Testing a Location-Aware App

In order to support this post, I have published a demonstration project on Github. Feel free to clone it and follow along in this post.

I recently posted about how to implement location tracking via iOS Location Services, and felt a follow-up would be useful. It’s one thing to make a location aware app, and it’s quite another to see it work in the wild. Testing is very important here. But you don’t have time to drive around, you say? You don’t have the money to fly across country to see how your app behaves in other regions? Fortunately, Apple has provided some tools and mechanisms to test location aware apps from within the comforts of your own development environment.

With the release of iOS 5, location simulation was added to the corresponding development tools. As a result, there are a few ways to simulate locations.

  • Xcode: GPX files, schemes
  • Simulator (iOS 5+): manually set the location
  • UI Automation Instrument: load up various lat/long points via a script to simulate movement


GPX (GPS exchange) files are XML files that conform to the GPX schema, which allows interchanging of GPS data. GPS systems generate and consume this format, and so does Xcode! Creating a location is fairly simple if you have the latitude and longitude of a point. You can also create routes and a whole host of location files that can be used to simulate locations. The following is a simple GPX file that targets a location in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<gpx version="1.1" creator="Xcode">
      <wpt lat="40.828359" lon="-96.699257">
          <name>Lincoln, NE</name>

Once you have added your GPX files to your Xcode project, there are 2 ways to utilize them. The first is by setting the default location in a scheme. If you have several locations you need to test regularly, you can create a scheme for each location to make it simpler to test your app in each location quickly. When you run your app under the custom scheme, Xcode will automatically simulate the app running in the location according to the scheme configuration. To do this:

  1. From the scheme menu, click New Scheme…
  2. new schema menu

  3. Enter a name, and click OK. I used my project name + location. For example, CSLocationTestKit-Lincoln, NE.
  4. From the scheme menu, click Edit Scheme…
  5. In the Options tab, check the Allow Location Simulation in the Core Location section.
  6. Select the GPX file for the Default Location. If you added a GPX file to your project, it should be displayed in the list for you to select. Alternatively, you can add an existing GPX file from this menu.
  7. set default location on the schema

But what if I want to change the location in the middle of simulator testing? You can change the location in Xcode during runtime as well. After your app starts up, bring up Xcode and ensure the Debug pane is showing (the bottom view). Select the blue arrow to get a list of locations including those specified in GPX files in your project.

change location in debug view of xcode


To change the location in the simulator directly, click the Debug menu, and select Navigation. This can be done at runtime while debugging or while navigating through the simulator detached from any Xcode projects.

Debug menu then Location menu then click on custom location
The simulator options are vastly simpler and thus more limited. You can select Custom Location… to enter a set of coordinates, but this is less robust than using GPX file. However, if you have a need to do some ad hoc testing of coordinates, this method is sufficient.

UI Automation Instrument

The final and arguably the most powerful method of testing a location aware app is to use the UI Automation Instrument. It is also the trickiest because Apple’s documentation of instruments isn’t very explicit on how to use it for testing movement amongst locations. Once you get started though, it gets much simpler.

In my code example, I have a basic view that shows the current location coordinates. Once you click on the map button, the map view is displayed along with a button to turn region monitoring on (“Watch for the country club!”). I want to automate testing on this screen because I want to verify that my region monitoring logic works properly without having to go anywhere. My approach, for demonstration purposes, is to use a list of GPS coordinates to simulate a driving route from my current location to the Lincoln Country Club. This route be extracted from a GPX file, and injected into a script to simulate movement. You can also simulate this movement by making the GPX file with the route your default location in the scheme, but I wanted to demonstrate changing location in the UI automation instrument (via JavaScript). Note: I created this route in Google Maps, exported the KML, and then converted KML->GPX via GPSBabel.

To use the UI Automation instrument:

  1. Click and hold the Run button in Xcode, and select Profile (or click Product > Profile from the menu at the top)
  2. Run button long click results in profile being an option

  3. Instruments will open. Select Automation and click Profile
  4. Instrument selection screenshot

  5. Stop the recording that is automatically triggered by Instruments.
  6. In the Scripts section, click Add to create a new script. You can import existing scripts as well as calling up scripts you’ve recently used/exported. I have included a sample script to test driving a route to a country club in Lincoln, NE. This script works best if you use the Lincoln, NE GPX file as the starting location.
  7. import scripts screenshot

  8. In Xcode, click the Profile button again to trigger a profiling restart using the script you just imported/created. Don’t forget you have to stop the Recording once your script has run (this is documented).

Now, you have automated the testing of your driving route! At this point, you can add other instruments to your session in order to track allocations, leaks, etc. You can also run any variety of scripts to test various movement scenarios. Automating this kind of testing can make regression testing much more efficient. And because the test scripts are written in JavaScript (and are fairly primitive), you can enlist the help of JavaScript programmers who might not know Objective-C very well (or not at all). The UI Automation JavaScript Reference is very helpful for creating these scripts. The only major caveat that I’ve uncovered is the Automation instrument refers to values in the accessibility fields. For instance, if you want to check a value on a label, you need to make sure the accessibilityValue property is set.

Supplemental Recommended Viewing/Reading
Testing iPhone Location App with Automation by Plain Old Stan
Location Awareness Programming Guide from Apple
Session 500 at WWDC 2011: What’s New in Core Location – good basic intro to location services, particularly the new features that came with iOS 5
Session 518 at WWDC 2011: Testing Your Location-Aware Application – this is a must watch! It has a lot of good info on how to setup your environment to test different locations and even moving from location to location.
Session 303 at WWDC 2012: Staying on Track with Location Services​

Testing a Location-Aware App

3 thoughts on “Testing a Location-Aware App

  • September 11, 2014 at 10:16 am

    That is not accurate. I’m the author of the content on both sites (my original content). It originated here and was reposted on Cardinal’s blog. Cardinal Solutions is my employer, in case you missed that part.

  • December 4, 2014 at 4:31 am

    Another good alternative to GPSBabel you might wanna try is http://kml2gpx.com/ which lets users convert kml to gpx formats, as well as gpx to kml, when needed. It comes with a simple and easy to use interface, upload files and see the results.

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