How to Turn On Location Services on Your iPhone or Android

Knowing where you are helps many apps do their job

Red GPS marker on a map

KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Smartphones help you find where you are by using a feature called Location Services.

Thanks to Location Services, if you've got your smartphone on you, you never have to be lost. Even if you don't know where you are or where you're going, your smartphone knows your location and how to get you almost anywhere. Even better, if you're going out for a meal or looking for a store, your phone can make recommendations for what's near you. With Location Services, you can also use your phone to send your current location to friends and family and make it easy for them to meet up with you.

So, whether you've got an iPhone or Android phone, here's how to turn on Location Services for your device.

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What Are Locations Services and How Do They Work?

Location Services is the name for a set of features used to determine your location (or the location of your phone, at least) and then provide content and services based on that. Google Maps, Find My iPhone, Yelp, and many more apps all use your phone's location to tell you where to drive, where your lost or stolen phone is now, or how many great burritos are within a quarter mile of where you're standing.

Location Services work by tapping into both the hardware on your phone and multiple kinds of data about the internet. The backbone of Location Services is usually GPS. Most smartphones have a GPS chip built into them. This lets your phone connect to the Global Positioning System network to get its location.

GPS is great, but it's not always completely accurate. To get even better information about where you are, Location Services also use data about cellular phone networks, nearby Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth devices to pinpoint where you are. Combine GPS and network data with crowd-sourced data and extensive mapping technology from both Apple and Google, and you've got a powerful combination for figuring out what street you're on, what store you're near, and much more.

Some higher-end smartphones add even more sensors, like a compass or gyroscope. Location Services figures out where you are; These sensors determine what direction you're facing and how you're moving. 

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How to Turn on Location Services on iPhone

Location Services on iPhone screenshot

You may have enabled Location Services when you set up your iPhone. If not, turning them on is super easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Privacy.
  3. Tap Location Services.
  4. Move the Location Services slider to on/green. Location Services are now turned on and apps that need them can start accessing your location right away.

These instructions were written using iOS 13, but the same steps — or very nearly the same — apply to iOS 8 and up.

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How to Turn on Location Services on Android

Location services on Android screenshot

Like on iPhone, Location Services are enabled during setup of your Android device, but you can also enable them later by doing this:

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Location.
  3. Move the slider to On.
  4. Tap Mode.
  5. Select the Mode you prefer:
    1. High accuracy: Delivers the most accurate location information by using GPS, Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth, and cellular networks to determine your location. It's got the highest accuracy, but it uses more battery and has less privacy.
    2. Battery saving: Saves battery by not using GPS, but still uses the other technologies. Less accurate, and it also has lower privacy.
    3. Device only: Best if you care a lot about privacy and are OK with somewhat less accurate data. Because it doesn't use cellular, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, it leaves fewer digital tracks.

These instructions were written using Android 7.1.1, but they should be fairly similar to other, recent versions of Android.

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When Apps Ask to Access Location Services

iPhone location tracking alert

Apple Inc.

Apps that use Location Services may ask for permission to access your location the first time you launch them. You can choose to allow access or not, but some apps need to know your location to function properly. When making this choice, just ask yourself if it makes sense for the app to use your location. 

Your phone may also occasionally ask if you want to keep letting an app use your location. This is a privacy feature to make sure you're aware of what data apps are accessing. Apple's privacy options for this feature are more robust than Android's. On the iPhone, the pop-up window lets you choose to allow the app to access your location at all times, only when you use it, or never. It will also show the locations where the app has tracked you to provide better understanding of what the tracking means.

Want to learn more about protecting your privacy on the iPhone? Check out How to Protect Private Info Stored on Your iPhone.

If you decide you want to turn off all Location Services, or prevent some apps from using that information, read How to Turn Off Location Services on Your iPhone or Android.