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Fred Zahradnik

Apple's $499 - $829 iPad: GPS, Map, Navigation Features

By January 27, 2010

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Apple iPad GPS

Update: June 9, 2010: GPS and navigation apps for the iPad are proliferating. Here are notable iPad apps worth a look:

  • MotionX GPS Drive HD ($2.99 plus $24.99 per year up-charge for continuing text-to-speech) - Turn-by-turn directions and text-to-speech on the big screen. MotionX GPS Drive HD also makes use of its 3G connectivity for live search and other live services. Be sure to select the GPS Drive version for turn-by-turn directions.
  • iNavX Marine Navigation ($49.99) - Official NOAA RNC raster US waters marine charts for iPad. This color chartplotter supports waypoints and routes, GPX import and export, and supports instrument data display.
  • Trails - GPS tracker ($3.99) - This app already has a following on the iPhone, and can really show off maps on the iPad screen. Set waypoints, display and edit tracks, cache maps for use when out of 3G or WiFi range, import and export to EveryTrail.com or to GPX files.
  • Air Navigation Pro ($37.99) - This isn't a game app; it's a real-time aviation application with moving map display, a database of most of the world's airfields, downloadable (in-app purchase) US Sectional charts, customizable display, and more.

Update: April 30, 2010: The iPad WiFi + 3G models are on sale, starting today. Also, CoPilot Live has announced the availability of its split-screen in-car GPSnavigation app for iPad.

Update: April 15, 2010: Fullpower, maker the popular MotionX outdoor and auto turn-by-turn apps for the iPhone, will have its products ready for the release of the 3G + WiFi iPads with GPS later this month, says CEOPhilippe Kahn. "We have MotionX-GPS HD and MotionX-GPS Drive HD specially optimized and enhanced for the iPad 3G to be released in a few weeks with the launch of the GPS-enabled iPad 3G," says Kahn. All of the MotionX "HD" apps for the iPad will run at full screen screen size, and are designed to take full advantage of the larger platform, says Kahn. So, turn-by-turn directions on a 10-inch super high-resolution color screen are about to become a reality.

Other turn-by-turn navigation app makers I contacted weren't ready to make announcements yet, but it's reasonable to assume that AT&T will offer its TeleNav-powered "Navigator" app on the big screen at iPad 3G + WiFi release, as will TomTom and most other navigation app makers.

In addition, I consider it highly likely that the leading location-based services app makers such as Gowalla (already confirmed) and Yelp will be there when the GPS-equipped iPads hit the stores.

Update: March 15, 2010: Apple has provided some additional updates and information about the iPad's GPS and navigation features. Apple states: "iPad with Wi-Fi finds your location using known Wi-Fi hotspots, and Wi-Fi + 3G models use Wi-Fi, GPS, and cellular towers. So you can get routes, get directions, and get there in no time."

This clarifies the difference between the WiFi models and the the WiFi+3G models. The three WiFi models, selling for $499 (16GB), $599 (32 GB), and $699 (64GB) will NOT have a built-in GPS chip, and will rely on Wifi positioning.

The three Wifi+3G models (available in late April at $629, $729, and $829) will have fully functional AGPS chips built in that will use GPS satellite positioning, plus Wifi/cell tower positioning for greater accuracy in a wide range of conditions, including urban environments, which can block or bounce GPS signals.

Other iPad mapping features are similar to those on the iPhone, including using Google Maps and related services, ability to switch between map, satellite, and terrain views, and turn-by-turn directions.

More exciting and interesting will be future apps and software that will make use the iPad's big screen for mapping and other location-based services.

Update: Apple's vague announcement wording and technical spec on its site have left people guessing about whether the iPad has a true GPS chip, and if so, on what models. My take on the spec: Only the $629 (and up) WiFi + 3G models will have it. It will be an AGPS chip - a true GPS chip that is assisted by cellular and WiFi signals. That doesn't mean it's a low-quality GPS chip that needs help. AGPS actually provides superior speed and location (think indoors) capability. I am checking with Apple media to clarify, but it is highly unlikely Apple would resort to WiFi/cellular-only location on this device, when GPS is such an important and established technology on the iPhone, and true GPS is so essential to so many apps in the App Store. That said, we still have a beef, since it looks like built-in GPS won't be added to the entire iPad line.

Think of it in terms of the iPod Touch and the iPhone 3G (my son Brent suggests). Touch - no GPS: iPhone with 3G - has GPS. It also makes sense in terms of user experience, because a mobile device that can't download maps while you're out on the road (via 3G) is not going to work properly as a navigation device. end update

This afternoon Apple announced its new tablet-style computer it has dubbed the iPad. Why a touchscreen tablet? It needs to be "far better than a smartphone or laptop at doing some things," said Steve Jobs, an admitted long-time tablet computing skeptic.

