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 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.
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.
While the craze has cooled since last summer, Pokémon Go (Android, iOS) is still 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.