RST Software
Editorial Team
Ross Krawczyk
Reviewed by a tech expert

Mastering GPS app development: a CEO's guide to making navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps

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Mastering GPS app development is a crucial endeavor for CEOs and business leaders aiming to create navigation apps that rival the likes of Waze and Google Maps. In today's technologically driven world, GPS apps have transformed the way people navigate and explore the world around them.

This comprehensive guide is designed to provide CEOs with valuable insights and strategies to maneuver the intricacies of GPS app development successfully. From understanding user needs and market trends to leveraging cutting-edge technologies and implementing essential features, this handbook equips CEOs with the knowledge and tools necessary to drive their GPS app development projects to success.

By following the principles outlined in this guide, CEOs can position their companies to create compelling and innovative navigation apps that captivate users and disrupt the industry.

Understanding the landscape

Let’s start from scratch. Understanding the landscape of GPS app development is crucial in today's technology-driven world, where GPS apps like Waze and Google Maps have gained immense popularity and significance. These apps have revolutionized the way people navigate, providing real-time directions, traffic updates, and location-based services.

The success of these apps highlights the vast market potential and opportunities for new GPS app development. As the demand for location-based solutions continues to grow, developers have the chance to tap into this market by creating innovative products that cater to specific user needs, be it niche navigation solutions, indoor and outdoor activities, etc.

However, spatial app development also presents its fair share of challenges. Ensuring accurate geolocation, optimizing battery usage, handling data privacy, and integrating complex mapping functionalities can be demanding tasks. Overcoming these challenges requires a deep understanding of GPS technologies, robust development skills, and a user-centric approach to deliver seamless and reliable spatial experiences.

Read more: If you’re curious about the obstacles that you may face during building a custom navigation app, be sure to read our article about 6 common geolocation app development challenges.

Essential features of a GPS app

In the realm of GPS-based app development, incorporating essential features is crucial to create a seamless and user-friendly experience. These features are designed to enhance navigation, provide accurate geolocation services, and offer valuable functionalities.

Whether it's for a navigation app, a fitness tracker, or a location-based service, understanding the key elements that make a GPS-powered app stand out is essential for developers.

So, what are these essential features?

Mapping and geolocation

Mapping in a GPS app refers to the visual representation of geographical information. It involves displaying maps, routes, landmarks, and other relevant data on the device's screen. These maps can be presented in various formats, such as street maps, satellite imagery, topographic maps, or a combination of different map data layers.

Spatial apps often offer interactive maps that allow users to zoom in or out, pan across different areas, and perform specific actions like marking waypoints or drawing routes. The geodata powering these solutions is typically updated regularly to ensure the accuracy of the displayed information.

Geolocation is the process of determining the exact geographic location of a device or user. In a GPS-powered app, this feature utilizes the signals received from multiple GPS satellites to calculate the latitude, longitude, and sometimes altitude of the user's position.

Once the user's location is determined, the GPS app can provide a range of services. For example, it can display the user's current position on the map in real-time, show nearby points of interest (POIs) such as restaurants, gas stations, or landmarks, and provide turn-by-turn directions to a selected destination.

In addition to GPS signals, modern GPS apps can utilize other positioning technologies like Assisted GPS (A-GPS), Wi-Fi positioning, or cellular network positioning to improve accuracy, especially in urban areas or environments with limited GPS satellite visibility.

Mapping and geolocation features work together to create a seamless experience for users by combining accurate positioning information with detailed maps and navigation functionalities.

Real-time traffic updates

By integrating real-time traffic data into your GPS app, your end-users can make more informed decisions, optimize their travel routes, and have a smoother and more efficient navigation experience. These features enhance the overall usability and value of GPS apps, providing users with a comprehensive solution for their direction-based needs.

