What Problem Does This Solve?
User needs to quickly find their current location on the map.
Why Use This Pattern?
Users on mobile devices are very focused on their immediate area and tend to have a narrow center of interest or activity. Identifying (Locate Me) and tracking (Blue Dot) the current position are therefore crucial mechanisms to provide meaningful context about the user’s location and surroundings.
When to Use This Pattern
Use Locate Me to identify and locate the real-world geographic location of a person’s device without the need of complicated data input or map navigation. This functionality is most commonly seen in navigation apps that provide route finding or direct people to nearby places like tourist attractions or available parking spots. Consumer apps can use this location information as an additional criterion to tailor their service offerings like ordering and tracking goods in real-time.
Store locators are built around finding locations that are near the user. Location in this case extends beyond mobile users that is on the go and in a hurry and also includes desktop users that research for services like furniture, dog boarding or health care. Falling into the latter category, the New York City (NYC) COVID-19 Vaccine Finder offers two ways to show vaccination sites, either by typing an address or by clicking the Locate Me button. Without this location information the list of locations is sorted in an arbitrary, typically alphabetical fashion, but knowing the user’s location allows the finder app to sort the same list by distance, starting with closest first. This provides a far superior experience and in fact is so important that there isn’t another way to “enter” the app and see the map than to search or locate.
What’s the Solution?
Locate Me is a common mechanism on mobile devices to utilize the user’s current position to enhance their experience with the app. Sometimes referred to as geolocation, the estimated geographic position is determined via mechanisms like GPS (Global Positioning System), IPS (Indoor Positioning System), or services that use network routing addresses. The same capability can also be provided on desktop devices as an easy way to determine full address information like street, town, neighborhood, region, country, country code, postal code, etc.
Provide a button that triggers a background process to determine the latitude and longitude coordinates of the user’s geographic position so that further action can be applied like zooming the map to the current location. Label the button “Locate me”, “Near me”, or simply add the locate me icon that looks like a target with a solid circle inside. Place the button in a corner of the map, on mobile devices a good place is near the bottom where users can easily access it with their thumb. While the app is centered around the user’s location the button can be hidden if it doesn’t affect other actions to shift into its vacant space. Once the user starts panning the map, the Locate Me button then re-appears so users can re-center on their location.
As an alternative to the button, one may consider a link instead. This approach should be used when more verbose labels like “Find a hospital near me” or “Local deals for tonight” are required. Provide clear headers and place links near a location finder or search. Consider adding the locate me icon for clarity.
Users should always understand why the app is asking for their location, therefore provide context around its purpose and if possible, hint at how the opting into providing this information is used and benefits the user’s experience.