If you had been guessing that this device would be sort of a cross between an iPhone and the newer Mac laptops, you would be correct. Jobs demo'ed Web browsing, e-mail, Apple's photo-managing iPhoto software, iCal calendar, iTunes, and a suite of other beautifully crafted applications Apple users are already familiar with. Not unexpectedly, the iPad has a nearly full-size QWERTY touchscreen keyboard for e-mail and other typing needs. Add on HD video, games, and specially formatted content from publishers....

A big, bold new app is iBooks, which, you guessed it, is like an iTunes for books.

Specs: The Apple iPad weighs 1.5 pounds, has a 9.7-inch (diagonal) capacitive touchscreen, and is just a half-inch thick. Its pricing starts at $499, and goes up to $829 for a fully-loaded 3G model. Its chip is Apple's own 1GHz A4 chip, and the device comes with 16 GB of flash memory. Battery life is said to be 10 hours. Includes WiFi plus optional 3G with data plan from AT&T. Ship date: early April.

GPS and navigation features:

  • Built- in GPS chip and accelerometer.
  • Built-in magnetic compass.
  • Apple claims the iPad will run all existing iPhone apps, including navigation apps. However, the screen size will remain iPhone-size until developers adapt their apps for the larger screen.
  • Google Maps runs full-screen on this device, which makes it more like the Google Maps experience on a good PC or laptop monitor.

The iPad appears to be product-positioned as a "media machine," heavy on video, games, and e-reading, which is also no surprise, but I think that those who work with GPS, navigation, and especially location-based services won't take long to take advantage of the big new 10-inch touchscreen to offer some terrific apps. Follow Fred on Twitter. Image Apple.

January 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm
(1) Murry says:

Does it have a GPS chip? The specs page says it has assisted GPS in the WiFi&3G model. Doesn’t that mean it’s relying solely on signal tower strength and wifi spots that broadcast location to determine position? Just like the first iPhone?

January 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm
(2) Fzahradnik says:

My take on the GPS spec – only the Wifi + 3G models will have it – will be an AGPS chip – true GPS chip that is assisted by cellular and WiFi signals.

January 27, 2010 at 7:18 pm
(3) Art Busbey says:

There is absolutely no indication there will be a GPS chip. The specs clearly seem to indicate it is geolocating using tower triangulation. I think if the iPad actually had a GPS chip they would be trumpeting it. This is GPS by proxy. If you are in a city or close to known towers it can estimate your location, but I figure if you want to use it as GPS in the middle of nowhere you are SOL. In its technical specs for the iPhone Apple just says assisted GPS and doesn’t mention it has a GPS chip. So perhaps their copyrighters don’t understand the significance (for GPS types) of stating that it is REAL GPS – not just triangulation.

January 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm
(4) Jamie says:

It’s pretty clear that the iPad (WiFi+3G model only) WILL have a GPS chip. Its tech specs say “Assisted GPS,” just like the iPhone 3G and 3GS (which have a true GPS chip assisted by WiFi & cell tower location info).

The original iPhone, which only triangulates position based on WiFi & cell tower locations and has no dedicated GPS chip, makes no mention of GPS in its tech specs at all.

January 27, 2010 at 11:24 pm
(5) Jim1348 says:

I am interest in this, but for those of us wanting a device that will navigate, surf the web, watch videos, perhaps something in between the iPod Touch and iPad could be in our future. Maybe an iPad with a 5 inch screen.

January 27, 2010 at 11:53 pm
(6) TheGhost says:

this will be lovely jailbroken ;D

January 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm
(7) Drew says:

You say that exisitng Apps are limited to iPhone-size. I think you meant iPhone-resolution. All existing Apps can be upscaled to fit the screen of the iPad based on the demo yesterday.

@TheGhost: No need to jailbreak – ALL iPads come unlocked according to the demo yesterday and online video.

January 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm
(8) Ryan says:

@Drew: That is true however but I think what TheGhost was getting at was the ability to run apps from the Cydia Store, and cracked apps from Installous.

January 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm
(9) Rob says:

Well big problem not having a GPS in the $499 IPAD. I would’ve paid $599 to have a real GPS built in. Then I’d use my Verizon MyFi which I already subscribe to, in order to download WiFi. Who do they think they are? Ahhhh—well I’ve still got my Motorola DROID for GPS :) At least Google “gets it”

January 30, 2010 at 5:03 am
(10) Tim K says:

I have to disagree with the statement … ‘It also makes sense in terms of user experience, because a mobile device that can’t download maps while you’re out on the road (via 3G) is not going to work properly as a navigation device.’

