The location sharing features on iPhones are quite impressive, and quite useful!
However, what many people don’t know is that iPhones use more than just GPS to determine its location, and the results are surprisingly accurate.
Whether you’re looking for a lost iPhone, sharing your location with a friend or simply curious, you may be wondering – how accurate is your iPhone’s location?
In this article, we’ll cover everything that you need to know!
How Accurate Is An iPhone’s Location?
Typically, your iPhone’s location will be accurate within 15-20 feet. This exact number can vary depending on what method your iPhone is using to estimate its location, as well as the signal the device is able to achieve.
With a weak signal to GPS and the internet, the accuracy of your phone’s location will diminish.
You will get the most accurate results if you are outside, with a clear view of the sky and a strong cellular or Wi-Fi signal.
Thankfully, 15-20 feet is more than enough to determine where your iPhone is at if it’s lost, or where somebody is currently at if using the location sharing feature.
Additionally, if you’ve happened to lose your iPhone it is also a small enough radius to search for it and find it fairly quickly.
How Location Is Determined On iPhones
Many people don’t know this, but your iPhone actually uses a number of different methods to determine its location. While most assume that the location is solely based off of GPS, this is only one of the factors that Apple uses.
This is why it’s still possible to estimate your location, even if location services or location sharing is turned off. We’ve seen TikTok using some of these factors to guess a person’s location even when not sharing location data, so Apple isn’t the only one doing it either!
In total, location services on your iPhone use GPS, your Wi-Fi network, your cellular service and Bluetooth to determine your location. Let’s look over some of these methods in more detail.
The first, and most accurate method iPhone uses is GPS.
While GPS can approximate your location better than any other method, it is not always perfect. GPS signals may be affected by weather, trees, and any structure above your device (such as the roof of a building, or a tunnel.)
Additionally, GPS is powered by satellites in the sky, that are constantly moving around. It is possible for the accuracy of your phone’s GPS to change by the second. Even if a good signal can approximate location within 15-20 feet, a weak signal can cause the accuracy to weaken substantially.
Therefore, if your iPhone isn’t able to acquire a good GPS signal, it may use other methods instead to approximate your location.
2. Cellular Towers
Another method that can determine your iPhone’s location, is the cellular towers used to provide service to your device.
By pinging the nearby cell phone towers in your area and measuring the the signal and distance away from them, your iPhone can gain a rough idea on where it’s actually at. This is called cellular triangulation, and it’s one of the ways that emergency services can find your location if you call 911 for example, which is pretty neat!
However, it is less accurate than GPS. According to the FCC, cellular triangulation is accurate within 3/4ths of a square mile. However, in densely populated areas where there are more cell phone towers present, field tests show that cellular triangulation is typically accurate within 150 to 300 meters.
Although it is far less accurate than GPS, there may be times when it is more reliable to use. So, Apple falls back on it in case it’s needed.
3. Wi-Fi Mapping
Finally, we have Wi-Fi mapping – or Wi-Fi triangulation.
This is similar to the cellular triangulation described previously, but is even more accurate – even if you aren’t connected to a Wi-Fi network. It is also sometimes used in conjunction with GPS to improve its accuracy, which is called Wi-Fi assisted GPS.
Many people don’t know this, but our Wi-Fi networks are being recorded and mapped. Because of this, it’s possible to approximate your location simply by knowing what Wi-Fi networks are near your device, even if you never connect to them.
This works similar to pinging cell towers. By measuring both the nearby networks as well as how strong your signal is to each one, it is possible to approximate your location within 2-4 meters. Of course, accuracy can vary wildly depending on the strength and density of nearby networks.
In some cases, it may be even more accurate than GPS – hence why Wi-Fi assisted GPS is so useful.
How Accurate Is Share My Location On iPhone?
Share My Location is typically accurate within 15-20 feet of your iPhone, making it extremely reliable to use.
However, the exact accuracy can vary depending on how strong your iPhone’s signal is, and what method it’s using to determine your location.
This is because Share My Location uses the exact same methods described previously to approximate the location of your device. While Wi-Fi mapping and GPS can be accurate within a few meters, this isn’t always the case. If your signal isn’t strong, the weather is bad or you’re under a heavy structure, it’s possible that it may not even be accurate within 1,000 meters.
So while you can usually rely on Share My Location (and other location-based features like ‘Find My iPhone’), the answer is always going to be “it depends.”
An iPhone’s location is usually extremely accurate, within 15 to 20 feet of the actual device. However, many factors can affect the location’s accuracy.
iPhones use several different methods to approximate its location, but will always optimize to be as accurate as possible.
I hope that you’ve found this article helpful. If you have any other questions about iPhone or location tracking, please ask them using the comment form below.
Wishing you the best,
– James McAllister