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How to Create a Location Based App – The Complete Guide

by | Aug 20, 2019 | App Development

“App” has become today’s buzzword, and you’re likely using several on your device as you read this. The subset of apps called geolocation apps forms a significant niche among mobile applications. In fact, the geolocation trend is now a core part of application development with a new geolocation app being released everyday. Statistical figures support this: as of 2015, 95% of US mobile users aged 18-29 used location-based services.

The US smartphone penetration rate hovered around 67.3% in 2017. With this background, a geolocation app connects businesses to a potential 200 million users in the US alone.

Apps, including games, navigation apps, weather services, and certain social media apps depend on location services.

The relentless geolocation trend has opened new opportunities and startup ideas, paving the path for established businesses that could never exist without this technology. Yet, the possibility of integrating geolocation in an application has given room for a novel mix of client service treatment for existing goods and services. It has also given birth to an exciting level of marketing strategies and altering the entire workflow of interaction with the consumer.

how to build a location based app

Discovery has assumed fresh dimensions with location based apps. Beyond usual maps, location-based apps are able to suggest more than just the route from one point to another. They also identify places of interest and attempt essential life questions such as:

  • “What is the best restaurant for Japanese sushi?”
  • “What bank’s ATM is closest?”
  • “Is there any hospital within 2 kilometers close to me?”
  • “Can I get directions from my house to the post office?”

The key thing about location-based apps is how they gather information about the area.

Some applications are based entirely on this technology. For others, it extends the features of the service, making it more robust and more advanced.

This article is the definitive guide to building location-based apps – making the app find nearby locations, what other functionality to include, and what technology powers a local search app. We understand there are complexities, but this is because of the many overlapping features, complementing one another or adding attributes to other areas, to create a fresh niche, that comprises companies such as the ride-sharing app Uber.

Our App

We will use the example of a hypothetical app, Surrounda. This app will offer instant information on your surroundings. There are different points of interest close to you on the map. You can choose to view these, or you search in respective categories – hospitals, taxis, restaurants, churches – to get the closest suggestions on display.

Each listing will come with some basic information such as general description, opening hours, contact telephone number, website.

Users will also receive instant directions to the place from their current position. They can also share the point of interest and location with a friend and enjoy some cool augmented reality features.

Other app ideas include an offline/online city guide app, which will carry additional information on local curiosities, plus some functionality to create actual walking routes. A food discovery app like Zomato or Yelp could suggest the best eateries in town. Even your favorite apps use location tracking as part of their functionality. They include several social networking apps, Uber, Tinder, and Pokémon Go.

Why Location-Based Apps?

The search for trends has caused an increasing number of geolocation apps to flood the market. Some only work when they can locate the user. Others exploit the geolocation feature to offer more convenient services. Navigators, social networks with geotagged photos, guides, fitness apps with route tracking are all location-based services.

But why does anyone bother about creating a geolocation app?

To answer this, we must first clarify the basic functions of geolocation app development:

  • Information: to provide the user with information about the nearest object or objects of interest in a certain location.
  • Social: to determine the physical location of peers or other users.
  • Communication: to register a place on the map where it’ll be available to other users, deposit feedback about one’s experience about visiting a certain place or read other people’s reviews, to link your own content to a specific location on the map.
  • Marketing: as a tool to target incentive marketing campaigns and the basis to get new mechanics of interaction with the consumer.

We also need to clarify factors that explain why location-based services have become a top priority in the consumer business and social communications. Distinguishing these two groups is important in building location-based apps.

Growing consumer interest in GPS app development

  1. Expanding boundaries of ‘social’.

    It used to be that an individual would showcase their identity through their social network profile. The issue with this information is it was basically a compilation of static, frozen facts. The location feature is a logical continuation of this trend, though with telling improvements. This is dynamism included in the intrinsic nature of the user. The user now has the ability to share their lifestyle, social level, and daily routine.

