These Apps Know Where You Are
Smartphones and tablets feature sensors that can pinpoint your location, which can allow the apps on your phone to use your whereabouts in a variety of ways. The best location-aware apps do more than just tell us about exactly where we are — they offer useful features based on our location. From location-based discovery tools and smart search to games and exercise tracking, here are 15 of our favorite location-aware mobile apps for Android and iOS devices.
Foursquare & Swarm (Android, iOS: Free)
Foursquare was an innovator in location-aware apps, helping popularize the idea of "checking in" to locations through your mobile device. Foursquare has since split its app into two parts: Foursquare (Android, iOS) continued on as a location-aware smart search tool focusing on discovery of nearby locations, events, restaurants and shops, while Swarm (Android, iOS) was released for those addicted to checking in and location sharing with friends. Users enter their favorite foods and activities, and Foursquare helps them find nearby places that fit the bill. Swarm helps you meet up with your friends by broadcasting your location to your Foursquare/Swarm contacts, letting you quickly see who's nearby, and where. Check in to a place, post a status message that you're looking to hang out and get in touch with your friends using Swarm.
Glympse (Android, iOS: Free)
Of course, Foursquare and Swarm are no longer the only game in the block when it comes to location sharing. Glympse (Android, iOS) is a popular location-sharing service that earns praise for its combination of features and ease of use. The app works by sending a "glympse," a link that your contacts can open to view your current location, as well as ETA to a location. Users can also share their locations as a group, selectively configure their location sharing and expire particular glympses to stop displaying their location. Another plus is the app doesn't need a sign up, working straight off your existing phone contacts.
Pokemon Go (Android, iOS: Free)
While the craze has cooled since it first debuted, Pokémon Go (Android, iOS) remains a mobile gaming hit, combining the addictive creature collection and monster battling gameplay of Nintendo's Pokémon with Niantic's augmented reality technology. Players explore their neighborhood on foot, using their smartphone as map and viewfinder in order to discover and collect Pokémon, as well as to collect items in Pokéstops. Join one of the game's three factions, and you can battle it out for control of your neighborhood's Pokémon Gyms. Each PokéStop and Gym is tied to real world locations that you need to physically travel to, encouraging players to explore their neighborhood and get their feet in gear.
Ingress (Android, iOS: Free)
Before Pokémon Go, there was Ingress (Android, iOS), Niantic Labs' location-based augmented reality game. Taking a page from old letterboxing and geocaching games, Ingress has players explore their neighborhood on foot and use their smartphones to battle for control of local landmarks, structures, and monuments, while flying the flag for the Enlightened or the Resistance in a conspiracy theory-tinged science fiction storyline.
NPS National Mall (Android, iOS: Free)
Location-based tech also makes a great resource for tourists. A neat example is the National Parks Service's National Mall app (Android, iOS), which works as an excellent companion app to exploring the historical buildings and monuments that surround the nation's capital. The app comes with a detailed map that tracks landmarks and other points of interest, complete with a "Locate Me" button, and users can also explore a "Park Lens" augmented reality view that tags surrounding buildings.
Target (Android, iOS)
Target (Android, iOS) has incorporated location-aware tech into its store assistant app with its "Drive Up" curbside pickup program, which is slowly rolling out nationwide. Users can order their goods from their nearest Target store, and then select Drive Up in the checkout options, allowing you to pick up your order at the curb, instead of having to enter the store. The app will send you a notification when your order is ready for pickup, and the app uses location-aware tech to track your location en route to the designated Drive Up parking slot, making sure that Target's staff are ready with your order when you pull up. Show a barcode on the app, sign for the order, and just like that, you're done with your fastest ever Target shopping trip.
LinkedIn (Android, iOS)
Business networking giant LinkedIn (Android, iOS) is also experimenting with location-aware features in its mobile apps, highlighted by the newly introduced Your Commute feature. That feature take into account expected commute times from home to your prospective job locations, factoring in options for driving, commuting, and walking. It's a great addition to all of the info that LinkedIn provides to help assess employment opportunities, with plans down the line to use this data to help filter results in LinkedIn's job search results.
