iPhone: Using Cell Towers for Positioning?

Regarding the way the iPhone Maps app, as demonstrated in Apple’s new “Calamari” commercial, seems to know your location when performing a search, I wrote:

The Maps app somehow knows where we are: my guess is that it’s like the Mac OS X Weather widget, with a preference setting for a default zip code. (Keep dreaming if you think Apple has secretly added GPS behind the FCC’s back.)

Dozens of DF readers responded to this, pointing out that even without GPS, software on the iPhone ought to be able to determine a general current location based on the nearest cellular phone network tower. Many existing mobile phones already do this, and it’s apparently a common phone feature in Europe.

In a dense urban environment with plenty of nearby towers, it could be accurate to within a few city blocks, and even in rural areas it ought to be more than accurate enough for something like the Maps demo in the commercial.

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