Smartwatches have come a long way in a short amount of time. The first digital watches could use basic calculator and calendar functions, but with modern smartwatches you can do everything from call and text to take your pulse, monitor your blood oxygen, and play games.
But of the many breakthroughs in shrinking down the technology to such a small size to enable it to fit on your wrist, the most remarkable has to be the GPS navigation systems in many of today’s smartwatches.
Global positioning systems are usually large and bulky to create the kind of connection needed to connect with satellites, but modern technology has managed to allow the same effectiveness on small wristwatches.
There are a host of different apps that can be installed on a smartwatch that use GPS, but two of the most popular are Google Maps and Apple Maps. Google does have the edge here as it has greater coverage and more detailed maps whether you are walking or driving. But how does GPS actually work in a smartwatch? Let’s take a closer look.
How Does GPS Work?
All GPS systems work via satellite, or, more accurately, a collection of satellites which hover hundreds of miles above the planet and can send and receive signals. At just about any land-based location on the planet, you can use your smartwatch to determine your precise location.
This is made possible by triangulation, in which three satellites all work together to lock onto your position, with a fourth telling you how high you are, if needed.
The actual GPS technology for smartwatches was developed in a military capacity, and surface mounted technology was available in the late 90s, but it was still too big to be implemented inside a watch–even though the small components did not make use of wires but were connected to the actual circuit board directly.
Fractal geometry was then used to reduce the size of antennas to allow communication with satellites while still remaining small enough to fit inside a smartwatch.
Does GPS Work Without Internet?
GPS primarily works directly with the satellites; however, for an accurate reading, it is essential that your smartphone or smartwatch is connected to the internet somehow. This might entail using a SIM card carrier network to ping a location beacon from the nearest cell towers, using Wi-Fi, connecting directly to the internet over 3G or 4G, or a combination of all of these.
However, it should be noted that although an internet connection greatly aids in finding your location, when you are using GPS you are only using satellite signals. This means you could be in the middle of nowhere without data and still get an approximate location on your device, whether it’s a smartphone or a smartwatch.
This technology of direct contact with satellites lets everything from land-based smartwatches to international cargo freighters in the middle of the ocean send and receive strong signals in order to generate accurate positioning.
Can Smartwatches Use GPS Without a Phone?
Yes, most smartwatches use GPS without the need for a smartphone. Some, like the Samsung Galaxy, can mirror and sync with a phone to display your position via its signal, but can function as a standalone device too and give GPS pings without any connection to your existing phone.
A smartwatch has all of the capabilities to connect with satellites built-in, allowing the smartwatch itself to work independently from a phone when it comes to location tracking. The Apple Watch, too, is independent from the iPhone, although they can be synced if required.
Can I Use a Smartwatch for Navigation?
Smartwatches are great for traveling as they can speak the instructions out loud to you, telling you how far you need to go before turning. Since the screen is fairly small compared to a mobile phone, you can’t really zoom out on the map to get your bearings and instead have to rely on only seeing the street or road you are traveling on.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of navigating using a smartwatch is that you don’t have to look down at it. Using earbuds that connect to your watch lets you listen to the directions rather than trying to squint at a screen. The bottom line is that the navigational ability of a smartwatch is no different than that of a smartphone, it simply presents the information differently.
Smartwatches also offer the convenience factor of simply lifting your watch, pressing a button, and saying, “navigate to [destination],” upon which your smartwatch automatically selects the best course and guides you there. This is true whether you are in the city looking for a bar nearby or in a rural area looking for the nearest gas station.
Which Smartwatches Can Show Maps?
One of the downsides of smartwatches is that although they display maps, the screens are often less than two inches across, which makes detailed viewing nearly impossible. You can’t zoom out and get a view of your location in a larger context, making it more useful for step-by-step navigation in which the watch tells you which road or street to turn down.
Some of the best smartwatches out now which can show maps include all of the Apple Watch Series smartwatches from Series 3 and later. The Amazfit smartwatches and Samsung Galaxy watches can also show maps too, but the display quality is not as good that of iOS devices. The newer Huawei and Garmin watches can also provide detailed maps of your location, and Suunto watches are compatible with Google Maps.
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Last Updated on February 8, 2022
A top of the line copywriter with more than a decade of writing experience with many high-end and diverse multinational clients. Lots of experience and interest in writing about and implementing technology. Scott manages the creation of content for us as a freelancer service and even though he is based in the UK, his writers can adapt and cater to our audience which is mostly US based.
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