A mobile device that works using preloaded maps is perfectly ok. Its how most GPS navigators operate. Besides, try roaming with a mobile device across national boundaries in europe where you may end up paying $ per MB for data downloaded on a 3G network.

January 30, 2010 at 8:01 am
(11) Fzahradnik says:

Tim K: Good point. There are some smartphone navigation apps that hold ALL of their maps on board, some that only download on the fly, and some that take a middle ground and pre-load an entire route.
However, you also have many location-based services that depend on a live data feed to work properly. I think GPS without data feed on a mobile device could become challenging to implement well and potentially confusing to the user…..

January 30, 2010 at 9:00 am
(12) Dan says:

Bad decision by Apple not to include GPS chip in wi-fi model. With the TomTom app, among others, the iPad would make a fabulous large-screen GPS. Fortunately, TomTom makes a car kit for iPhone/iTouch that includes a sensitive GPS chip, a windshield/dashboard mount and a line out for music. Hopefully, they’ll modify it for the iPad and put out the ultimate in-car GPS experience.

In fact, the iPad is potentially a fantastic dashboard computer: with GPS, large-screen email and fingertip controls. All it really needs is voice recognition software for spoken input.

February 5, 2010 at 3:41 am
(13) Rob Beresford says:

Just to clear up a little confusion with regards to A-GPS. AGPS is simply a feature that allows a the GPS itself to gain a quicker fix on startup by using cell/WIFI to get a very rough fix so it knows what satelites it should be using. AGPS does not improve reception or make GPS any quicker; that’s down to the internal GPS chipset and antenna within the device. If your GPS’ is only acurate to say half a mile, you do not have GPS period and are using cell tower/WIFI triangulation.

Also you may here the un-educated claim that if it can’t do turn-by-turn navigation, then it is not real GPS. This is rubbish. GPS is actually pretty simple, all it does triangulate its position using all those shiny satelites floating around our planet and the GPS chip then outputs long/lat and often elevation above mean sea level.

What you do with this information is up to you but it is most well known as SatNav, ie TomTom etc but it is ultimately much more useful than this. A good GPS device should be able to locate you within just meters.

I have used just about every GPS device you can think of and many you did not even know existed from recreational handheld mapping to avionics in light aircraft, GPS loggers when used for record attempts to record the users track to verify if I really managed to fly 300km on a paraglider (GPS Varios)


February 18, 2010 at 6:06 pm
(14) 3D Golf Course says:

3D Golf Course has just released their GPS, golf navigation software for the Apple iPad.

March 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm
(15) ziccardi says:

Will the GPS work without a 3G dataplan?

March 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm
(16) Mike L says:

3D Golf uses an external GPS antenna plugged into the iPad.

I believe A-GPS CAN be used on it’s own, without a GPS receiver. Now, the GPS may be included on the chip, but until someone shows me the Google map, following as accurately as an iPhone 3GS, I still believe it’s strictly 3G triangulation.

March 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm
(17) paiulnic says:

Nonsense. There are several maps which will work without connection to the internet, Memory Map and Tom-top to name just 2. Without ‘proper’ GPS an ipad would be useless.

March 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm
(18) Bob Schimpff says:

If the pad has a true GPS chip then it may be an ideal in cockpit pilot resource for moving map and storage of navigation map and plate material. I wonder if anyone has heard about anticipated applications in this regard?I

March 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm
(19) Consignment Pal Resale Directory says:

Anybody know of plans to add true “multi-destination route optimization” to go to 10 addresses using the most efficient route?


March 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm
(20) Martin says:

In order to calculate a GPS position, you need the track data of the GPS satellites. You can get this from 1) the satellites but their encoding is weak so you need a very strong GPS signal or 2) you can get the track data via a cellular data connection. Then you can ommit decoding anything out of the GPS signal and you just need to correlate the time offset which can still be done with the weakest signal. For that reason a data connection is the clue to good GPS performance in less optimal radio conditions.

March 29, 2010 at 1:37 pm
(21) RRR999 says:

The GPS chip in the IPAD is not a separate function built into the IPad, but a built in function of the 3G card that is basically required by the FCC for various mobile communications devices. The carriers have found it cheaper overall to include them even in data cards that aren’t initially intended for voice apps (and thus E911) for fear that they might be required in the future. Sometime the carrier has chosen to disable it, and sometimes they haven’t. Verizon is a good example that has chosen to do so at times (unless Google says no) and Sprint has seldom disabled it (although you might have to find the key in software to start the silly thing). Here Apple has chosen not to buy their own GPS chip, but they also don’t disable the carrier’s chip in the 3G device. As people have said, the GPS navigation is not really handy if you don’t have 3G anyway so it is reasonable to just put it on those devices’ chips.

