These days, nearly every smartphone comes with a global positioning system (GPS) built directly into its hardware. GPS units allow your phone to detect its exact location, and that makes it possible for you to communicate effectively with 911 services and use software packages that serve as virtual maps, compasses, or navigation assistants.

The truth is, there isn’t much difference between iPhone vs. Android GPS capabilities. iOS and Android software can take advantage of the two primary global positioning technologies, Assisted GPS (A-GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). Users of both the iPhone and the Android-powered Galaxy S4, for instance, can access both of these system types.


Traditional GPS relies on positioning information from 24 satellites in orbit around the Earth; your phone is able to interact with these satellites to determine your precise location. 

According to, there are two types of data your phone needs to work with the satellites. Ephemeris data allows your phone to determine the exact position of a satellite, and almanac data shows the approximate location of a satellite in its orbit, which will prevent your phone from looking for a satellite that’s below the horizon. Additionally, the time to first fix (TTFF), a measure of how long it takes for your phone to lock in to a satellite’s position, is important.

TTFF connection times can reach over ten minutes, especially if your phone is sending out a weak signal from inside a building or tunnel. This is an unacceptable time frame for 911 operators who may need your position immediately. It is TTFF specifically that created the need for a special type of global positioning, A-GPS.

With A-GPS, your phone uses your mobile service provider’s network to acquire ephemeris data. This speeds up TTFF times so 911 services can detect your location virtually immediately. Your mobile network essentially builds the strength of your phone’s signal.


The other main global navigation system, GLONASS, was developed by both Russia and the United States. It began as a Russian project, and now serves as an alternative to traditional GPS. The largest benefit to GLONASS, Digital Trends points out, is that it can provide better location accuracy in the Earth’s northern latitudes. 

Your phone, in particular, also benefits from having access to each of these systems. No matter your location on Earth, software on your phone can use the best system to determine your exact position. If you are a resident of or traveling in Russia, you may benefit from more precise location data as a result of GLONASS.

These types of global navigation systems make apps like Google Maps and iOS Maps possible. Google Maps comes standard on Android devices, and allows you to access turn-by-turn navigation in your car, on your bike, and even while you are walking, with the app displaying different custom routes for each activity. It can even show you a 3D street view after determining your location.

Similarly, iOS Maps comes standard on all iOS devices as its default navigation app. It also displays turn-by-turn navigation, and it lets you to look at a full-screen display of either a 2D or 3D perspective of your location. It can even provide you with traffic information and an estimated time of arrival. If you think you will be late, you can use iOS Maps to attempt to find a faster route to your destination.

In the battle between iPhone vs. Android GPS systems, you can use your chosen device for leisure activities, navigation for work or play, and as an emergency beacon. Have you checked your phone’s technical specs lately to see if you can use both A-GPS and GLONASS? Which navigation app do you prefer?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons




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