iPad With Retina Display and GPS Navigation and Maps

Woman on tablet
Hoxton/Tom Merton

Apple's newest iPad models have a set of features that make them powerful mapping, navigation, and location-aware-apps devices. But you'll need to get the right model to take full advantage of iPad GPS features. Also in this article, you'll learn more about the iPad's built-in navigation apps and recommended free and paid apps for a range of needs.

Like previous iPad models, the new iPads come in versions that do and do not have a GPS chip. The "WiFi" versions of all iPad models do not have a GPS chip or built-in GPS capability. The "WiFi + Cellular" models do have built-in GPS chips and GPS location capability.

Apple has never explicitly stated why it does not include a GPS chip in the WiFi-only models, but I suspect it is because many apps that use GPS for navigation and other duties need to draw on data from the Internet, even when they are out of range of a WiFi signal. This means these GPS apps would effectively be "broken" when out of WiFi range. That kind of problem is a no-no in Apple-land, and I can't argue with the reasoning.

Confusing the issue somewhat is the fact that a WiFi-only iPad can fairly accurately pinpoint your location under many conditions. As long as the iPad can pick up even a few Wi-Fi signals, it can use Wi-Fi positioning - which draws on a database of known WiFi hotspots - to determine where you are.

Hopefully, this clears up the "which model?" question about the iPad that I receive regularly. If you want a built-in GPS chip, you need to buy a WiFi + Cellular model. And to answer another common question: no, you do not need to pay for a data plan for the GPS chip to work. There is one more thing to consider regarding the data plan, however. If you get a WiFi + Cellular model but no data plan, you will not be able to receive fresh maps, points-of-interest, and other data when you are out of Wi-Fi range.

Best Built-in and Downloadable Apps for GPS and Navigation

The iPad comes with a Maps app that lets you search for addresses, points-of-interest and much more, worldwide. After finding your location, if you wish to travel there, simply tap "directions" for turn-by-turn directions and real-time traffic information, as well. Apple has not yet built spoken-street-name, turn-by-turn directions into its iOS products, but I believe it will eventually.

There are a number of other key apps included with your purchase of the iPad that make good use of GPS and location capability. The iPhoto for the iPad app, for example, will automatically geotag your photos and videos (you can turn off this feature) to help you organize and find photos by location. The Reminders app lets you geofence and set reminders by location.

High-quality turn-by-turn navigation apps that run on the iPad (just search these brands in the app store) are offered by TeleNav, MotionX, TomTom, and Waze. With its large, bright, high-resolution Retina display, the new iPad is also popular with pilots and boaters. Pilots use apps for charts, weather, and airport information. Sailors can tap into a wealth of charting and navigation apps.

Travelers will appreciate apps such as Flight Track, a live flight status tracker, the Tripit Travel Organizer, Kayak, and Yelp for restaurant and other reviews. Outdoors-people will enjoy apps such as Backpacker's Map Maker, which is a joy to use on the iPad's touchscreen.

The full range of sensors and location devices on the new iPad include (all models) accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, Wi-Fi location, and digital compass. The Wi-Fi + 4G models also include an AGPS chip and cellular location capabilities.

Overall, the iPad is a great travel companion that will serve you well, with the right mix of apps installed.