Detour (Android, iOS: $4.99/tour)
For a more guided experience to urban exploration, check out Detour (Android, iOS), which takes advantage of your phone's GPS to provide guided walking tours of (in)famous neighborhoods and landmarks of cities around the world (with an emphasis on Detour's home town of San Francisco). More than simple audio files, the app's hour-long tours trigger their audio clips when you approach landmarks, along with background music. Users can explore San Francisco neighborhoods such as Haight-Ashbury and the Tenderloin, as well as tours in New York's Central Park, Berlin's Kreuzberg, and more.
Family Locator (Android, iOS: Free)
For something tailored more for families and small groups, there's Family Locator by Life 360 (Android, iOS), an app for quickly sharing your location with small circles like family and friends. A "Circles" system allows you to create and selectively share to small groups (like say a Family circle and a Work circle), and from there, you can view real-time maps of shared locations, receive automatic notifications of arrival and departure at favorite locations, and easily communicate one-on-one or to groups within the app. A premium subscription adds extra features, such as an on-call Live Advisor and roadside assistance.
Dark Sky (Android: Free; iOS: $3.99)
Kickstarter-funded weather app Dark Sky (Android, iOS) impressed many with its hyper-accurate local weather forecasting, with down-to-the-minute rain and snow predictions using radar mapping. Dark Sky's one Achilles heel was the lack of longer-term forecasting, but that's no longer the case with the addition of data from Forecast.io. The latest version of Dark Sky now includes a 24-hour and week-ahead forecasting, in addition to an iOS interface update with new light backgrounds that make the radar maps easier to read. Ridiculously accurate up-to-the minute forecasts hyper-localized to your area make this one of our location-aware favorites. An Android version just came out, though with a freemium subscription model: free users getting a 24 hour, 7-day forecast, while premium subscribers get down to the minute precipitation forecasts, weather alerts and other features.
Gas Buddy (Android, iOS: Free)
Motorists in the U.S. and Canada stand to save some serious change with GasBuddy (Android, iOS), a mobile app that helps users track down the cheapest nearby gas station based on their present location. As many of the prices are based on user reports, GasBuddy rewards users with points for reporting and updating a station's prices. Those points make you eligible for regular raffles of prizes, such as free gas.
Waze (Android, iOS: Free)
Waze (Android, iOS) serves as a combination of social network and crowd-sourced traffic map, allowing drivers to report traffic conditions and incidents and share them in a living map to the benefit of all. In addition to live traffic maps, Waze also provides routing and turn-by-turn directions, with routes optimized based on current traffic data and automatic rerouting based on changing conditions. Additionally, the app learns your commuting hours, frequent destinations and preferred routes, which helps it better personalize its route plans and recommendations.
Any.do Premium (Android, iOS: $2.99/mo)
Any.do (Android, iOS) is one of the best cross-platform to-do lists and productivity aids out there, and the premium subscriber version ($2.99/mo) also unlocks location-based reminders and notifications, giving extra context to your tasks and to-dos. All of that is in addition to Any.do's excellent package of reminders, collaboration tools, and scheduling.
Trigger (Android: Free)
Trigger is a fantastically versatile app that can automatically trigger a variety of phone actions based on NFC tags, Wi-Fi network connections, Bluetooth connections and more. With an in-app upgrade, users can set geofences as task triggers, allowing them to automatically turn Wi-Fi on or off when they leave their workplace or send an "I'm home" SMS to their loved ones when they get back from work. The possibilities are limited only by your ingenuity.
Happn (Android, iOS: Free)
Other apps find quirkier uses for location data that you're willing to share. Dating app Happn (Android, iOS) is all about missed connections and close encounters, highlighting interesting people that you might have crossed paths with down the jogging path, cafe, or party. When you cross paths with other Happn users, their profiles show up in your feed, which you can then view and like, and if the interest is mutual, then you can message each other and maybe set something up.
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