Turn-by-turn navigation

The implementation of turn-by-turn navigation instructions is a key component of navigation applications like Waze and Google Maps. They guide users through their routes in real-time, providing directions at each decision point to ensure a seamless and efficient travel experience. The following steps describe the basic navigation process:

User location identification

The first step involves identifying the user's current location. This is typically accomplished through tapping into the GPS capabilities of a user's device. The app periodically updates location data to track the user's movements and power real-time navigation.

Destination input

When the user inputs their desired destination into the application (this could be an address, a point of interest, or coordinates) the app provides search and autocomplete functionality, powered by forward and reverse geocoding technology, to assist users in finding their destination.

Route calculation

The app calculates the best route from the user's current location to the destination. This calculation considers various factors like road types, distance, estimated travel time, current traffic conditions, and user preferences. Apps like Google Maps offer alternative routes and let the user choose their preferred one.

Generation of turn-by-turn instructions

Then, based on the calculated route, the app start generating turn-by-turn instructions. These instructions indicate when and where the user should turn, merge, exit, etc., to stay on the chosen route.

Real-time guidance

The turn-by-turn instructions are communicated to the user in real-time. This typically involves both visual instructions on the map and audible directions. As the user progresses along the route, the app continually updates the instructions based on the user's current location.

Dynamic recalculation

If the user deviates from the planned route – both intentionally or not – the app dynamically recalculates the route from the user's current location to the destination. This ensures that the user can always find their way back on track, even if they miss a turn or exit.

Arrival notifications

Once the user reaches their destination, the app notifies them of their arrival and ends the navigation session.

Throughout all the steps on this process, the app must maintain a user-friendly interface, clear and concise instructions, and efficient performance to ensure a seamless user experience. The exact implementation details can vary based on the specific app, platform, and technologies used, however, the underlying goal remains the same: to guide users to their destinations.

Voice guidance and alerts

Voice-guided navigation and alerts play a significant role in enhancing user convenience and safety in GPS applications. Here are a few key values they provide:

Hands-free navigation

Voice-guided navigation enables users to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, reducing the distraction of having to look at a screen for directions. This is crucial for driving safety and complies with hands-free laws in many jurisdictions.

Ease of understanding

Audible directions can be easier to understand and follow, especially in complex traffic situations or unfamiliar routes. They can provide clear instructions like “turn left after 200 meters” or “take the second exit on the roundabout”, reducing confusion.

Real-time alerts

Voice alerts can warn users of real-time traffic conditions such as accidents, roadworks, or congestion ahead. This allows users to prepare for sudden speed changes and maintain a smooth and safe driving experience.


For visually impaired users or those who find it difficult to read small text on screens, voice-guided instructions provide an accessible alternative to visual directions.

Continual engagement

Even when users are engaged in conversations or listening to music, voice-guided instructions ensure that critical navigation information is still received and understood.

Location services and APIs for GPS app development

When it comes to GPS app development, leveraging location services and APIs is essential to unlock the full potential of geolocation capabilities. They provide developers with a wealth of tools and resources to integrate powerful location-based functionalities into their applications.

These services enable access to accurate geolocation data, perform forward and reverse geocoding, calculate routes and distances, and even incorporate geofencing and proximity-based actions.

By utilizing location services and APIs, developers can enhance the accuracy, reliability, and functionality of their GPS apps, offering users seamless navigation experiences, personalized recommendations, and location-aware features.

Understanding the available technologies is key to harnessing the power of geolocation and creating compelling products that cater to the diverse needs of users.

GPS and location services

GPS (Global Positioning System) technology is a satellite-based navigation system that enables precise positioning and tracking of objects on Earth. It works by receiving signals from a network of satellites orbiting the planet and using triangulation to calculate the user's exact location.

In app development, leveraging GPS technology opens up a range of possibilities. Developers can integrate GPS functionality into their apps to provide location-based services, such as real-time navigation, geolocation tracking, and proximity-based features.

