5 Ways to Get True GPS on the iPod touch

Add GPS to iPod touch
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One major difference between the iPhone and the iPod touch is that the touch doesn't include true GPS features. It offers a limited kind of location awareness that is useful in many cases, but if you need true accuracy or are in a rural location, the iPod touch may leave you lost.

Even though there's no GPS chip in the iPod touch, you can still get GPS features for your device.

Why the iPod touch Lacks True GPS

For a device to truly have GPS features, it needs to include a GPS chip (or multiple chips). These chips are used to connect to GPS satellites to determine a device's location. The iPhone supports both GPS and GLONASS, two kinds of GPS. The iPod touch doesn't have a GPS chip.

For Apple devices, though, pure GPS chips are not where location awareness features end. Apple uses a number of other technologies to improve the accuracy and speed of its location features. The most important of these is Wi-Fi positioning. This is a technique that uses the Wi-Fi networks that your device can detect nearby to determine where you are. The iPhone uses this, and so does the iPod touch. In fact, that's the source of the touch's location features.

There's an obvious downside to this: If there aren't many nearby Wi-Fi networks or none at all, the touch won't be able to figure out where it is. That means it won't be able to provide turn-by-turn driving directions, suggestions for nearby restaurants, and similar information.

iPod touch GPS Accessories

Luckily for iPod touch owners, there are a number of third-party GPS accessories that work with the touch and can be used to add GPS to the device. These include GPS chips, so they provide true GPS functionality (though they may be a bit slower than an iPhone in some circumstances). They're all external hardware—sorry, there's no way to add them to the internals of the touch—but they can get the job done.

If you're looking to add true GPS functionality to your iPod touch, check out these accessories: 

  • Bad Elf GPS for LightningThis little dongle plugs into the Lightning connector at the bottom of the iPod touch and adds GPS and GLONASS support. A free app provides updates and configuration tools. There's also a version of the accessory for devices that use the old Dock Connector. MSRP is US$129.
  • Dual XGPS seriesDual has two iPod touch-compatible devices: the XGPS150A and XGPS160. Both are small boxes that connect to the touch over Bluetooth. Both support GPS, while the XGPS160 adds GLONASS. Expect to spend $100-$150.
  • Emprum UltiMate GPSThis is an option if you've got an older iPhone since it has a built-in Dock Connector plug. It offers GPS support, but not GLONASS, for around $100.
  • Garmin GLOGPS industry leader Garmin offers this box that provides GPS and GLONASS via a Bluetooth connection. It has a 12-hour battery life, weighs just over 2 ounces, and promises speedy location readings. Expect to spend around $100.
  • Magellan ToughCaseAnother good option for older models. The ToughCase doesn't just offer GPS; it's actually a full iPhone case adds all kinds of protection, additional battery life, and more. It only works with the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Originally priced at $200, expect to find it for a lot less.