Enabling GPS


Today’s Question: I’ll be traveling internationally soon, and am looking for info that I know you have shared before. What is the trick for being able to have my iPhone record location information without risking a big phone bill?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, a relatively recent update to iOS (the operating system for the iPhone) causes the GPS receiver to be active even when the iPhone is in airplane mode. So, you can keep your iPhone in Airplane Mode and your photos will still reflect location information.

More Detail: With older versions of iOS (version 8.2 or earlier), when you enabled Airplane Mode the GPS receiver would be disabled. This created a degree of risk that you could incur significant unintended charges for voice and data if you weren’t careful in how you used your phone.

You could still disable the cellular data feature in Settings for your phone, but there was still some risk of incurring additional charges if you had international service enabled with your cellular provider (and in some cases even if you didn’t enable that service but then sent or received text messages).

As long as you’re using a version of iOS after version 8.2, you can simply leave your iPhone in Airplane Mode and you’ll still have GPS capabilities. That means, for example, that if you capture photos with your iPhone, those photos will have GPS coordinates embedded in metadata.

In addition, even in airplane mode you can use other apps that make use of GPS data, such as GPS navigation apps. For example, when traveling (including a trip I’m on right now) I make use of an “offline” GPS navigation app. This app has maps and other data included, and then the GPS receiver is used to determine your current location. The result is an ability to use GPS features without the need to use cellular data.

I’m not as familiar with other mobile operating systems (such as Android), but I do know that there are similar options for enabling the GPS receiver without having cellular data enabled.