mobile phone user

Mobile apps are becoming more advanced in their use of location services. Just consider the breakout success of Pokémon Go, a virtual reality game that requires users to turn on location services to play.

Nothing more clearly shows how important location can be to app user engagement.

Critical Need for Accurate Location Services

Pokémon Go players walk around real-life neighborhoods to hunt down virtual Pokémon characters on their smartphone screens —even helping local shops and restaurants attract new customers off the street with certain in-app features.

The requirement for this level of precision makes it clear that accurate location services are critical to the success of today’s apps.

According to my own company's research, 83 percent of app users say location is crucial to their app experiences. And yet users have failed to activate location services for more than half of location-dependent app they say they use, including weather and navigation.

This may be largely due to a few persistent myths that cause users to avoid turning location services on, even though it reduces the effectiveness of apps that rely on accurate location data.

4 Common Myths & Misconceptions

So why the resistance to location services? The reluctance can be traced to four common myths and misconceptions.

1. Location data is unhelpful

App publishers need to do a better job of using location data and proving the value of location services.

Location-based context can enhance app user experience (UX) with in-app modes to anticipate what users will need at a time and specific location. These sort of dynamic experiences go beyond just Pokémon Go — retail apps like Walmart, low gas price finding app Gasbuddy and even Snapchat all make use of location-based features to benefit their users.

In addition to informing several other user engagement aspects, such as sending coupons when a user is near a certain coffee shop or clothing store, location data can help inform user experience design.

When it comes to app design, developers must keep in mind what users will be doing in specific use cases — which means product visionaries need in-depth insight into where users go and why they go to those places.

Being able to analyze and categorize the frequency in which their user base goes to a place or types of places allows designers and developers to better anticipate the needs of each user. Accurate location data can help make experiences super relevant in all aspects of usage.

2. Location services are always on

Many smartphones users believe that their devices are tracking their location without their consent or knowledge.

The truth is that no matter what operating system is being used, both iOS and Android systems prompt users repeatedly about allowing the device to use their location — and both platforms allow users to turn off location services entirely.

When users turn off location services, they lose the benefit of adding contextual understanding to their experience.

3. Location data infringes on user privacy

Many users turn off location services because they are concerned about their privacy.

Many see the sharing of their location data as a way for advertisers to get a hold of their personal data. The truth is that publishers don’t need to violate consumers’ privacy or give away user information to increase the value of ad inventory and deliver relevant content.

Publishers have the ability to build contextual, anonymous personas of their audience based on their real-world activities, all using location data that’s been volunteered by users.

These personas can combine demographic data — like income level, education, gender, age and ethnicity — with behavioral patterns based on where users go and when.

4. Location services cause severe battery drainage

Our research shows more than half of the nearly 20 percent of app users who turn off location services do so because of battery consumption concerns. Pokémon Go is one such game that’s come under fire for draining batteries due to the nearly constant requests to GPS hardware.

Companies are experimenting with new ways of minimizing battery drain without sacrificing the location-based functionality they need.

Basic battery-minimizing tactics include leveraging signal strength and other sensor information to determine when a device is stationary, helping to limit unnecessary location requests.

More complex approaches include calculating the approximate distance to an area of interest to adjust the frequency of location requests, caching data locally to limit network transmission costs, or manually adjusting the appropriate location manager(s) (and thus hardware) based on a given use case. 

Balancing Power Consumption, Location Accuracy

The best location services combine many different techniques to provide the appropriate level of precision and power consumption for the use case.

Whatever the use may be, being clear about what the app needs to accomplish at a given moment should drive location providers to give the best functionality for battery efficiency.

Location services are becoming essential to both consumers and app publishers, and these myths should not stop users from turning location services on.

With this data, apps become much more useful, as they can utilize location to send out reminders, share deals or pull up relevant app features.

In addition, app publishers need to ensure that they are pushing relevant and targeted information to users so they better understand the value location adds to their experience.

Title image by Clem Onojeghuo