How to Use the iPhone’s Compass and Level

Hang a painting or find your way home with your iOS device

Women using digital and analog compass devices.

 Getty Images/Hero Images

All Apple iPhones produced since the iPhone 3G in 2008 feature a digital compass and level, placing a few handy tools into your pocket at all times.

Using Your iPhone’s Built-In Compass

To access the compass, begin by launching the Compass app, which appears by default on all current iPhone models. The application is located on your home screen, but if you deleted it, reinstall from the App Store for no charge.

Compass app on iOS home screen.

Calibrating The Compass

When the app is launched for the first time, you will be prompted to calibrate the compass by rotating your phone 360 degrees. To aid the calibration process follow the onscreen animation that Apple provides. After your device is fully calibrated you will be presented with the compass itself.

Understanding The Compass

Hold your iPhone parallel to the ground with the screen facing up. At the center of the compass you'll see a small circle with a crosshair in the center; ensure that your hand is parallel to the ground by tilting your hand to align the crosshair with the center of the compass.

Calibrating the Compass app on iOS.
Ensure that you are holding your device parallel to the ground by aligning the center crosshairs.

A small red arrow, situated above the letter ’N,’ will always point north, while a long, bold white line at the top of your iPhone screen notes the current direction that you are facing.

Compass directions are typically expressed in degrees. Infer your course by either seeing what number the long, bold white line at the top of your iPhone screen aligns with on the outside of the compass circle or by referencing the specific number at the bottom of the screen. The current degree you are facing will update are you rotate your device; it will also showcase a letter notating which cardinal direction is closest.

Compass Tips and Tricks

To keep a close eye on the way you are headed, face your destination and tap the center to establish a line of travel. As the compass moves away from that line, you'll see a red arc spread between your intended heading and your current course. To dismiss the arc, tap the center of the compass once more.

Utilizing the red bar within the iOS Compass app.
Utilize the red bar to keep track of your current course in the Compass app.

At the bottom of the screen, you will also find additional information noting your GPS position (longitude and latitude), current geographical location, and your elevation above sea-level.

Using Your iPhone’s Built-In Level

If you find yourself looking to hang a shelf or painting, you might choose to use the Compass app’s level function to ensure that it isn’t tilted or shifted off center. To use the level, open the Measure app and tap the Level icon at the bottom of the screen.

The level tool was originally bundled with the compass, but with iOS 12, the tool migrated to the Measure app, instead. Functionality remained unchanged, however.

Calibrating The Level

To use the level, calibrate the app with a point that you already have deemed completely flush. A digital level can then note how far off your item is from being perfectly aligned with the original surface.

A green screen showing a calibrated Compass app for leveling.

As an example, if you are hanging a painting on the wall and wish for it to be level with the floor, you would place your iPhone flat against the wall, which tells the device you are working on a vertical axis. You would then move your iPhone either to the top or bottom of the wall so that the device’s edge is touching the ceiling or floor line; this step is essential as we consider the floor and ceiling to both be perfectly level.

Man and woman hang up a painting on the wall.
 Getty Images/ Chris Ryan 

When you are satisfied that your device is in a state that you consider level, tap the screen — it will momentarily turn green and display the number 0. Your iPhone’s level function is now calibrated. You must re-calibrate your level each time you switch axes or align something differently.

Understanding the Level

Place your calibrated iPhone level against an object. As you rotate the object left and right, keep the iPhone pressed against it. The number on your iPhone screen will change depending on how off-center your object is in relation to what you initially calibrated.

Using the Compass app to completely level an item.
The Compass app will alert you to how far off you are from an object being completely level.

The number zero will display on screen when an object is entirely level, while a range of numbers will show when you are not; these numbers are expressed in degrees and allow us to understand how far off our object is from being level. Just continue to rotate your object in the appropriate direction to bring it back to zero — a state of perfect level.

Level Tips and Tricks

At any time in the leveling process, you can tap the screen to re-calibrate your device if needed. When you measure in the vertical axis the screen will present you with two small lines on the left and right sides of the screen. When you measure in the horizontal axis, the screen will show you two circles.