The use cases of location-based applications seem to be endless. In times of on-demand economy and industry 4.0, the likes of Uber, on-demand service apps, health monitoring, fleet management solutions and even dating apps are growing in number as businesses strive to make our lives easier in increasingly creative ways. The location based services market continues to grow at a steady pace - it’s expected to amount to 48 billion USD by 2026, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 19.4% between 2021-2026.
The downside is that geolocation app development isn’t straightforward. Location-aware mobile apps require features that, among other things, will allow to track user location in real-time. In this article, I’d like to explain the most common issues that owners should consider as they embark upon building a geolocation app. Let’s take a look at the most common challenges and how to overcome them.
Challenge 1: choosing the right geolocation tech stack
For the geolocation app to function efficiently and accurately, you must ensure the right tech stack to support it. Typically, geolocation tracking apps will use at least two APIs: one to detect the user location and another to place them on a map. If you'd like to get a better understanding of the components of location based services, I’d like to direct you to an earlier article where you’ll find all the information you need. Now, let's take a look at some of the geolocation tech stack issues you have to consider as you create a location based application.
Outdoor vs. indoor geolocation technologies
In order to choose the right tech stack, you first need define your business objectives, the use cases of the geolocation app and the target audience. With that, you can decide whether you require indoor or outdoor geolocation technology and how accurate it needs to be. When it comes to outdoor location tracking technologies, you have the following options:
- GPS, which determines your current location based on signals received from satellites, with accuracy errors within the range of 0,3-5 meters, so it’s pretty accurate.
- Cell ID, which uses nearby cellular network to determine physical location. The accuracy depends on the strength of the cell towers signal. It can work well in the cities, but will be weak in rural areas.
- A-GPS, which uses Cell ID to further improve the phone's GPS data quality, which means that it will work even in adverse weather conditions or when there is interference with the GPS signals.
- Wi-Fi, with accuracy error of up to 25 meters.
Note that an integration of all four elements will allow you to increase precision of the signal. We advise app developers to use a combination of as many technologies as possible to maximize the accuracy of their location based data.
Indoor solutions, including beacons and geofencing, are particularly useful in personalized location-based marketing and asset management. Wi-Fi can also be used for indoor geolocation purposes.
Geolocation app development also requires choosing the relevant GIS, or geographic information system, provider (the base of your location based mobile app). Google Maps is among the most popular providers, but there are many other solutions that can be useful in geolocation services development, including Bing Maps, Mapbox, Tomtom and more.
These solutions offer ready-to-use APIs for maps, routes, places and other components required for building location-based apps. Choosing the relevant GIS provider for your geolocation functionality will largely depend on your business goals and processes. You may not require an advanced system for your use case, in which case you could benefit from ready-made APIs. However, geolocation mobile apps built this way may incur substantial bills (more information on this in the next point).
Challenge 2: forgetting to consider the pricing implications
As I've just mentioned, location-based app development can benefit from ready-to-use map APIs provided by Google Maps, Mapbox, TomTom or other providers. It's important to carefully consider the different pricing options offered by these providers, as the usage of different geolocation features will generate costs that vary across these API providers. For those who intend to use APIs in their geolocation app development projects and want to find out more about the pricing of Google Maps and Mapbox specifically, I've written a comparison in this article.
Developers can also consider open-source solutions for their location-based app development projects, but this is bound to incur considerable development costs. At the same time, when you use OpenStreetMap, for instance, you don't pay for the usage of location data. This is a great option for those who want to cut the location based app usage costs, as long as they are prepared to work with lower quality of map data. If you'd like to review the available open-source options for your location-based technology, take a look at this article.
Alternatively, owners can cut the costs of their location-based service by opting for cloud-based geolocation apps. In our view, AWS's PostGIS + PostgreSQL is the best option for storing geospatial data in the cloud. See this article where we outline top 12 services useful in building location-based applications in the cloud.
Challenge 3: obtaining permission to access user's location data
Geolocation apps require user permission to track their location. Today’s users are well-informed and picky, so getting their permission to share their location with you is a task in itself. For instance, geolocation apps that track employees’ location are often met with hesitation when it comes to location tracking. Employees want to know if they will be tracked outside the working hours, for what purposes and how this data will be stored - and that is reasonable. In general, users do not want to have their location data tracked at all times.
Unless you’re building an Uber-like app, you will have to explicitly communicate why the solution requires geolocation to operate. Otherwise, users may be hesitant about sharing their information. And, if you fail to get their permission, your location-based app will not function properly. Therefore, it’s crucial to think about messaging that will convince the users to opt-in. You should also think about relevant and convincing error information in cases where location tracking wasn’t enabled.
A well-designed geolocation app won’t have to defend its purpose. Make sure you state clearly why the permission to track users' location is required and how the data will be stored. Ideally, users should be informed about it as they create their accounts with your geolocation app or solution.
Challenge 4: optimizing battery consumption
Businesses should always aim for the minimal battery usage - ideally, the energy required to power the screen. If the location tracking feature is permanently on or the app polls GPS data every 60 seconds (or even more frequently), it’s going to drain the battery of the mobile device quickly and you will risk losing those hard-earned users.
To overcome this issue, think about the relevant action thresholds that will help you avoid unnecessary battery strain on the mobile device (we’ve compared the most popular map APIs and their battery consumption in one of our previous articles, amongst other things). You can, for instance, lower the frequency of polling if a user location hasn’t changed for several minutes. For rapidly moving objects, you can analyze the speed to determine the required frequency of polling. Finally, benefit from automated tests to track energy consumption of specific devices.
Challenge 5: ignoring user data privacy concerns
According to different regulations across the globe, e.g. EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), location data qualifies as personal information when it relates to an identifiable individual. Organizations delving into geolocation app development must take these legal measures into account and implement relevant compliance measures. Check the relevant local regulations for the region you will cover with the location based app and take into account the regional measures, such as GDPR or the U.S. Electronic Communication Privacy Act or the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Geolocation app owners must implement relevant compliance mechanisms to protect the data they collect. Apply multi-factor authentication to minimize the risk of hacker attacks. Ensure all communications are encrypted. You can use SSL certificates, Network Security Configuration for Android and App Transport Security for iOS. By all means, do not store sensitive data directly on the device - if you have to keep it, encrypt it with relevant algorithms, such as AES-256 or RSA.
Challenge 6: customer support for location aware apps
When users navigate the streets with your location based app, they rely on real-time, accurate data. Geolocation apps aren't free of risks and functionality issues may occur just like with any other mobile application. In addition to bugs or issues you could encounter in apps without geolocation features, location based apps are prone to issues with location accuracy, indoor navigation, inability to find a specific location, etc.
Whether these occur due to poor internet connection, issues with location features or bugs in custom development, you should be oriented at addressing them quickly and ensuring there's a customer support team available 24/7 to respond to user queries. Also, think about how you are going to maintain the geolocation app. Location data may be changing quickly and unexpectedly, so location based app owners should take that fact into account. A trusted custom software development company may help you in these endeavors.
Avoiding mistakes in geolocation app development
Geolocation app development process is somewhat more complex than building mobile apps without the geolocation feature. Choosing the relevant tech stack that enables location tracking is just one of them. You'll have to make several other decisions throughout the development process.
Even the most straightforward geolocation app will have its technical nuances that will largely depend on the solution’s use cases. Owners must also think about data privacy and the fact that user’s are generally reluctant to share their location with application providers. Finally, businesses should also remember that their geolocation apps must remain in compliance with legislation on data protection.