IPad Air 2 and IPad Mini 3 GPS

Understanding GPS and the Location-aware Technology in IPad and IPad Mini

The iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3 come in versions with and without GPS. Learn which one is right for you.

Apple's iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 raised the bar for processor speed, display quality, thin profile and light weight in tablet devices. But there's one thing Apple hasn't changed: Some iPad models have a built-in GPS chip while others don't.

Only the "Wi-Fi + Cellular" models of the iPad Air 2 and Mini 3 have built-in GPS chips. Although Apple has never explained why the non-cellular models don't have GPS, the obvious answer is that the non-cellular models can't download maps and other business and location data on the fly while the user is on the road or in travel situations out of reach of a Wi-Fi signal.

GPS isn't the only way iPads and other tablet devices can make use of location-aware technology. All iPad models come with built-in digital compasses, Wi-Fi positioning and Apple iBeacon micro location. 

The Digital Compass 

The digital compass helps orient maps and other location-aware apps when you tap Apple Maps or Google Maps. Wi-Fi positioning accesses a huge database of known Wi-Fi hotspot locations to help determine your location.

The IBeacon

Apple's iBeacon uses a device's built-in Bluetooth technology to communicate with stores, malls, sporting venues and other locations that have installed iBeacon. Apple says, "Instead of using latitude and longitude to define the location, iBeacon uses a Bluetooth low energy signal, which iOS devices detect." Overall, any iPad model can do a reasonably good job of determining your position when you're within range of any Wi-Fi. 

The Bottom Line 

So when it comes to location-aware technology, which iPad model is right for you?

If you're a frequent traveler or road warrior and you use your iPad extensively for connected activities like email when you're away from home or your office, a pricier cellular model can make sense. It should provide good value. Springing for cellular plus GPS will also give you the ability to use Google Maps, Apple Maps, or other GPS navigation apps for great turn-by-turn directions wherever you travel – as long as you're within cell tower range, that is.


If you primarily use your iPad at home or at work within Wi-Fi range, and if you depend on your iPhone, desktop or laptop for email and other connected activities, there's really no reason to spend the extra money for an iPad "Wi-Fi + Cellular" model. You can also use a device such as the Bad Elf GPS with Lightning port or the Garmin GLO to add GPS capability to a non-Wi-Fi + Cellular model iPad.