Geolocation on mobile (smart)phones

Typically you have a GPS receiver, some sort of cell tower triangulation, and WiFi databases. There’s Assisted GPS as well, but for the most part, GPS and WiFi do most of the work.

However, this requires leaving your WiFi radio on. Who knows how much battery it uses scanning for networks when you’re not near one – that’s a separate story.

I keep WiFi on my phone all the time, wherever I am, regardless of whether or not I’m connected to a network (and of course I use it at work and home.) I use tons of geolocation services, and even some automatic ones. I care about location accuracy so I just leave it on. I’m tied to a desk most of the time so I’m not the type to cram in bits of battery life whenever I can.

But what about users who don’t use it as much, or don’t use WiFi? They turn WiFi off, which removes WiFi geolocation as an option when they do use a location service. Consequently, a fine location may take much longer to obtain, if at all. The savings of keeping WiFi off come at the cost of not being able to use WiFi for geolocation when you need it. Let’s try to compromise.

Here’s my proposal/idea: add a feature in the operating system (Android, in our case). When a user/app requests a fine location/coordinates, if the user has WiFi off, and location retrieval through WiFi on, automatically turn WiFi on to retrieve the location, and turn it back off. It should take about 2-4 seconds for each transaction, depending on driver and hardware. Of course, this could have potentially large battery/other consequences, and should be an option (I’m thinking on by default.)

Most people I know have WiFi off by default but WiFi geolocation enabled, which doesn’t help when WiFi is off – and they ask me why their location is so inaccurate. This could be a nice compromise.

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