Why iPhone Location Services Can Be More Helpful Than You Think

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With companies like Facebook finding themselves in hot water over their constant usage of the GPS inside your smartphone, we decided it was time to give you a few extra reasons why location services aren’t nearly as nefarious as they’ve been made out to be in the media.

Note: That isn’t to say that you should just go enable location services for every application — when you give an app access to your location, it will potentially hurt your battery life, and you’re giving some company access to your location, which can be used to target you for ads. So you’ll want to make the choices carefully.

You Can Use Them to Help With Groceries

Forgot the milk again, even though it was written right there on the list? With the help of Reminders, you can be sure that nothing gets left behind thanks to a little-known location service that will attach a particular location to any entry you have stashed in the app.

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Say you’re planning to go to Safeway later that day, and want to attach a grocery list to it. Start by creating the list in the Reminders app (again, found on the home screen), and then selecting the small “i” icon that appears next to the first entry on your itinerary. From here you’ll be taken to the following screen:

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Once you’re past this page, scroll down to the “Remind me at a location” option, and then enter the location you want associated with that task.

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If successful, the Reminder should have an indicator just below it that looks something like this:

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After you enter the address you’ll also have the option to change whether the Reminder is sent when your phone is detected as arriving at a destination, or it can be pushed back to only chime in when it sees you’ve already left. This is great for items like that milk because it makes sure you pick up everything you need before you’re so far away that it’s not even worth the trip back anymore.

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They Can Find Your Friends in a Snap

Thanks to Apple’s very own proprietary “Find My Friends” feature, you can use location services to both find your friends wherever they are in the world, as well as broadcast your own location either through the app or via individual text messages.

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To start sharing your location in Find My Friends, simply open up the app from your home screen and click the “Allow” button when asked by the permissions prompt. Now anyone who has you added to their account will be able to quickly peek at where you are in the world without having to get in a whole thing about it over the phone.

The app can also be used to create an automatic task that will text a specific person or group of people when your phone detects you’ve left a certain area, say your home for example. To set up what Apple calls a “Geofence”, start by entering the Find My Friends app, and then tapping the “Me” icon at the bottom of your screen.

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Next, choose the “Notify Friends” option, which will take you to this page:

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Choose “Other”, and then enter your address. Once you do, you’ll see a circle appear that can be adjusted to sit just around the area of your house all the way up to the size of the city you live in in case someone wants to know as soon as you’ve started your road trip.

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After the phone detects you’ve left the pre-designated Geofence, anyone on the Notify list will receive a text letting them know you’re on your way! (And just as with the Reminders trick, you can swap this between arriving or leaving on the fly).

Leave at Just the Right Time, Every Time

RELATED: How to Turn Off Facebook Messenger’s Location Tracking (if it is On)

Have a dentist appointment at 11am, but a meeting back at the office at 12, but aren’t sure how long it could take to pack everything up and get there on time?

Well, thanks to the Time to Leave feature in the iPhone’s Calendar app, you can be confident that no matter how long you spend in the chair getting your tooth drilled, your phone will be ready to factor in traffic and travel time so you’re notified of the exact moment you should leave without skipping a beat.

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The next time you have an event that you definitely can’t be late for, add the location when entering it into your Calendar:

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Next, check to be sure that your “Time to Leave” setting is turned on in the Settings app. To find this switch, first start by entering the Settings app. Once here, scroll down to “Mail, Contacts, and Calendars” and look for the “Default Alert Times” option.

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Normally this will be switched on by default, but it can sometimes be disabled by certain permissions in Restrictions.

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Turn this on, and the next time you have any Calendar events coming up your phone will automatically schedule itself to send a notification a few minutes ahead of the amount of time it would take to drive there with current Apple Maps traffic data incorporated into the estimate.

Unfortunately this feature is only available with driving directions for now, so if you plan on walking, biking, or taking the bus you should set a timed reminder instead.

Manage Location Services in Privacy

RELATED: How to Manage App Permissions on Your iPhone or iPad

Of course, not all apps are created equal, and there are still a few out there that unnecessarily put the GPS to work when you’re not looking.

To make sure your battery lasts as long as possible, you can independently manage which apps have access to your location and which are barred from turning it on by using the Privacy menu in your iPhone’s Settings app. To do this, start by opening up Settings, and navigate to the Privacy tab.

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Once here, you’ll see a tab right at the very top labeled “Location Services”.

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Click this, and you’ll be taken to the following screen:

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Here you’ll be able to either completely turn off Location Services as a whole with one toggle, or manage which apps can use the feature on a case-by-case basis. This is useful if you find yourself using the Maps app often, but still don’t want other less-reputable apps to get their mitts on your GPS information without you knowing about it.


“They’re a drain on the battery” or “they’re invading your privacy” are two of the most commonly sputtered arguments against keeping location services enabled, and sure, it might be a good idea to disable Facebook from being able to access your location at all times. This in mind, other than those few select cases where a rogue app is overstaying its welcome, Location Services can still prove to be a helpful, handy addition to your smartphone’s arsenal of useful features.

Chris Stobing is a writer and blogger from the heart of Silicon Valley. Raised around tech from birth, he's had an interest in PC hardware and networking technology for years, and has come to How-To Geek to contribute his knowledge on both. You can follow him on Twitter here.