The marquee features of thee iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are unquestionably upgraded cameras; a new always-on display; and a Dynamic Island’ that changes size and shape to accommodate various types of alerts, notifications, and interactions. For my circumstances and use case, I can roughly appraise these as having some potential utility, no utility, and some curiosity appeal.
However, digging deep in to the new iPhones' technical specifications, I found something that piqued my interest and which I thought could potentially offer me significant utility, and that is their support for “precision dual-frequency GPS.”
Apple's objective with the addition of dual-frequency GPS is a simple one, to improve the precision of GPS data on these new iPhones. For me, this has the potential to translate in to something meaningful when navigating the world around me with either my cane or guide dog - it could result in navigation apps such as Microsoft Soundscape, BlindSquare, and GoodMaps Explore delivering more accurate and reliable information about intersections, destinations, and what's nearby.
Below, I set out the results of some early and rudimentary tests. My intent wasn't to determine whether the iPhone 14 Pro offers more accurate GPS data than a single band iPhone. I take that as a given. The goal of my testing was to determine whether this would make a demonstrable and meaningful difference for my specific use case.
TLDR: Don't buy an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max on the basis that you think that it will enable apps such as Microsoft Soundscape to be more accurate.
What is Dual-Frequency GPS and Why Should I Care
The turn-by-turn directions and information on what's nearby delivered by apps such as Microsoft Soundscape, BlindSquare, and GoodMaps Explore are a result of a GPS signal received from a satellite that the iPhone uses to pinpoint its location.
GPS operates on a certain frequency system. The range of frequencies over which the signal operates is called a frequency band and there are multiple frequency bands. Previous iPhone models supported only a single frequency band – called the L1 band.
Limitations of the L1 band are that it's relatively slow and things such as tall buildings, atmospheric conditions, or even dense foliage can interfere with its signal and also create multiple ‘reflective’ signals which result in errors and inaccuracies.
Apple's dual-frequency GPS implementation combines the L1 band with the L5 band. The L5 band has a lot of advantages over the L1 band, like higher power, higher accuracy, and the ability to detect unwanted reflected signals. On paper, the result is that the new iPhones are capable of GPS accuracies on a centimetre level, compared to up to 5 meters from a traditional single-frequency GPS.
In short, the dual-frequency GPS of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max means that they should offer faster and more accurate GPS data than previous models and the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus.
For detailed information on GPS L1, L2, and L5 Frequencies, here's an article that claims that it will tell you everything that you need to know.
Test Hardware, Software,, and Conditions
My test devices were an iPhone 14 Pro with support for dual-frequency GPS and an iPhone 14 which supports only the single (L1( frequency band. Both iPhones were running iOS 16.0.2.
Because the retrieval and initial processing of GPS data is handled by the iPhone's hardware and iOS, developer's don't need to update their apps to support dual-frequency GPS, they essentially benefit from it for free. This meant that I could use the current App Store versions of Microsoft Soundscape, BlindSquare, and GoodMaps Explore for my test and they should all be capable of demonstrating any change to GPS data accuracy.
Soundscape and BlindSquare use OpenStreetMap for map data and points of interest, whilst GoodMaps Explorer can be configured to use either Apple Maps or Foursquare for its external points of interest. For my test, I had GoodMaps Explorer configured to use Apple Maps. Arguably there is no reason to include both Soundscape and BlindSquare, as the fact that they use the same map data means that the results should be identical. I chose to include both at this point as there are things that I like and dislike about each in regard to their interface.
On my test day, there was light cloud. I was in a low-rise city in the south of England. I mention this, as the results are likely to vary depending upon weather and environmental conditions, so your own experience may not match my own.
Test #1: From the Couch
To get a quick and dirty indication of whether there was going to be any difference in GPS data accuracy, I figured that I didn't even need to leave the couch in my living room. I could simply fire up each of my test apps and see if the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro would agree or not on the distance to some nearby locations.
Both iPhones and all three apps were accurate and consistent in locating my current address.
However, when I use the apps to explore what was nearby, some differences in results appeared.
GoodMaps Explorer mostly reported street addresses and points of interest as being closer when using the dual-frequency GPS iPhone 14 Pro than it did with the iPhone 14. Within a radius of 100 metres, this difference ranged between 1 and 2 metres. Locations beyond this radius were typically reported as being 5 metres closer by the iPhone 14 Pro.
Things were less clearcut with Soundscape and BlindSquare, where the reported distances to points of interest and placed markers were typically the same on both iPhones. They disagreed on no more than 20% of locations. However, when they did disagree, the difference was as much as 10 metres. Interestingly, when there was a difference, the dual-frequency GPS iPhone 14 consistently reported the location to be further away than the iPhone 14, which was the opposite to my experience with GoodMaps Explorer.
My takeaway from test #1? That the 2 iPhones produced slightly different and seemingly conflicting information about the distance to nearby locations. This test didn't tell me which, if either, was more accurate. It didn't tell me if the difference would translate in to a meaningful difference in real-world use. I couldn't even be certain whether some differences were the result of OpenStreetMap versus Apple Maps rather than dual-frequency GPS versus single band GPS. Clearly more testing would be necessary.
Test #2: From the Yard
After determining from my couch that the 2 iPhones often produced differing results in regard to the distance of some nearby locations, I figured that the next step would be to find out whether this was still the case when outside of the house. This would bring me a little closer to the real-world conditions where I would want any improved accuracy, and would determine if my testing would proceed to a third, and final stage.
