Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Issue with iPhone/iPad GPS? Lets fix it!

What you can do in case when GPS in your iPhone or iPad is not working properly?

I'm an author of a GPS app - "Speedometer - Speed Limit Alert and Trip Cost Monitor" and I've witnessed cases and issues with my customers that have built my quite solid "GPS issues"  knowledge base.

Let me share. Despite of some old images in this article, it is being updated constantly (last update is November 3rd, 2017)

Step 0. Disconnect your iPhone or cellular iPad from USB/Lightning. 

To keep the experimenting clean, please plug off your iPhone from USB/Lighting. This will help to avoid cases of charger or car location system interfering with the iPhone's location system.

Step 1. Check if airplane mode is not ON.

If airplane mode is ON, all the receivers in your iPhone/iPad are shutdown. And GPS is one of them that is going to be turned off in that case.

Step 2. Check if you have location services enabled.

Starting with iOS6 this is located under Settings->Privacy->Location Services

Location services enable iPhone/iPad to track your location either via GPS, cellular cells or wifi. In versions previous to iOS6 Location Services switch is located directly in the root page of the Settings menu.

Step 3. Check if location services are enabled for a specific app.

It may happen that you tapped by mistake on Decline/NO when specific app was asking for access to Location Services. If you tapped on Decline/NO, then this app would not be able to track your location.
Tap on Location Services row in the settings and see if you have this app in the list and its access to Location Services is set to ON (or from iOS8 and higher, please check that is either "Always" or "When in Use", dependent on what app needs).

Step 4. Power down/on cycle.

Still no luck? Power down the iPhone or cellular iPad, wait for a minute and then power it on. This step freshens the GPS module and gives good chances that you'll see better location readings.

Step 5. Deep HW reset.

Let me add one more point - do a deep iPhone restart. Don't worry, it will not delete any data on iPhone, it just does a deeper HW refresh - please hold power and home button simultaneously until the iPhone restarts and try GPS after that. iPhone 7 utilizes a different method to complete the force restart ("On an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus: Press and hold both the Sleep/Wake and Volume Down buttons for at least ten seconds, until you see the Apple logo.)  This is described on this Apple Support page.

That was about basics! If you got to this point and location services are still not working for you, lets dive a bit deeper.

If you checked/tried all of the above and still not satisfied with location services lets go through the symptoms:

A. Location services are not accurate and often the device/app can't locate me. If it locates me I can be off on map for hundreds of meters/feet. 

Remember that for the accurate location tracking a GPS signal is required. GPS may do its job properly only when you are located under the sky. If you are inside the building or between higher buildings, your iPhone/iPad may not be able to identify your position by means of GPS.

What I can do? Get to the place where your iPhone/iPad can "see" the sky :), give it 10-15 seconds until the device will be able to read GPS coordinates properly.

B. When I'm on wifi I can see my location on the map, but if I'm not connected to wifi I can't see my location on the map.

Be ready for a surprise! If you own iPod or a wifi only iPad, you'll get to discover that they don't actually have a GPS chip built-in. So they can get their approximate location when they are connected to a wifi. The accuracy of that location will never be better than 50 meters, and they loose the ability to know about where you are once you disconnect from wifi.

What can I do? You can use an external GPS module. There are quite a few available, I can recommend a bluetooth module (but not every bluetooth module will connect to iPad/iPod, beware!) as you are not dependent on a connector type then. For my wifi only iPad I first bought a GARMIN GLO bluetooth module and then I went for Bad Elf PRO module. I compared both here:

 Ok. Get some app to measure the GPS accuracy with. There are many, and of course I use my own :)!

C. I've got a cellular (3G, 4G, LTE) iPad or iPhone (higher than 3G) and still no luck with accurate location readings or it can't locate me at all!

Here is a free version of my speedometer app in the AppStore. Downloaded? Disconnected from wifi? Lets go!

Test procedure:
Start the app (confirm it can use Location Services :)), get under the open sky with no obstructions. If everything is ok with GPS, within 10-15 seconds the GPS indicator should turn from white or red (with OFF value):

 to green with STRONG value.

Doesn't happen? Then try:

1. Switch to the airplane mode, wait for 10 seconds. Turn the airplane mode to OFF. Retry the test procedure.
2. Power down the iPhone/iPad by long press on the power button and then swipe on a confirmation message to complete the shutdown. Power on the device with power button. Retry the test procedure.

I hope it works for you now as otherwise you are entering the shadow area of a possible hardware malfunction. This is probably the right moment to contact the service center and don't wait until the warranty expires!

[Update 12-Oct-2013] One of our customers had this case on his iPhone and it proved to shield the GPS signal away: Just be ware. The best way to test if your iPhone's case is breaking the GPS signal is to take it off and try without it. 

Subaru owner!? [Update July 4th 2017] This is probably the most bizarre one of all possible cases! We've been troubleshooting it with one of the speedometer users, Tom, for a several weeks until Tom narrowed down the case of non-working GPS to built-in USB charging plug in his Subaru!!! Here is a thread on Subaru forums confirming this really bizarre problem: and here is a video that Tom agreed to share:

To troubleshoot this, just switch USB from the built-in USB charger to an external charger connected to a 12V plug or run iPhone without plugging to the power outlet at all for a minute to see if problem is not caused by USB interference. Subaru, really?!

Cadillac owner? [Update November 3rd 2017]. It was a great troubleshooting with Jim from US who had Cadillac XTS 2017 rented and found out that actually plugging his iPhone to car's "direct USB" port made speed readings erratic. Everything worked alright with the "charger" usb port.


If you think you have GPS issues with your iPhone/iPad don't hesitate to write in the comments and I will try to come up with a solution. Article covers about 99% of GPS issues and solutions I have encountered. Your rare case might fall into the left out 1%, do comment/share!

And let me be a businessman :) and give you a link to a full version of my speedometer app. Which I believe might be one of the better ones :)!


[Update 20-Feb-2014] Good guidance from Strava software on GPS troubleshooting:

[Update 20-Apr-2015] There is an issue with External GPS modules and iOS8.3 release. Most of module manufactures issued statements saying they know about the problem and reported it to Apple. As of the moment, until Apple releases the update, the only solution is to downgrade to iOS8.2:

[Update 4-Jul-2015] iOS 8.4 fixes the issue with external/bluetooth GPS receivers, but you may experience an issue with the built-in GPS receiver! You can try this link: for fixing your broken GPS in iOS8.4 or consult this discussion thread: