Adding GPS to the Apple iPhone: It Can Be Done

gmapsiphone2.jpgThough the newly released Apple iPhone has seen a great deal of critical acclaim, it has by no means been impervious to criticism. Though naysayers have found many an iPhone shortcoming to nitpick about, critics and advocates alike have been able to agree wholeheartedly about two major iPhone omissions: support for AT&T's 3G (third generation) data network and the lack of GPS.

The latter, as it turns out, is a missing feature that can be added to the iPhone without requiring Apple make any hardware alterations to the device. In other words - without the soldering of a single chip, the turning of a single screw, or even so much as the removal of the iPhone's outer casing - all the iPhone owners out there could have a GPS receiver and antenna added to their phones.

But wait, there's more. Not only can the iPhone become fully GPS-enabled without physical changes, Apple wouldn't be required to make any software changes, either. No driver additions, no modifications to the iPhone's underlying first generation mobile version of OSX. Nada.

Thanks to an innovation by French company BlueSky Positioning, who have integrated both an A-GPS (Assisted GPS) receiver and antenna onto a SIM card, the Apple iPhone and other SIM-based mobile devices that lack GPS support can add full featured GPS capabilities through the use of the BlueSky Positioning SIM card. From a software perspective, all phones which possess the STK or SimToolKit (a mandatory requirement on all mobile phones since 1998) can support and utilize the SIM and it's GPS.

There appear to be no roadblocks, other than those self imposed, to AT&T and Apple offering GPS on the iPhone. Thanks to the BlueSky Positioning SIM GPS, adding GPS to significantly less robust devices than the iPhone is seemingly quite breezy. Velipekka Kuoppala, BlueSky Positioning's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told iPhoneFAQ

"The AGPS SIM works with all legacy handsets without any software or hardware modification. We have been testing plenty of different phone models with different ages, models and shapes, all work [as expected]."

If the GPS SIM were utilized within the iPhone and supported by iPhone service providers, the phone would immediately offer GPS capabilities. With the SIM in place, emergency operators and iPhone service providers would be able to accurately locate the handset.

Then the real payoff comes in. Once GPS-enabled, Apple and it's service providing partners (currently AT&T in the US and T-Mobile/D. Telekom in Germany) can offer value-added services on the iPhone. Imagine a GPS-enabled Google Maps on the iPhone, one able to locate your phone on a map and provide GPS navigation, now that's a truly useful application. Other already on the iPhone applications would see increased utility as well. Take the weather widget for example, with GPS enabled, your iPhone would be able to tell you the current conditions and forecast for where your phone is - not just pre-programmed locations. As for new applications that could benefit from a GPS-enabled iPhone, well, the sky's the limit.

BlueSky Positioning is currently in the "pilot development phase" of providing it's SIM A-GPS solution to providers outside the US and has had "initial discussions" with service providers in the United States, said Kuoppala.



Clearly they'd prefer to hold GPS back. You know, so you'll go out and buy iPhone2.

A bit simplistic.

iPhone does not store the maps on the phone. Now imagine someone hiking off-trail relying on their phone. Sure, the GPS works but without a map you might as well not have a map if you are clueless.

Sounds like a lawsuit to me.


I think this is a bit too optimistic of a view for people looking for GPS capabilities on their iPhone. "A-GPS" is not the same thing as "GPS". A-GPS requires the cellular network to assist in providing location information. Thus if your mobile phone goes out of range from the cellular network your phone won't be able to get location information.

Also to suggest that no software changes would be needed on the iPhone seems a bit too optimistic. I don't believe the Google maps application already has programmed in the necessary information to look on the SIM card for an A-GPS chip if one is available. The code would need to be modified.

Despite any toolkit that might be installed on the iPhone, you need a software application still do interact with the toolkit and actually do anything with the location information. Even if it "CAN support and utilize the SIM and it’s GPS" doesn't mean that you can just plug in the car and some magical GPS application will get installed into the dashboard of the iPhone.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have GPS on my iPhone.... but it is highly improbable it will happen on this first version of the iPhone. And this isn't to discredit what BlueSky is doing at all... they have a really unique product which has lots of potential.

There are no software changes required for GPS to be available ... but as the article states, the iPhone would need to add GPS features to its apps.

Why would we even need to do this??? EVERY SINGLE PHONE IN THE US for the last 3 years is required to have GPS for e911. PERIOD. the iPhone already HAS A GPS, how can people not understand this??

It's up to Apple and Cingular to allow you to switch between on/e911 only (which is the mode it's in now)

All phones have GPS by LAW.

I like that it shows you how to get to Starbucks!

Actually, Court Kizer -

E(911) requires that operators be able to provide emergency services with the location of a handset within 50 to 300 meters. GPS is only one of the methods via which this can be achieved. One of the allowed methods is triangulation of the handset's radio signal which does not require a GPS chip. MANY handsets still do not contain a GPS chip.

Your statement is incorrect.

I wonder if Blue Sky has actually tested their SIM with built-in GPS in the iPhone?


As of the time the article was authored, BlueSky had not yet performed testing w/in the iPhone. According to BlueSky, however, the technology is universally compatible with all phones possessing the SimToolKit as mentioned in the article, required on all phones since 1998).

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Your are mixing two things: having the ability to be positionned through GPS, and having a way (for an application) to use this information.

For instance, US phones are GPS enabled, but very few of them provide this information to app. Regarding the iPhone, it's not because you're Simcard now your position that an application can use it. For a native phone or a java enabled phone, using this information is not always possible, it's impossible for a closed environment like the iPhone, unless Apple give an access to this information.
So having a GPS enabled SIM will be usell, unless that you go the SIM menu, and do some trick, like sending an SMS to a server with your location from the SIM.....

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Sorry to rain on some people's parade, but none of the solutions discussed are even closely equivalent to true GPS performance. If you want true GPS (i.e. few meter accuracy) you need real GPS hardware (chip) connected to a GPS antenna. The iPhone has neither - so don't expect performance anywhere near what you would get with a portable PND (personal navigation device, such as the Garmin Nuvi 660).

The BlueSky solution does not have a real GPS chip on the SIM card - it cannot use satellites for accurate positioning. Rather, it provides software on the SIM card to supplement cell tower triangulation with assisted-GPS data. Under best conditions, you will get at least 100m error, which is not good enough for map-matching (i.e. for accurately show position on a map)

I think this could be great because it can be more useful to the consumers. The iPhone, Apple's flagship product, is currently only sold by a few large retailers including AT&T, Best Buy, and Apple Stores. Now, it looks like the next retailer they are going to add to their list, is Wal-Mart. According to the article Wal-Mart, who has been proactive in building a better consumer electronics buyers' experience, is rumored to be offering the iPhone's 4gig model for $99 by December 15th, giving shoppers time to buy before Christmas. Another rumor however, places the date at December 28th, after the Christmas holiday season, and instead of the 4gig model it is expected to be the 8gig model which will apparently be sold for $197. As always, Wal-Mart's ambition to provide consumers with the lowest prices on consumer products and merchandise will now offer the iPhone for two dollars less than any other retailer. It's not the kind of discount that you have come to expect from Wal-Mart, but some savings is better than no savings I guess. Apple obviously wants to take advantage of the daily foot traffic at each of Wal-Mart's locations, but does not want to step on the toes of its other established retailers by undercutting them. Wal-Mart should profit well from the deal as well since it will help boost their consumer electronic sales which have not been what they would like them to be. Wal-Mart has brought in third party help to educate both their staff and consumers on the latest technologies for this purpose. Click here to read the article at the payday loan store.

can anyone let me know where I can find the information regarding developing the GPS Application for Iphone!