How to Turn On Location Services on Your iPhone or Android

Knowing where you are helps many apps do their job

Global positioning system marker
KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Smartphones have a feature that helps you find where you are by using something called Location Services.

That means 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 nearby recommendations.

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

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What Are Locations Services and How Do They Work?

location services
image credit: Geber86/E+/Getty Images

Location Services is the overall name for a set of related 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 that 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

turn on location services on iPhone

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 11, 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

turn on location services on android

Like on iPhone, Location Services are enabled during setup on Android, 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, but with the same low 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
image credit: 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.

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.

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