According to Oxford’s Dictionary, a compass is a tool containing a magnetized pointer which uses the earth’s magnetic fields to determine and show the direction of magnetic north and bearings from it. Cambridge defines it as a device for finding direction with a needle that can move easily and that always points to magnetic north. Some modern smartphones are designed to support compass apps which you can use to like you would a physical compass.
If you find your compass not working on your iPhone or Android smartphone, there are a few things you can do to fix the situation and I share those tips below. If you are new to the subject of using a compass in a cell phone, I have also included a brief but helpful section on how compass apps work.
How does the compass in a smartphone work?
Smartphone compass apps rely on a hardware component called a magnetometer to function. What is a magnetometer? It is a sensor that measures the intensity of a magnetic field. In this case, it measures the Earth’s magnetic field and uses that to determine direction.
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How accurate are compass apps in phones?
How accurate are compass apps in smartphones? The accuracy varies from one device to another. For example, I opened the compass app on three smartphones and carefully aligned all three in the same direction. The AGM G2 Guardian gave me 296 degrees NW, Samsung S23 gave me 307 degrees NW, and iPhone SE 2022 gave me 302 degrees NW. That they all gave different readings is enough proof that their accuracy differs, depending on how good the magnetometer of each phone is and how well done the compass apps themselves are.
As a rule, it is good advice to not use a compass app for determining precise location, proximity, distance, or direction. It is a great tool for general directions only.
Fix Compass Not Working on an iPhone
Apple iPhones come with a magnetometer built in and a Compass app pre-installed. If you open your iPhone’s compass app and it isn’t working (if it turns when you change the direction of the phone, it works), it is likely that there is some electromagnetic interference or the built-in magnetometer is faulty.
The first thing to do is to try to troubleshoot for a possible electromagnetic interference. Move your cell phone away from any active electronic appliance like a TV, radio, or even earbuds. If you are in the middle of a lightning storm, there is definitely electromagnetic interference happening, and your compass app may not function properly for the duration of the storm.
If you have done the above and you find your compass not working properly still, you might have to send in your iPhone to have the magnetometer checked and fixed.
Fix Compass Not Working on an Android Smartphone
First, you have to make sure that your Android smartphone has a magnetometer. Most do not, especially if they are entry-level or lower mid-range Android smartphones. If your phone is a premium flagship Android phone, there is a chance that it has a magnetometer and can use a compass.
If you are trying to use a compass on your Android cell phone and it isn’t working, there is a chance that your phone does not have a magnetometer. How can you confirm? Check the manufacturer’s website for the device specifications. You can also check for cell phone specifications here on MobilityArena to see if a magnetometer is listed for your model. You can also install any of the “device info” apps from Google Play Store and look under “Sensors” to see if a magnetometer is listed as present in your phone.
Next, note that unlike iPhones that have a compass app pre-installed, your Android smartphone may have a magnetometer and yet not have a compass installed. In which case, you need to install a third party compass app from the Google Play Store.
A phone like the AGM G2 Guardian has a magnetometer and also has a compass app pre-installed. The Samsung S23 has a magnetometer but no compass app pre-installed; I had to install one from the Play Store.
Some of the best third party compass apps for Android include: Digital Compass by Axiomatic and Compass & Altimeter by PixelRose. Of course, feel free to search the store. Choose one and install it.
If you have verified that your phone has a magnetometer and have installed a compass app and find the compass not working well, try at least two other compass apps to be sure the app is not the problem. If multiple compass apps do not work, then it is time to check for magnetic interference. As mentioned for iPhones, move your Android phone away from electromagnetic sources like television sets, radio sets, and earbuds and check if your compass app now works well.
If it still does not work properly or at all, I recommend that you have the phone checked by a competent technician to possibly fix the magnetometer.