Note: Apple officially clarifies iPhone GPS dependency shift in Series 8, Ultra, SE (2022)

Let me set the expectations up front: This post is 100% written for GNSS Sports Technology professionals. You see, when the 2022 Apple Watch versions were announced back in September, there was one significant change: None of the new 2022 models would take advantage of our phone’s GPS if your phone was within range. Until now, all versions of the Apple Watch would use your phone’s GPS if your phone was within range. Depending on your point of view, this was either good or bad.

For people who want to conserve their phone’s battery life, this was annoying. Furthermore, in cases where your phone might be deep in a backpack or in some other not-so-optimal place/pocket on your body, it reduces the GPS accuracy of the watch. And going back to the early days of the Apple Watch, this also led to some weird GPS handover issues when you left your house but your phone was still in range at the start of your workout, though those issues have largely been resolved over time.

Inversely, for some people – they preferred this approach. It was ‘easier’ to charge their phones throughout the day than removing an hour to replenish the battery, especially one that was known to have a relatively short battery life.

However, all of that has changed with the 2022 releases of the Apple Watch. For Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch Series 8, and Apple Watch SE (2nd generation/2022), all of these models will always use the watch’s own internal GPS—and never benefit from your phone’s GPS signal. You will always, and only, use the GPS on the watch itself. In the case of the Apple Watch Ultra, this meant that it would always use dual-frequency/multi-band GPS, unlike perhaps the old phone which didn’t have multi-band GPS.

Now, whichever solution you prefer, the challenge was that Apple never officially made it clear in a support article or other written statement. Instead, it was referred to more casually in the hands-on area at Apple headquarters after the big keynote, back in September. It’s also been replayed in follow-up briefings, calls, and even a 24-message email thread in my inbox discussing it in depth. Unfortunately, none of these sites were places where I could direct the millions of you who kept asking for a reference to this collection of information.

However, that has now been resolved. Apple added one clause to the end of a support article explaining this, saying:

Apple Watch Ultra, Series 8, and SE (2nd generation) use built-in Apple Watch GPS even when your iPhone is nearby. To preserve battery life, older Apple Watch models use GPS from your iPhone when It is available.”

Of course, this concept is proven relatively easily too – if you have a few watches and a few phones on hand. You can confirm visually that in the new 2022 watches, your phone’s battery didn’t burn as much while GPS was active, as previous watches did. But doing such a test in an isolated way is difficult for most people, due to other background apps and so on. Plus, it’s much easier to direct people to a single line of text.

Either way, I’d be glad to see this officially covered in a support article, if for no other reason than to make a group of sports tech GPS/GNSS geeks like myself happy. Think of it as an early Christmas present, except there’s no chocolate or anything else to unwrap.

Of course, as to which way to make use of the GPS you prefer – I suspect the debate will rage. Ideally, I would simply like to see a toggle that allows you to choose your preferences. But, I suppose this would ask for another birthday present.

With that said, thanks for reading!

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