Being out in the open and well away from any buildings produced results that were very similar to those inside my home. So much so, that there's nothing of note to say about this second test. I can simply say “see comments from test #1.”
My takeaway? That I was surprised. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, as the nature of my property is such that it probably doesn't present too many issues for a GPS signal. This is likely a case of where your own experience might vary according to the type and construction of your property.
Test #3: From a Real-World Scenario
Having determined that the iPhone 14 Pro and the iPhone 14 could deliver different GPS data, I figured that I had only one option left - to grab my guide dog's harness and discover if one of the iPhones gave more accurate GPS data than the other in a real-world scenario, and -if it did - whether this would make a meaningful difference.
To allow me to perform a true side-by-side comparison of the performance of the two iPhones, I paired one with my Sony LinkBuds and the other with my AfterShokz Aeropex. This meant that I could have one phone talking directly in to my ears, the other talking to me through my cheekbones. No doubt an ‘interesting’ look, but a setup that proved to work well during my test.
I chose Microsoft Soundscape as my test app, as it's previously proved to be the best fit for my typical use case and to provide the best experience. The only difference in the configuration of Soundscape between the two iPhones was that one used a male voice, the other a female voice. This was so that I knew which iPhone was speaking to me during the test.
My test route was an approximately 2 mile loop around a low-rise residential area. It consisted of many intersections; public transport stops; points of interest; and a couple of markers that I've manually placed previously, so there would be plenty for Soundscape to tell me about along the way.
After all of the above setup, you might reasonably be expecting a positive payoff for the time that you have invested in getting this far in my post. Regretfully, and with some surprise, I can't give you one.
Within 200 metres of leaving home, I knew that a 2 mile walk wasn't going to be necessary to reach a conclusion. However, I persevered, just in case.
It didn't change things. The two iPhones and Soundscape delivered near identical callouts of locations. Some times the mail voice would speak first. Some times it would be the female voice first. Whichever it was, , the other voice was rarely more than a couple of steps behind. There were more occasions when the two voices were in perfect synchronisation than times when the callouts didn't at least partially speak over each other.
In short, there was no meaningful difference in the performance of Soundscape on the dual-frequency GPS iPhone 14 Pro compared to the single band iPhone 14.
Had there been a difference, my next step would have been to determine Soundscape on which iPhone was more accurate and by how much. With there being no discernible difference, this was now moot.
Test #4: From the Future
Following a request in the comments below, I performed some additional tests with BlindSquare after this article was originally posted.
Here are the key points:
- The “current GPS accuracy” quoted by BlindSquare for each iPhone was 5 metres. This was outdoors, on a clear day, and well away from any buildings or trees. With the dual-frequency iPhone 14 being capable of more precise GPS data than the single band iPhone 14, I wonder if the app itself is not calibrated to go below a 5 metre reading for this data. It's also possible that the ‘GPS signal-friendly’ conditions levelled the playing field somewhat in regard to this reading/calculation. This is all pure speculation on my part, so make of this what you wish.
- Using a custom marker created on the dual-frequency GPS iPhone 14 Pro, BlindSquare's distance callouts on the iPhone 14 would often jump by 2 or 3 metres as I approached the marker. On occasions the jump would be to a greater distance, even though I knew that I was moving closer. This was from a starting distance of 20 metres and walking at a slow and steady pace. In contrast, distance callouts on the iPhone 14 Pro were typically stable and appeared to accurately reflect my pace and the distance covered.
- When standing still at what the iPhone 14 Pro told me was 20 metres distant from my custom marker, the distance quoted by BlindSquare on the iPhone 14 was not stable. On occasions spontaneously jumping up or down by as much as 2 metres. These jumps were typically no more than 5 seconds apart.
- when approaching the custom marker at a slow walk, BlindSquare on the iPhone 14 did not give a distance lower than 3 meters. I had to stand still for nearly a minute before BlindSquare indicated that I was at the location of the marker.
- The 2 iPhones gave me different what3words results for the exact same position.
- Not surprising considering the above, the map coordinates were also different - x.39001,-x.12433 versus x.38998,-x.12435.
My takeaway? That I would prefer for those with a working knowledge of all-things GPS and BlindSquare to be the ones who attempt to pick the bones out of the above. However, it does seem reasonable to conclude that the dual-frequency GPS of the iPhone 14 Pro does deliver more stable and reliable GPS data than the iPhone 14.
My tests are clearly very far from scientific. Under laboratory conditions, I am certain that the iPhone 14 Pro does indeed deliver more precise GPS data than the iPhone 14. It's probable that this makes a meaningful difference in some locations, some atmospheric conditions, and even possibly when travelling in a vehicle.
However, for my typical use case, the dual-frequency GPS iPhone 14 Pro performed no better than the iPhone 14.
Colour me surprised. I truly approached this exercise thinking that I would notice at least some difference, and that I could use this to at least partially justify the purchase price of an iPhone 14 Pro.
As stated above, I expect other people's experiences to vary according to such things as location and atmospheric conditions. Accordingly, if you have either an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max, I would love to hear your experience in the comments below. The Apple Watch Ultra has dual-frequency GPS too, so do please also share your experience if you have one of these. It would be particularly interesting, and likely very helpful, to hear from anybody who lives somewhere more challenging for GPS signals.