How To Use GPS Tracking For Cell Phones

I found that many folks are interested in how to use GPS tracking for cell phones and how to put GPS tracker on a smartphone. I am one of them.

I have written in my previous posts about GPS trackers and how they work. But maybe you and I even do not need to have a stand-alone tracker but instead use our iPhone, Samsung or HTC smartphones?


I did the real experiment and am about to explain you it in a simple manner.

I will not dive deep into details and not make comprehensive research of different GPS smartphone tracking solutions, apps, and software. I also do not claim to the proof of the truth. I did the real experiment and am about to explain you it in a simple manner. Conclusions are up to you.

I am a long-time iPhone user and therefore take it for my research, but I guess that for Android phones work are pretty the same way.

First of all, let’s see on Apple default application Find My iPhone.

What Apple home page say about Find My iPhone app.

„Find My iPhone helps you locate and protect your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Mac if it’s ever lost or stolen. With Find My iPhone set up on your device, you can do the following:

·       Locate your device on a map

·       Play a sound on your device to help you find it

·       Use Lost Mode to lock and track your device

·       Remotely erase all of your personal information from the device.“

As you see, that amongst other it is mentioned about tracking feature so related to our topic.  I decided to check how it works and what GPS tracking results we can get, how useful it is.

Here it is, I have done two experiments.

After the first one, I was disappointed, but after most recent attempt I changed my mind. Before I continue, excuse me to guys who know HOW TO, maybe for other my research can help a bit.

I made a short video but will try to explain in a couple of words.

In the first time, I log in iCloud and click to open Find My iPhone application. After that, I took my iPhone 6S Plus and jumped into the car and made one minute trip around the street block. My Mac Book Pro was on screen recording mode in hope to see a track. Unfortunately, video replay shows no movement on my phone.

Today I decided to make another try. My wife was about to drive to the kindergarten to pick up a son it is about 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) away. I have laid my iPhone into the glove box of her car and returned to my office to see what action shows on the Mac Book iCloud screen. Screen recording was enabled.

My wife was about to drive to the kindergarten to pick up a son it is about 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) away. I have laid my iPhone into the glove box of her car and returned to my office to see what action shows on the Mac Book iCloud screen. Screen recording was enabled.

After reloading the current page, my phone position was changed, and next reloading shows another location. All locations were on the street which leads toward the destination of my wife’s car.

Eureka. It is a bit inconvenient refresh a page every time to get a new phone’s position on the Google map, but it works. Indeed, that it is not the same as standalone GPS tracker which can show speed, set geofences and ring alarm when youngsters are speeding, but…

But it is for free. Not any subscriptions or monthly fees. Only you have to know is a traceable phone iCloud credentials. If you can afford to equip their children or elderly parents with iPhones, (Android phones have similar features) then for general case GPS tracking for cell phones it could be enough.

From the other hand, there are many smartphone apps for GPS tracking for cell phones which are the best it is hard to say. A principle of operation is pretty the same for all. The only difference is in services to be offered and the prices.

How far I found a Mspy.com could be worth to check. It offers so many features I even did not know some of them at all.

Here is little from Mspy Features page:

mSpy is the most popular and user-friendly application for watching over your kids, preventing theft, and supervising your employees’ performance. Our mobile monitoring software runs on the target device to track all activity including call log history, GPS location, calendar updates, text messages, emails, web history, and much more! After following our easy, step by step instructions on how to create your own personal online mSpy account, you may log in to immediately begin viewing the tracked data.“

I haven’t used their services, and only I can say that looks professional and service prices are in range to be responsible for offered features quality.

One more thing I forgot to mention is, how does “Find my Mac” work since there is no GPS receiver in a Mac Book? I was ignorant of how iCloud can geographically locate a computer without a GPS chip.

The answer I found in one of Apple forum threads

„ Even without a GPS chip, your location can be determined using your MAC address, SSIDs of WiFi networks in range (both private and public networks), their signal strength, etc. In Apple’s case, this data is submitted to the Skyhook Wireless service, which then returns a set of GPS coordinates (latitude, longitude).

The Mac can use Wi-Fi network identification for localization. This is called a Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). The access points name and signal strength is determined and looked up in a database to identify the location. The more access points are found, the more precise the localization.

Unlike GPS (Global Positioning System) or cell-tower triangulation (together called Assisted-GPS), the Wi-Fi based localization works well inside buildings.“

I hope that became a little more clearly how to use GPS tracking for cell phones.

My opinion is that you can play around those smartphone apps but when it comes to real long-term tracking needs then stand-alone GPS trackers like Best Seller Spy Tec STI_GL300 Mini Portable Real-Time GPS Tracker
or many others is a more smart solution.


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21 Comments

  1. Rafa

    find my iPhone is a great app especially for tracking kids. About mSpy it looks really like a very good tool for tracking but also for professional spying. Do you know how it works? Do you have to instal this app in the device that you would like to spy? How can you see if you have this app installed at your phone?

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Thanks for stopping by! To track another phone you have to install an app to this device. IS not familiar with mSpy but am sure that it worth the money if you are seriously about to track employees, kids or other legal business tracking needs.
      I purchased iOS application GPS Phone Tracker-GPS Tracking from JLC Mobile, LLC. Good GPS tracking source with three days tracking memory. Very simple and uncomplicated software.

      Reply
  2. Ryan

    This may sound a bit weird but is there any way to install the app on someone’s phone without their knowledge. It would be quite a nefarious thing to do. Also, if I am not the owner of the phone, can I prevent the user from getting rid of the app?
    To some degree it makes me wonder how much of my own privacy is at stake with this app on my phone 24/7

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Hi and thanks for an interesting question.