By accessing GPS data, apps can help users find nearby points of interest, track their fitness activities, locate friends or colleagues, and much more

Read more: Wondering if building a GPS app is a good solution for your company? Be sure to check out our guide for CEOs, where we take a closer look at the business side of location-based apps, their growth potential and future predictions.

Map APIs

Popular map API providers, such as Google Maps, Mapbox, and OpenStreetMap, offer developers robust tools and services for integrating maps into their applications. Let’s go through these providers briefly exploring what value they bring.

Google Maps, powered by Google's extensive mapping data, provides a comprehensive set of features, including interactive maps, geocoding, route calculations, and Street View imagery.

Mapbox offers highly customizable maps with dynamic styling options, along with geocoding, routing, and real-time location data. It is known for its flexibility and the ability to create visually stunning maps.

OpenStreetMap leverages open-source geospatial data, and provides a vast amount of map information and support for various services like geocoding, routing, and rendering without any costs attached, unlike Mapbox, Google Map, HERE etc.

To make sure you are able to choose the right API, check out our article comparing Google Maps, Mapbox, and OpenStreetMap APIs.

Geocoding and reverse geocoding

Geocoding services play a pivotal role in app development by enabling the conversion of addresses into geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) and vice versa. Which is crucial for applications that rely on location-based services, such as map navigation, proximity searches, and geospatial analysis.

When it comes to geocoding, several API providers offer reliable and accurate services. For example, Google Maps Geocoding API provides comprehensive geocoding capabilities, allowing developers to convert addresses into precise coordinates and obtain additional details like place names, types, and even photos. Mapbox Geocoding API offers similar functionality with customizable features, giving developers control over the geocoding results and styling options.

Geocoding services work by leveraging vast databases of address information and geospatial data. They utilize sophisticated algorithms to match input addresses to the most appropriate geographic coordinates. These algorithms consider factors such as address completeness, spelling variations, and the availability of reference data. Geocoding services also handle complex scenarios, such as ambiguous addresses or partial inputs, by providing multiple results or suggesting possible matches for the user to choose from.

In addition to converting addresses into coordinates, geocoding services also offer reverse geocoding capabilities. Reverse geocoding enables the transformation of geographic coordinates back into human-readable addresses. This functionality is valuable for apps that need to display location information to users or provide contextual details based on their current coordinates.

By incorporating geocoding services into navigation apps, developers can enhance the user experience by seamlessly translating addresses into precise locations required by our devices and vice versa. This opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as pinpointing destinations on maps, providing localized recommendations, optimizing logistics and delivery routes, and enabling location-based social interactions. Geocoding services have become an essential tool for developers seeking to harness the power of location intelligence and deliver personalized, location-aware experiences to their users.

Navigation apps’ backed infrastructure

Behind the scenes of navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps lies a robust and complex infrastructure that powers their functionality. It is essential for ensuring reliable navigation, real-time updates, and seamless user experiences.

Understanding the intricacies of the navigation apps' backed is key for developers and tech enthusiasts who want to delve into the world of GPS app development.

From map data acquisition and processing to cloud-based servers and API integrations, let’s explore the fundamental components that enable navigation apps to deliver accurate directions, live traffic updates, and a plethora of location-based services.

By examining the navigation apps' infrastructure, developers can gain insights into the underlying technologies and architectures that contribute to the success and reliability of their software.

Server infrastructure

Discussing considerations for selecting an appropriate server infrastructure to handle app data and user requests

When selecting a server infrastructure to handle app data and user requests, several considerations come into play – scalability, reliability, performance, security, and cost-effectiveness.


Scalability is one of the key factors to ensure the server infrastructure can handle increasing user traffic and data load as the app grows. It is essential to choose a scalable solution that can easily accommodate expanding user bases and the associated data requirements.

Remember, that scalability doesn’t necessarily mean scaling up. Some business cases might require you to be able to automatically scale down your cloud resources. For instance, due to whatever reasons, your app usage might drop at night. Paying for the same cloud computing power is a waste of your capital.


