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The Maps application is one of the most useful built-in apps on the iPhone, at least for me. From figuring out where you are in a strange city to locating nearby restaurants and services, to seeing what the local traffic conditions are like, all of these capabilities and lots more are built into the Maps app. Let's tap Maps to open it up. If you see a message saying that Maps would like to use your current location, tap OK. That's just to confirm that you know that your iPhone is going to try to figure out where you are and you'll see this message for any app that tries to access your location information.
Most of the time when you're using Maps you'll want to start off by figuring out where you currently are. Unless you were previously using another function like getting directions or searching for a business, Maps should automatically hone in on and display your approximate location. If it doesn't, just tap the Locate button in the bottom left-hand corner. After a moment, a blue dot will appear giving you your location. Depending on where you are, which iPhone you're using, or whether you're using an iPod touch, the accuracy of your location will vary. If you're on an iPhone which contains an internal compass, tapping the Locate button again rotates the map to orient it with the direction you're facing, which can be a big help especially in cities like New York where emerging from the subway can be disorienting.
If you face a different direction you'll see the map rotate along with you. Tap the Locate button a third time to leave Compass mode. After leaving Compass mode you might find that your map is no longer oriented with north at the top of the screen. You can manually rotate the orientation with two fingers or you can tap the compass icon in the upper right hand corner to reorient the map. Compass mode is only available on the iPhone 3GS or later. If you're using an earlier iPod touch or any iPhone released before the iPhone 3GS, the Locate button just toggles between on and off.
Another advantage of having the Locate button is that you can also bring the map back to your current location. So if you're browsing some other section of the map, just tap Locate to scroll back to your current location. Now when you tap the Locate button at first, you'll probably see a large circle encompassing a pretty wide area on the map around your general location. This is Maps' first guess at where you are. After a couple of moments the map should zoom in and a blue dot inside a lighter blue circle will appear. This should be a more accurate representation of your location.
If you're using an iPod touch, this is probably the extent of how well Maps is going to find you. If you're on an iPhone 3G or later, after another moment, a pulsing circle around the blue dot should appear. This is ideally what you want to see because it indicates that the iPhone is actively tracking your location and the dot will move along the map as you drive or walk around. So how does Maps accomplish this? Well it depends on the device you're using. Every iPhone since the iPhone 3G contains actual GPS chips similar to the ones found in portable GPS devices you can get for your car.
So if you're outdoors with a clear view of the sky, your phone should be able to get a pretty accurate read on your location. But if you're indoors or in a city with lots of tall buildings, the GPS chip won't work as well or not at all. Fortunately all iPhone models as well as the iPod touch can still find your location using two other methods. The first is by referencing a database containing information about Wi-Fi networks found all over the world. Wi-Fi networks are so prevalent these days that Apple has collected data, mostly in large urban areas, figuring out that by determining which Wi-Fi networks are overlapping with each other, you can determine your approximate location.
Now this doesn't mean you have to connect to any strange Wi-Fi networks. Your iPhone or iPod touch has the ability to detect nearby Wi-Fi networks and using that information it can figure out where you are. Of course this means that you have to have Wi-Fi turned on and it won't work in locations where there isn't a heavy volume of Wi-Fi networks. The third method, which is available to all iPhones but not to the iPod touch is to use signals from nearby cellular towers to triangulate your location. This method works similarly to the Wi-Fi system, but instead uses signals from cell towers to figure out your general location.
If this is the only available information to your iPhone, your location display won't be as accurate, but it should pinpoint your general area within a couple of blocks which is still close enough for you to find a local restaurant or business. So those are the methods the iPhones and the iPod touch use to find your location. And once you have your location, you can search for all kinds of things. We'll explore more in the upcoming movies.
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