6 Things App Developers Should Know When Using Location Services

App Development
Kayla Matthews
11/19/2019

Using geospatial data in an app can add value. However, developers must define their processes by focusing on usability and privacy.

Geospatial or location-based data shows where something is in an environment. Many people depend on apps that use it without knowing. For example, searching for a store's nearest location, pinpointing the fastest route, and checking the weather all require location data.

When implementing this type of information, app developers must strike a balance between usefulness and privacy. People appreciate apps that provide a convenient and relevant service but shy away if they think a tool knows too much about them.

Here are six things to know when building an app that uses geospatial data.

6 Factors to Consider Before Adding Geospatial Data to Your App

  • Think About the Scale of Data
  • Consider Your Audience
  • Provide Several Routes
  • Determine the Pain Points
  • Solve Alternate Problems
  • Use Data in Moderation

1. Think About the Scale of Data

Developers must think about the scale of geospatial data formatting when designing their apps. The size often depends on the purpose of the app and the level of detail provided. For example, the location range on a map is broader if it’s showing information about a country and much narrower if it’s showing a neighborhood.

App professionals need to take screen size into account and give people ways to zoom into map sections. One easy option is to place a sticky search bar where people can enter queries such as the state, town or zip code.

Enabling touchscreen gestures, such as pinch and zoom, makes geospatial data easy to understand in app form. If the location feature in an app allows people to search within multiple areas, make sure you can accurately source data.

Scaling your geospatial efforts means making search and navigation easy while avoiding common pitfalls, like confusing Lexington, Kentucky, with Lexington, Virginia.

2. Consider Your Audience

Location intelligence helps people understand geospatial data in context.

Max Payson, a solutions engineer at Esri, recently unveiled a way for developers to turn data into visuals. Payson claims location intelligence is now a common request from consumers and recommends app developers explore it. Data can make maps more intuitive for users while providing developers with a framework for optimization.

Even if your next app doesn't feature geospatial data, it's worth considering for apps in the future. Payson states that location intelligence applies to purposes you may not immediately link with apps. For example, it could train artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms or apply information stored in a blockchain.

In Ireland, geospatial data showed the most dangerous roads in the country by calculating the number of accidents. Those insights help officials determine how and where to make transportation safer. However, if you choose to apply location intelligence, make sure there's a valid reason for doing it. Don’t embrace a trend without a purpose.

3. Provide Several Routes

Google Maps and other leading brands use geospatial data by giving people several ways to view information. For example, they can identify the most efficient and direct routes based on current traffic.

Giving users a choice on how they view data is essential for meeting needs, especially since shortest does not always equal fastest. Moreover, people may want to see the difference between getting to a destination via public transit instead of using a car.

Route map

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Multiple options are especially useful for geospatial apps with business purposes. Different departments and stakeholders might want to extract various kinds of data from the same map.

Map

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When showing several routes for one destination, maximize readability and user-friendliness. For example, color-coding different routes is an excellent way to help people track their options.

4. Determine the Pain Points

Don't assume people will flock to an app built with location features. Take time to assess the market and ensure there's a need to meet. This self-reflection often requires you to think about how apps streamline user experiences. This can involve adding features that people like or removing things that frustrate them.

For example, one developer imagined a shopping app that used location information to help people navigate unfamiliar areas when shopping. The developer took a poll and found that 89.7% of respondents buy things locally while traveling, and most take trips every 3-6 months.

With that information, he built an app for tourists who love to shop. It lets people search for places alphabetically or using location data—choosing a destination near where they are.

Location search

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Any user that accesses the app to find a place to shop gets a wealth of information. The screen shows user reviews, average prices, directions to get to the outlet, and more.

Location search

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People can also create a shopping shortlist. This option helps them narrow down choices to fit their needs using filters.

Shortlist

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The developer of this app made apparent efforts to use location information in genuinely helpful ways. However, he couldn't do that without discovering his audience's pain points first.

5. Solve Alternate Problems

Geospatial apps are not restricted to options like neighborhood maps, however common they are. You can make apps useful for clients no matter they problems they face and use location data to solve them.

One app helped a company that supplies whole-timber trees for residential and commercial construction projects. The tool analyzed individual trees on their suitability for lumber and represented the data in 3D. The app allowed the engineers to predict results and scale the business to a national enterprise.

Don't be afraid to venture outside of typical geospatial data uses and explore possibilities.

6. Use Data in Moderation

At the same time, any software that must always balance how much it uses and stores its user’s data.

When it comes to data privacy, location services are no different. A New York Times report warned that apps with location settings turned on can reveal enough information for outside parties, such as marketers, to determine where people went and how long they stayed there.

Social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have received regular backlash for data breaches, selling personal data, and invasive uses of location data.

In one unusual case, the Pentagon warned personnel that fitness apps on their phones and smart devices tracks their users at all times. That gives third parties clear routes inside sensitive areas in military bases.

In another example, an app from The Weather Channel got scrutinized for not being sufficiently transparent about how it used geolocation data. That blunder led to a California lawsuit seeking damages up to $112.5 trillion.

While it’s still a murky regulatory environment — in the U.S., particularly — more and more consumers are against careless use of their data. Be cautious with how your app collects and stores your users’ data — especially where your users live.

Prioritize User Needs When Using Geospatial Data

Besides these suggestions, developers need to stay up-to-date on how to best bring geospatial data into apps. It needs to serve a clear and useful purpose without violating your users’ privacy. Otherwise, your target audience may decide they're better off without your product.

Location data can unlock an app's potential. However, meeting that goal requires careful consideration and awareness of user expectations.