side, Speakfree has been made on a backendless technology, with Pubnub as a chat engine. The key challenges for developers included the moderation of pictures, public posts, and blocking users.
Racefully is a GPS activity tracker, as a project for distant running marathons, which is available for a download from App Store. Wherever you are around the world, Racefully tracks your running/walking/cycling/skiing performance in real time either on your own or in comparison with others. For example, Max from London and Alex from Tokyo decided to compete on who runs 2 km faster. Yet, their terrains are different: Max’s is flat, and Alex’s is more mountainous. The app takes into account the features of each terrain with the help of GPS and later provides a fair results’ comparison.
In conclusion, location based app development sounds like a smart idea. As more people use smartphones, the demand for various location-based services should grow as well. Perhaps you may uncover a niche market and eventually reach commercial success.
In case you decide to develop a location-based app, keep in mind the following basic steps: pop up with a viable business idea, think about particular geolocation features to add, take care of the user-friendly interface and data safety. In fact, location-based apps can be great fun and do amazingly good things for people!
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