Reliability is the next consideration on our list. Why? It is crucial to provide uninterrupted service to users. Opting for a server infrastructure that offers high availability, fault tolerance, and redundant systems can help ensure minimal downtime and a smooth user experience.


The next one is performance, as users expect fast response times. Selecting a server infrastructure with sufficient processing power, ample bandwidth, and efficient data storage systems is vital to deliver optimal performance.


Security is a paramount concern to protect app data and user information from unauthorized access or breaches. It is important to select a server infrastructure that employs robust security measures such as encryption, access controls, and regular vulnerability assessments.


Finally, cost-effectiveness should also be considered. Balancing the infrastructure requirements with the available budget is critical to ensure long-term sustainability.

Geodata storage and management

There are many kinds of geographic data out there: the simplest, coordinates, and the more complicated, lines, polygons, or collections of all the previous types. Spatial data can be accessed, previewed and processed more efficiently with a dedicated type of spatial database. We’ve discussed the key principles of developing a GIS database previously on our blog.

Implementing best practices for geodata storage and management also includes data normalization to ensure efficient storage, indexing to improve query performance, and regular backups to prevent data loss. It is crucial to design data models that accurately represent the relationships between different geodata elements and incorporate data validation and data integrity checks. Security measures such as encryption and access controls should be implemented to protect sensitive geodata. 

Regular monitoring, maintenance, and optimization of the database infrastructure are also essential to ensure optimal performance.

Read more: If you’re working with large sets of geographic data, be sure to learn more about automating geodata updates.

CDNs for worldwide availability

Starting from the basics, CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. It plays a crucial role in achieving worldwide availability for all kinds of apps, including those that rely on mapping, geolocation, and traffic data. CDNs consist of geographically distributed servers that store and deliver content to users based on their geographical proximity. By utilizing CDNs, businesses can minimize latency and improve response times for users accessing map data, location-based services, and traffic information from different regions around the world.

Read more: Look how our we managed to optimize logistics operations cost with hybrid cloud architecture for the 2nd largest logistics platform in Europe –

Designing custom map data layers

Designing custom map data layers involves several key aspects, including collecting and preparing data, data conversion, styling and symbolization, and adding interactivity.

To begin, collecting and preparing data involves techniques for gathering spatial data, which include using data from public sources or purchasing it from 3rd-party data providers. The collected data often needs to be cleaned, filtered, and standardized to meet the specific requirement of the custom map data layers we’re trying to build.

Next, data conversion is crucial to make the collected data compatible with mapping libraries and platforms. This may involve converting data into common formats like GeoJSON, Shapefile, or KML.

Styling and symbolization play a vital role in visually representing the custom map data layers. By utilizing attributes and style properties, businesses can apply different colors, line thicknesses, or patterns to represent specific data values or categories. This allows users to visually interpret the information displayed on the map and understand the underlying patterns or trends.

Adding interactivity enhances the user experience by allowing users to interact with and select individual map features. This can be achieved by incorporating functionality like tooltips, pop-ups, or highlighting selected regions when interacting with the map.

Throughout the design process, it is important to consider the performance implications of custom map data layers. Large datasets or complex styling can impact the rendering speed of the map. Employing techniques like data simplification, clustering, or tiling can help optimize the performance and ensure smooth interactions with the custom layers.

By carefully considering the collection and preparation of data, converting data into compatible formats, applying appropriate styling and symbolization techniques, and incorporating interactivity, businesses can create compelling and informative custom map data layers.

Watch more: We’ve recently organized a webinar on GIS data visualization, which you can access for free via the highlighted link.

How does Waze and Google Maps make money

Waze and Google Maps generate revenue through various strategies, including advertisement integration, freemium models, in-app purchases, and partnership opportunities.