  2. Rising involvement of users in assessments, rankings, and recommendations.

    The majority of successful social location-based services exploit the game factor to a reasonable extent during customer interactions to help generate fresh independent content.Users are also free to create new geolocation marks to obtain more points or achieve an exclusive status. This creates a viral influence that is not fully exploited.

  3. Commercial benefits

    Customers typically enjoy hints, recommendations, and tips form others with experience using a service. Location-based app development thus expands a service’s web of influence by providing information on what is going on in the user’s immediate surroundings. This has made these apps trusted discount hunting tools

Expanding business interest in geolocation app development

  1. Enterprise systems synchronize with location-based apps.

    Geolocation technology data shows a forecast of massive growth over the coming years. For a business to gain a competitive advantage, it is necessary to work with the audience of locations services and add the task as part of the marketing plan. Foursquare recently started to charge a symbolic fee to verify points of companies on the map. This shows this geolocation tool brings profit to business units.

  2. Location-based mobile advertising.

    A person’s location is automatically determined through GPS coordinates. This is exploited for targeting advertisements. Such advertising can be implemented as push notifications sent from mobile apps with GPS geolocations. Therefore, if a person walks down the street, and receives a message informing them of a great close-out sale in the nearest store to where they are, it would be totally awesome.

  3. Processing user information.

    Registering for a service in a particular location essentially translates to the user tracing out their self-portrait. Based on the information obtained, there is a better chance to clarify the picture of each customer. Such data comes in handy to make individually-tailored offers to users. An easy example is a restaurant using GPS apps with location technology to offer discounts on business brunches. The offers will only be offered to a few customers – those who usually put marks in this location in the afternoon. The extra cost boils down to zero, really!

  4. Joint use of location-based services and Augmented Reality (AR).

    With location-based apps evolving rapidly from just mere maps to more interactive solutions, it is important to explore the use of advancing augmented reality technology.

how to create a location based app

To give a perspective of what AR can do, you may be aware of Pokémon Go. Rather than stare at dots and lines, a user simply points their smartphone camera at a scene and have it annotated with relevant information. That is cool.

The Here City Lens app for Windows Phone is an example of a location-based app that features some AR functionality.

Augmented reality is easily the most impressive use of geolocation. Here, the bottom line is that virtual elements superimpose physical objects. A smartphone can be trained on your target (say, a street in town), and the screen will display all the information.

It then comes time to find out how exactly your chosen geolocation app will be built.

Types of Geolocation Apps

Location-based apps are divided into several groups [conditionally]. These include:

  1. Maps and navigation
  2. Geosocial applications
  3. On-demand services
  4. Fitness trackers and health applications
  5. Augmented reality (AR) and games
  6. Finding services, recommendations, and discounts
  7. Travel apps
  8. GPS apps for weather forecasting
  9. Location-based apps to enhance business
  10. eCommerce
  11. Location apps to notify of dangerous situations

How To Create a Location Based App

Now we’re at the crux of this guide. Creating a mobile application with GPS geolocation requires using special location services and maps which can be added using the API.

There are several ways to determine the location. We take a look at the most popular needs for location-based apps.


GPS means Global Positioning System. This very popular locating technology that determines locations using satellite signals. All mobile devices are equipped with a GPS module. A mobile device with the geolocation feature activated is always receiving signals from at least three satellites simultaneously. Each signal needs some time to reach the earth. Multiplying this by the speed gives the distance to the object, after factoring in corrections for inaccuracies. GPS is not great indoors and around tall buildings, which often block GPS signals.

To provide directions and routing options, GPS uses magnetometers and gyroscope sensors incorporated in smartphones. These are the basic essentials of how location tracking hardware works.

Advantages of GPS

  1. Location determination happens at high speed.
  2. GPS receivers mostly have high accuracy under good conditions. It is even possible to determine the altitude above sea level, which is required in some location-based apps.