      I am sure that everything is possible. Technically you can install every app in someone’s cell phone as well as be installed on your phone unless you know passwords. In general, it is illegal.

      If you wanna track your kids or employees, it is a way to prevent them to disable an application. There are many options to set a traceable phone to safeguard the privacy.

      Reply
  3. Julian Butler

    Hi. I have an iPhone but I have never turned on the tracking feature. Maybe I am just paranoid that Apple is spying on me! After reading this, I think I might give it a try though. Thanks for giving your own results, that makes me think that it is worthwhile to turn on the tracking.

    Cheers!
    Julian

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Thanks Julian for stopping by!

      If honest then I am sure that when those Big Guys can spy me, you and other people even without a smart phone. So as far as you are not in Bad Guy’s list, no Apple or other are needed to spy us. When it comes to latest iPhone’s technology for security reasons the lost or stolen phone can be found regardless, you are switched on or off location feature.

      And one more thing, why do you need an expensive iPhone if you not using extensive opportunities offered by the GPS function

      Reply
  4. Farhan

    This is a really interesting read. I have heard of GPS tracking being talked about by tech guys, but never really understood how it really works, or how efficient the system really is.

    Unfortunately, I do not own an IPhone, and I’m currently using an Android device. Is there a free app for Android that you recommend? I hope to try one just to see how it works.

    Great review!

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      No problems for Android phones at all.

      Install Android Device Manager App, and you are ready to track your phone. Google Play shop is offering other free and paid apps for GPS phone tracking. One of most popular is GPS Phone Tracker App. I have read mainly good reviews about it.

      Reply
  5. Emmanuel Buysse

    I’m happy I came across your article, I have an Iphone and was struggling to find that tracking method, and also using it. I tried it as well, but I didn’t had any luck, but guess what?

    I did the same as you did the first attempt, in that point I didn’t knew what I was doing wrong, but thanks to your post I know how to solve it!

    Many thanks to your article, I will share it because this will help a lot of people!

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Hi Emmanulel. I am glad I could help you.

       Take care and do not forget your iCloud credentials otherwise, you will not be able to log in from another MacBook, iPad, or iPhone to access track your phone.

      Reply
  6. Connecting 2 Wheelz

    Wow, this is both interesting and disturbing all at the same time. Lol. I once heard you could track your phone , but this is definitely next level stuff. I found your post very informational, and I like how you put your own life and trials into the story. I can use on my Android? 

    Reply
  7. sanjay

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I was looking for this for a very long time and now I got the answers. I had used a couple of apps before but I was not completely satisfied with them. Thanks for sharing all the resources that can be used for GPS tracking.

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Hello Sanjay and I’m glad that I was able to help you. 

      Reply
  8. Wei

    I think the tracking capability of modern cell phones are pretty impressive. Whenever I’m using map or navigation apps, it can pretty much always pin point my location. What does work is which way I’m facing. 

    When it comes to tracking, I think you can share your location with map or other navigation app. Even my social app wechat has the function to share location and I find it really useful to setup meetings with my friends.

    The built in apps are definitely enough for navigation if you ask me. Professional tracking is of course a different area and may require some third party apps. 

    What have noticed about battery life with tracking on all the time during your experiments? 

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Hello Wei and thanks for stopping by. 

      I did not actually check my iPhone battery during my experiments but apparently, consumption is about the same when using any GPS navigation app.

      Reply
  9. Renton

    Very cool, but also very scary. I think it is good to be able to track your phone like with find my iPhone, if you ever lose it or forget where it is you can easily find it. The Scary part is that there are people out there smart enough to do the same thing without your permission.

    It is definitely a double edged sword. I suppose the same can be said for any technology. If you can use it for good, then you can also use it for bad. That shouldn’t stop us from using this technology though because you can’t live in fear of what might happen.

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Hi Renton and thanks for commenting on my post.

       You are right that every technology can be hacked by smart swindler but also the protection remains stronger and smarter. I do not think that all the time you have to live with the idea that there are only cheaters around.

      Reply
  10. Kent

    This would be really helpful for finding your phone if you lose it, or if someone steals it and you can show it to the police. Do you think the police would be able to do anything about it? I’ve always wanted to get a GPS tracker for my phone, so I’m glad to know there are free ones already built into the iPhone. This is also a good way to keep an eye on your elderly parents, especially if they have some level of Alzheimer. 

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Thanks, Kent for commenting. 

      You ask about police and how could it help in case you have an iPhone stolen.

       If you can’t recover the phone right away, file a report with the police in the place where the phone was stolen. This may or may not lead to the recovery of your iPhone. Police may tell you there’s very little they can do either because of the value of the phone or the great number of thefts). This recordings should help when dealing with your phone and insurance companies.

      Reply
  11. Jurgen

    Interesting article and video! I don’t really need a payed service for tracking my cellphone as I’m using the Android Device Manager App for years now.

    Never actually had to use it, thank God! 🙂 But if I would lose my phone somewhere in the future, I have the ease of mind, I will probably be able to track it down.

    Reply
    1. Andrejs (Post author)

      Hello Jurgen. You never know when you can lose a phone or even worse that someone can steal it. In fact, you actually know a position of your stolen phone, but there are many legal obstacles for police actions. From the other hand, there are actions what you can do like lock the phone or trigger alarm sound. 

      Reply

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