Ads integration

Advertisement integration is a significant revenue source for both Waze and Google Maps. These apps offer targeted advertising options by displaying location-based ads to users. Advertisements can appear as banner ads, promoted pins, or sponsored listings within the app. Ad networks and platforms are often utilized to connect businesses with the app's user base, allowing them to reach potential customers based on their location and interests.

Freemium and in-app purchases

Freemium models and in-app purchases are another avenue for revenue generation. While Waze and Google Maps are free to use, they offer additional features or premium content through in-app purchases or subscription plans. For example, Google Maps offers a subscription service called Google Maps Platform, which provides access to advanced features, APIs, and usage limits for businesses and developers.


Partnership opportunities play a significant role in monetizing these apps. Both Waze and Google Maps explore collaborations with local businesses, travel agencies, and other interested organizations. This can involve sponsored content, such as displaying offers or promotions from businesses in the app's interface. Additionally, integrating services like ride-sharing or food delivery within the app creates opportunities for revenue sharing or referral partnerships.

Moreover, Waze and Google Maps also collect anonymized data on user behavior and traffic patterns, which can be utilized for market research, analytics, or sold to third-party entities, providing additional revenue streams.

By combining advertisement integration, freemium models, in-app purchases, and partnership opportunities, Waze and Google Maps create diverse revenue streams while offering valuable services. These strategies enable the apps to remain free to use while generating income through various channels.

How to build an MVP for a navigation app with RST Software

Building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for a navigation app with the RST Software follows a simple, step-by-step process:

Ideation and conceptualization

Brainstorming ideas and defining the core concept of your navigation app during a product workshop help identify the unique value proposition and target audience.

Product scoping sessions 

By working closely with the developers team, you can gather requirements and define the key features and functionalities for your MVP. Prioritize features that align with your app's core concept and provide a basic navigation experience.

UX/UI design

Engaging with RST Software's UX/UI designers provides you with clickable wireframes and visual designs for the navigation app. Focus on the mobile-first design, as your app will most likely be used primarily on mobile devices.

Technology stack selection

When collaborating with the RST Software team, we consult and offer recommendations when choosing the appropriate technology stack for your navigation app. Consider factors such as scalability, compatibility with mapping APIs and SDKs, and future development plans.

Backend and API development

Our developers and DevOps architects will work on building the backend infrastructure to handle data storage, integration with mapping and geolocation APIs, and implementing necessary algorithms for route calculation and navigation functionalities.

Frontend development

Simultaneously, our frontend team will turn designs into an actual interfaces of the app, focusing on integrating with mapping services, and implementing core navigation features such as map display, location tracking, and basic routing.

Testing and quality assurance

Conducting rigorous testing helps ensure the functionality, performance, and reliability of your MVP is up to world-class standards. RST Software's QA team will identify and fix any bugs or usability issues, ensuring a smooth user experience.

Iterative nature of product development

Gathering user feedback and iterating on it is crucial to the success of your MVP. Incorporate user insights, refine features, and make necessary enhancements based on real-world usage.


Deploying the MVP to a limited user base, also called soft-launching, helps you to analyze user behavior and leverage feedback to make data-driven decisions for further improvements and feature prioritization.

Ongoing support and maintenance

When working with us, you can expect an assistance with ongoing support, maintenance, and future development iterations as your navigation app evolves.


In conclusion, mastering GPS app development is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor for CEOs and business leaders.

By following the insights and strategies outlined in this guide, you can navigate the intricacies of GPS app development and create navigation apps that rival the likes of Waze and Google Maps. From understanding user needs and leveraging cutting-edge technologies to implementing monetization strategies and ensuring global availability, CEOs can position their companies for success in the competitive navigation app market.

Remember, the key lies in providing a seamless user experience, incorporating valuable features, and constantly evolving the app based on user feedback and market insights. 

With dedication, innovation, and a user-centric approach, you, as a CEO, can lead your company to develop innovative products that transform how people navigate and explore the world.

And, if you need help with building your GPS app, simply contact us!

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