April 1, 2010 at 10:43 am
(22) Jason says:

If GPS is important to you and you don’t want to pay for 3G, why not just get a bluetooth GPS receiver for about $50 and install a navigable map application yourself? If you believe Verizon’s commercial, you don’t want to use Google map over AT&T 3G for navigation.

April 10, 2010 at 9:43 am
(23) GODMODE says:

There are clear differences between GPS, A-GPS, Location based software using Wifi (triangulating via Wifi/cellular), and etcetera.

A-GPS or Assisted GLobal Positioning System does not, and never actually said to include a dedicated GPS receiver) chip (Infineon, Surf 3, etc). A-GPS works its magic via triangulation using cellular towers, and if you are in a wifi connection, it can get even more accurate. A-GPS us even used with systems that have dedicated GPS receivers, because as the article state, (and is the absolute truth) RF signals from satellites can get bounced, and cause inaccurate readings for location based uses.

Most GPS will save a certain amount of data for use as it tracks you – this is where AGPS is useful then the dedicated GPS receiver chip cannot connect to 3 or more satellites (the necessary minimum for accurate tracking). Good day.

April 14, 2010 at 6:24 pm
(24) TrevorS says:

This article needs to be updated yet again (since 15 March). The specs for the iPad are out, both the Wi-Fi and GSM versions include digital compass, Assisted GPS and cellular location.

According to the Apple site:


* Wi-Fi
* Digital compass
* Assisted GPS (Wi-Fi + 3G model)
* Cellular (Wi-Fi + 3G model)

May 4, 2010 at 6:35 am
(25) Steinar says:

http://gizmodo.com/5528240/ipad-3g-test-notes shows that they use the ipad to track where they are driving, showing that it has a TRUE GPS chip.

The AGPS confusion is a pain because some manufacturers use the term “AGPS” to indicate that there is a GPS chip that is assisted by wifi / cell to get lock faster, whereas OTHER use the term AGPS to say that it only use wifi / cell to get a “approximated” position without a real GPS chip.

The latter is becoming more and more popular as items can be sold without a real GPS, making it seem like they have a GPS. I call that cheating…

May 11, 2010 at 12:07 pm
(26) Ted says:

Seems to me that the true test of whether there is a ‘real’ (meaning dedicated) gps chip is to take the iPad into the wilderness where there is no wifi and no 3G and see if it any of the location apps work properly. Any word of this being done?

May 31, 2010 at 6:54 pm
(27) linzter says:

bump… has anybody done what Ted suggested? I’d really like to know the answer to this!

June 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm
(28) Gregg Brickner says:

I recently bought an iPad 3g because it it has a true GPS receiver, and I wanted a back up GPS chart plotter for a sailing trip in Greece. With the Navionics Mediterranean app installed to provide marine charts, the iPad worked great as a marine chart plotter, plotting accurate positions ten miles from land.

It was equally useful for driving, using the Google map app. You can preload a geographical area’s worth of Google maps while you have a WiFi or 3G connection by scrolling around the map to cover your region of interest. Then, when WiFi is out of range, and 3G is turned off to avoid roaming fees, Google Maps is a very useful tool for navigating roads.

So yes, the iPad 3G does have a real GPS receiver, whether that is on its own chip or on the 3G chip I don’t know. But it does receive and utilize GPS satellite signals.

June 13, 2010 at 6:38 am
(29) John Bennett says:

@Gregg: Thank you. I’ve waded through dozens of websites trying to find out whether or not the GPS in the 3G iPad works without a data connection. Yours is the first clear answer I’ve found.

July 23, 2010 at 2:15 am
(30) Patrick says:

Check out the last line on step 15 of iFixits tear down of the iPad 3G.


May 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm
(31) JPaul says:

I have also used my 3G iPad 1 with Navionics marine charts in Europe, as a useful cockpit reference chart, whilst using the same chart set in the boats main chart plotter, and it certainly works well 10 miles offshore in Airline mode I.e. With wireless disabled. It was a delight to use with rapid zoom, and distance checks, and Waypoints. In conjunction with StarWalk for the night watch, which gave great information on constellations and satellites and meteorite showers, the iPad really impressed me at sea. Now I need it waterproofed and interfaced to the Nmea data stream for AIS, radar etc as the perfect navigation companion.

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