Disadvantages of GPS

  1. High battery consumption of GPS despite developers working hard to mitigate this.
  2. GPS performance is particularly impacted by the ability of the device to interact with satellites in orbit. In a tunnel or basement, for instance, it is nearly impossible to determine the exact location.
  3. Adverse impact of obstacles and atmospheric conditions. Trees, buildings, and geomagnetic storms sometimes cause signal deviations up to 80 meters.

Regardless of the drawbacks of GPS, it may be unwise to ignore it totally. It can often prove effective for geolocation app development.

Cell ID

Where GPS signal is unavailable, location is determined using cell towers. A smartphone knows the cell tower it is connected to. The received coordinates of the mobile station make it possible to determine the location of the smartphone and its owner.


  1. The service works even where the GPS signal is not available.
  2. The locating technique is excellent for large cities.


  1. Limited accuracy in position. In many cases, inaccuracies can approach several hundred meters.

This approach is right-to-life and is beneficial when considering how to build a location-based app.


Assisted GPS (A-GPS) is quite efficient as a locating technology. It generates a mix of information from the satellite and the server and transmits the data via the Internet over WiFi or cellular connection.


  1. Fast location determination.
  2. High battery economy compared to vanilla GPS.
  3. Superior sensitivity in problem areas (dense forest, depressions, and tunnels).


  1. Certain A-GPS functions are ineffective outside the cellular coverage area.
  2. Service consumes a small amount of traffic, requiring re-synchronization where a signal is lost. This raises the cost, especially with roaming.

While A-GPS has some advantages, it remains highly attractive for location-based application development.


Using beacons, along with Bluetooth low energy technology, is also an option for determining geolocation for GPS app development. The beacons work on batteries, transmitting a signal to the user’s device via Bluetooth. The Android platform offers the Eddystone technology and the AltBeacon protocol, whereas Apple Inc.’s iOS platform provides the iBeacon API.

This geolocation method is well suited for closed rooms and location-based mobile apps operating without the Internet. To build an app to assist conference users navigate around the venue more efficiently, an iBeacon-enabled app will be the preferred option, rather than the GPS one.


  1. Easy to use, BLE beacons can easily be installed indoors.
  2. There is high accuracy in locating a user.


  1. It is expensive, with algorithms often requiring a significant initial investment.
  2. The device will need to be updated periodically, as well as its batteries changed.
  3. There is a limited locus of action.

Using the BLE locating technology is worth the effort in developing a geolocation service.


WiFi is a great option for geolocation app development. It works in two ways: using RSSI, determining the location from the database, or via Google Maps. Certain apps will ask that users connect to Wi-Fi or turn on mobile data to improve location tracking.


  1. Easy to use. With WiFi, the user finds the active network and its location. The system works as long as there is a connection.
  2. The location is determined quite quickly.


  1. Covers a significantly smaller area, compared to GPS.

It is simple and effective to use WiFi, and quite handy when building geolocation apps.


This is a growing locating technology. In mobile apps with GPS geolocations, the user’s position is taken along with the time they enter the specified virtual perimeter. An example is when a customer approaches a designated point, and a push notification is sent to their mobile phone offering a coupon or discount.

The radius of geophysical coverage is up to 500 meters. This is a popular approach to GPS development.


  1. Ability to cover much larger territories when compared with BLE-beacons.
  2. Multiple business opportunities, including loyalty programs for customers, push notification systems, remote employee monitoring, and so forth.


  1. Limited range of around 500 meters.
  2. Notorious for high power consumption.

It is now clear what hardware systems we can use to develop our location-based application.

building a location based app

Essential APIs (Software Elements) Of Location-Based Apps

Android and iOS devices typically offer access to the GPS location collected from users through their respective APIs’. Those come with mapping functionality in tandem.

