How to Display and Locate GPS Coordinates With iPhone

Recently my wife and I were watching an episode of The Last Ship on TNT, and there was an part in which a woman, stranded on a small ship adrift, was providing her GPS coordinates to the (fictional) U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Nathan James. So they could find her.

It got me wondering. With iPhone in hand:

  1. How do you extract from and display your GPS latitude and longitude coordinates on the iPhone?
  2. How do you identify on an iOS maps app an exact location, given a latitude and longitude?

So my wife and I started experimenting with a hypothetical scenario of a lost hiker who can, at least, transmit GPS derived latitude and longitude coordinates. You may already know how to do this with other tools than those I describe, but I thought many readers might not have a ready technique at their fingertips. Plus everyone is likely to have the apps I mention on their iPhone.

1. Display Latitude and Longitude

At first, (I was wrong) I thought that the iPhone does not have a built-in app that can display one's latitude and longitude. My first reaction was to go to one of my favorite apps, Nav Clock, which shows your latitude and longitude. (And it can be cut and pasted into another app.)

Nav Clock by Split Rail, Inc.

Then our Dave Hamilton reminded me that an iPhone, out of the box, does have the ability to display LAT/LONG. That's Apple's Compass app. (It's not on the iPad because a Wi-Fi iPad doesn't have a GPS subsystem.)

Apple's Compass app for iPhone. (Exact location obscured.)

If you touch the latitude and longitude coordinates on the Compass app display, iOS Maps will launch and show you that location.

Part one solved.

2. Find LAT/LONG on a Map

Google explains how to enter latitude and longitude coordinates into Google maps. On an iPhone (or iPad), it easiest to use the "Degrees and decimal minutes" format. In the search field of Google maps, here's the format, for, say, north latitude and west longitude:


For example, here's a location in southern Wyoming with simple integer degrees and minutes.

41 2, -105 34

If you need east longitude, omit the minus sign. If you need southern latitude, put a minus in front. Note the blank space between degrees and minutes and the use of a comma between.

After you enter that into Google maps, it'll place a pushpin at that location and format the location as shown in the box under the search field in the screen shot below.

Google maps (iPad)

In this particular input format, if someone supplies their location in degrees, minutes, and seconds, you'll need to convert the seconds to decimal minutes by dividing by 60. For example, 41 deg 2 minutes 15 seconds converts to, in Google map input format, 41 2.25.  A more precise input with decimal minutes might look like:

41 2.25, -105 34.9   [ that is, 41 deg 2 min 15 sec N, 105 deg 34 min 54 sec W]

Apple's Maps app in iOS accepts the same formated string for LAT and LONG and presents the same map information (but without the formatted coordinates on the map).


That TV episode got me thinking that it would be good to have information at my fingertips about how to display my coordinates with an iPhone and look up someone else's coordinates on a map. Perhaps, someday, remembering this easy procedure and common apps, the technique will come in handy.