Difference Between GPS Tracking & GPS Navigation

July 19, 2018 Published by

One of the most common assumptions people make when they hear the term “GPS” is that GPS tracking and GPS navigation are the same things. While both tools use the Global Positioning Satellites, the two activities are different as are the devices and services. It doesn’t help that when you watch a TV show or go to the movies, the characters often talk about tracking people using their phone. So what exactly is the difference between GPS tracking and GPS navigation? Let’s look at each of them individually.

What is GPS Navigation?

When people talk about GPS navigation, what they usually mean is using an app, a device or a built-in navigation system in your vehicle to find your way or give you directions so you can get to where you want to go without getting lost. These apps and devices receive information from GPS satellites based on information you input such as an address or landmark that you’re trying to get to.

They also might use cellular towers or wifi signals to help the app or device know where you are so it can plot an accurate route or get information to you about the distance from where you are to where you’re going as well as information on road conditions, traffic, and if there are any accidents or other emergencies along the route.

The easiest difference to remember about GPS navigation is that it’s meant to send and receive information between the GPS satellite system and a driver or individual who is in the same location as the app or device being used so they can find another location.

What is GPS Tracking?

When we talk about GPS tracking, we mean a device that receives information from GPS satellites and then sends information to someone who is as far as hundreds of miles away from the device. The device can be hardwired as part of the vehicle or it can be as tiny as a sim card and hidden. The information display can be another piece of equipment at an office or it can be an app on a manager’s smartphone.

GPS tracking is mainly used to keep track of where something or someone is. It can also be used to monitor the health of something like a vehicle such as its fuel consumption or if it’s not where it’s supposed to be. GPS tracking can be used to keep track an entire fleet of trucks, to track the whereabouts of cargo, or to track and find pets, kids, and dementia patients who have wandered outside of a set area.

GPS tracking can serve a lot more functions than a GPS navigation app or device can and a GPS tracking service provides a lot more than just maps for navigation. GPS tracking can monitor safety, send out maintenance reminders, and help businesses improve timekeeping.


In the movies, law enforcement or government agents sit in a room watching a map as they “track” a suspect’s vehicle or cell phone. In reality that’s not how GPS tracking or GPS navigation works. That kind of GPS tracking only works if there is already a GPS tracking device on the person or vehicle that the police are looking for. GPS tracking is an invaluable tool for a whole host of businesses, organizations, and industries, including the trucking industry. It’s also used by private citizens to keep children, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and pets safe.

GPS navigation or “personal navigation” is not tracking. It’s a navigation tool that replaces paper maps and a compass that helps individuals find where they are and find their way from their location to another one. It cannot be used to track another person from afar.

We hope that’s cleared up at least some of the confusion and misunderstanding between GPS tracking and GPS navigation. If you have any comments or questions about GPS tracking, leave them in the comments section below or contact us here at GPS Technologies.


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