Android apps would use Android API for Google Maps, while iOS apps have the benefit of Apple Map Kit. Apple MapKit makes no provision for indoor navigation, while Google Maps has made few inroads in this regard. Google maps support route suggestions by public transport and bike, unlike Apple Maps. This makes it imperative to use the Google Maps SDK for iOS as well.

In building a mobile application like Surrounda, it is vital to know user location and offer map functionality. However, these are not enough. It’s important to add points of interest that people can browse and discover.

Google Places API ensures you can incorporate rich listings of local business listings in your application. These are the same ones in Google search results when you search for cafés nearby.

Foursquare API is another you can use to collect additional information like user ratings, reviews, and recommendations.

To round up your application with copious doses of content, the Yelp API, TripAdvisor API, and Facebook Places are excellent choices.

In the Here City Lens-like app case, you can use the following tools and platforms:

  • ARLab and Browser are compatible both with Android and iOS devices.
  • Droid AR is an open-source project for Android.
  • GART is a special AR toolkit developed for Windows Phone.
  • Wikitude AR SDK is a paid tool both for iOS and Android devices.

Phases of Location-Based Application Development

Developing location-based apps consists of the following stages:

  1. Exploring the market and analyzing competitors.

You can either do this yourself or hire a professional agency to do so for you. It is worth every penny. The goal is to ensure you do not pour money down the drain in a futile effort.

2. Prototyping

With the project visualized and its logical structure complete, you have an idea of what your app will look like and the screens it will include.

3. Design of location-based mobile app

UX/UI design is a necessity to sense a style. App design should be intuitive, clean, and understandable.

4. Coding

Now is the time to churn out iOS, Android, and web versions of your application and ensure everything works perfectly.

5. Testing

Testing ensures things do not fail where they should not. Frustrated users hardly ever come back. Test, test, and test again.

6. Release

The application is made available for public use via various websites and app stores.

Security and Complexity of Developing Location-Based Apps

Skyhook reports research that 40% of users hesitate to share location data with an app, while 18% turn on location-sharing functionality for all apps. This shows obvious security and privacy concerns with local sharing and location tracking apps.

location based app building

The following factors are important to note:

  • The law dictates that all data on the movements of users which are being collected and processed must be depersonalized. How do we control this?
  • Information is not merely collected. It is also processed and analyzed. This reveals interesting patterns. How can the information collected be used? What is ethical, and what is not?

For the most part, the issue is with third-party companies gathering and accumulating plenty of personal user data without people realizing so. Such data may be used unethically without the user’s knowledge or consent. The recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica issue is a case in point.

This will, in many cases, cause unsolicited and unwanted marketing pitches which are every bit frustrating, but not harmful. More grievous personal security hazards such as identity theft and cyber criminals being able to pinpoint user’s exact location and future movements are even more real concerns.

As such, most users prefer and fully expect real benefits from an app in exchange for providing their location. Ensure you clearly communicate three things:

  1. the value you are offering,
  2. the security precautions you have in place to protect user data,
  3. relevant provisions explaining how you intend to use the data

By making personal information public, there is a great risk that a user becomes an object of misconduct that impacts his privacy. In March 2017, Apple Inc. blocked a mobile app Girls Around Me, showing men the location of women nearby.

Such stalking effect can be avoided if location-based services evolve towards strictly closed groups of friends, for instance.

Cost of Building a Location-Based Apparent

The purpose of a mobile app will determine the choice of locating technology adopted. Speed, reliability, accuracy, range, usability, and power consumption are the key characteristics for determining the best way to implement a geolocation feature.

Practical steps to mitigate the costs of developing a location-based app include:

  1. Hiring developers from countries other than the US and Western Europe.
  2. Keep the functionality of the app as focused as possible.


Now that you understand the nuances of developing a location-based app, you can implement it right away to improve interaction with your customers and deliver the information at the right time, in the right place.

Still not sure where to start? Check out our Simple Starter package which is a simple approach that includes exactly whats needed for anyone starting out or those not sure what’s next.



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