Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Apple's Location Services Work

Even though I like apples (specially the one which fell on Newton's head), I am not found of Apple as a corporation. Mainly because it is too secretive in its technologies and methods of doing something amazing. Location Services are one of those secretive things which need to be so secret but you can figure-out how it works.

Apple's Locations services uses (in order) A-GPS, Wi-Fi triangulation and Cell Triangulation (base on capability of your device).

Uses A-GPS
When you are outdoors, works amazingly.
Works poorly in urban environment with tall buildings. Even your vehicle roof is a problem for A-GPS. Doesn't work without GPS chip in device (case for iPod).

Uses cellular tower triangulation
Even with it's worst accuracy, sometimes it is more accurate than GPS in urban environment. This is because performance doesn't decrease in urban environments due to many towers triangulating in cities nowadays. 
Cellular tower triangulation as it is way too in accurate for the accuracy need of the day. This is option only when when no other medium of deciding location available.

Uses Wi-Fi triangulations
Works very accurate when one or more wi-fi is available in area. You need not to connect to a Wi-Fi, nether the Wi-Fi needs to know your requirement of locating your device. If the location of Wi-Fi is stored in Apple's giant database of all Wi-Fi and their co-ordinates, you are in luck. Your device contact Apple's service and based on Wi-Fi details, Apple will send you Wi-Fi coordinates. I am not sure if device triangulates the Wi-Fi once the coordinates are found or Apple's service will do it - but end result is accurate coordinates.
You need to be in range of one or more Wi-Fi. If you are using iPod, you should be connected with internet.

How Does Apple Get all Wi-Fi Locations?
Hmm... so the world need to have a database of all wi-fi and their locations. It is still guess for the people how apple has got this database? This is what I think based on recent controversies regarding Apple's privacy policy regarding sharing your iPhone location with Apple's Service:
When your device has correct location decided, it also looks for wi-fi around your device. It stores those information on iPhone and iTunes on your computer sends it to Apple. And so, this list has grown 2 fold in day and 4 fold in night (it is just saying).
Note that before to iOS 3.2, this was not the case so Apple used to use (and still using for older devices) Skyhook Wireless and Google's services for WiFi triangulations.

Now you are ready for next level: Go to Apple's Office Discloser of its Location Service and know more about it.