iOS 5: Understanding Location Services

Learn about the different location services that an iOS 5 device (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) can use to determine your location. 

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

For information on using Location Services to track your location in Maps and other apps, see the user guide for your product.

Location Services allows location-dependent apps and websites (including Maps, Camera, Safari, and other Apple and third-party apps) to use information from cellular, Wi-Fi1, and Global Positioning System (GPS)2 networks to determine your approximate location.

For example, an app might use your location data and location search query to help you find nearby coffee shops or theaters, or your device may set its time zone automatically based on your current location. You must enable Location Services on your device and give your permission to each app or website before it can use your location data.

Note: For safety purposes, your iPhone’s location information may be used for emergency calls to aid response efforts regardless of whether you enable Location Services.

About location precision or accuracy

Depending on your device and available services, Location Services uses a combination of cellular, Wi-Fi, and GPS to determine your location. If you're not within a clear line of sight to GPS satellites, your device can determine your location using crowd-sourced Wi-Fi3 and cell tower locations.

Apps that display your location on the screen, including Maps, indicate your current (approximate) location using a blue marker. If your location can’t be determined precisely, a blue circle also appears around the marker. The size of the circle depends on how accurately your location can be determined—the smaller the circle, the greater the accuracy.

Blue circle on map

Note: When Location Services is active, a purple or white arrow icon appears in the status bar.

Maps, directions, and location-based apps depend on data services. These data services are subject to change and may not be available in all geographic areas, resulting in maps, directions, or location-based information that may be unavailable, inaccurate, or incomplete. Compare the information provided on the device to your surroundings and defer to posted signs to resolve any discrepancies.

Learn more

Turning Location Services on or off

You can turn Location Services on or off at Settings > Location Services. You can turn Location Services on either during the Setup Assistant process or later through the Location Services setting. You can turn it off if you don't want to use this feature or to conserve battery life. You can individually control which apps and system services have access to Location Services data.

Location Services System Services
Settings > Location Services Settings > Location Services > System Services

Resetting location warnings

Location warnings are the requests made by apps (such as Camera, Compass, and Maps as well as location-dependent third-party apps) to use Location Services with those apps. An app will present a location warning the first time it needs to access Location Services data. Tapping OK gives that app permission to use Location Services as needed. Tapping Don't Allow prevents an app from accessing Location Services data from then on.

Location warning

You may choose to disable Location Services at any time. To do so, tap Settings > Location Services and either turn off all location services using the Location Services slider or use the individual sliders for each location-aware app or item on your device. To disable Location Services for all websites, turn off the location switch for the Safari app. You may also disable location-based system services on your device by tapping on System Services and turning off the switch for each location-based system service on your device.

If you turn Location Services off, you'll be prompted to turn it on again the next time an app tries to use this feature.

Improving GPS Accuracy2

GPS accuracy varies depending on the number of visible GPS satellites. Locating all visible satellites can take several minutes, with accuracy gradually increasing over time. Use these tips to improve GPS accuracy:

  • Ensure the date, time, and timezone are correctly set on the device in Settings > General > Date & Time. If possible, use Set Automatically.
    Important: Incorrect settings on your computer can sync to your device. Verify the date, time, and timezone on any computer that syncs with your device.
  • Verify that Wi-Fi is enabled and that you have a cellular or Wi-Fi network connection. This allows the Assisted GPS (A-GPS) on the device to locate visible GPS satellites faster, in addition to providing initial location information using the Wi-Fi or cellular networks. Note: Microcells (sometimes called Femtocells) aren't supported with Location Services.
  • Maintain a clear view of the horizon in several directions. Keep in mind that walls, vehicle roofs, tall buildings, mountains, and other obstructions can block line of sight to GPS satellites. When this occurs, your device will automatically use Wi-Fi or cellular networks to determine your position, until the GPS satellites are visible again.

Crowd-sourced Wi-Fi and cellular Location Services

If Location Services is on, your device will periodically send the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple, to augment the crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower locations. In addition, if you are traveling (for example, in a car) and Location Services is on, a GPS-enabled iOS device will also periodically send GPS locations and travel speed information in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple, to be used for building up a crowd-sourced road traffic database. The crowd-sourced location data gathered by Apple does not personally identify you.


If you allow third-party apps or websites to use your current location, you are subject to their terms and privacy policy and practices. You should review the terms, privacy policies, and practices of the apps and websites to understand how they use your location and other information. Information Apple collects will be treated in accordance with Apple's Privacy Policy.


  1. iOS devices without a cellular connection only use Wi-Fi for Location Services (if a Wi-Fi network is visible).
  2. GPS is available on iPhone and iPad Wi-Fi + 3G models.
  3. iOS devices sold in China mainland may use the term Wireless LAN (WLAN) instead of Wi-Fi. Not all China mainland iPhone models support WLAN.

Information about products not manufactured by Apple, or independent websites not controlled or tested by Apple, is provided without recommendation or endorsement. Apple assumes no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance, or use of third-party websites or products. Apple makes no representations regarding third-party website accuracy or reliability. Contact the vendor for additional information.

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