iPad Navigation: How to Use Your iPad & GPS to Find & Map Your Way


In my most recent post, I mentioned that I just returned from an Apple Distinguished Educators Institute in Cork, Ireland. My wife and I did not rent a car, choosing instead to use public transportation or taxis. Ireland has a good bus and rail system and we purchased tickets and passes to make our way around and between Dublin and Cork. I decided to do without a data plan while there because I’d have regular access to Wi-Fi connections and the cost for international access can be high. However, I did want to be able to navigate using the Maps app and other navigation apps I installed for the trip. You may be thinking navigation with the iPad is impossible without a data plan of some kind or be surprised to learn you can access a live map on a moving bus without Wi-Fi. You can actually do both.

I deliberately got the 3G model when I purchased my latest iPad. I never activated a data plan, using my iPhone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for the iPad instead. Beyond the option to use cellular data, the 3G/4G iPad model also includes a significant capability the Wi-Fi only model doesn’t have. The 3G/4G model includes active GPS as part of the chipset. The GPS doesn’t need connectivity with either 3G/4G or Wi-Fi to work. I tested this function during my trip. I wanted to know if the iPad GPS would show my current location and where I was headed.

Though we had maps of cities (printed and digital), they offered limited help in knowing our current location. Street signs were often difficult to find even at intersections. Labeled landmarks and points of interest were often the best indicators. These static maps often couldn’t pinpoint our location, tell us where we were when riding a moving bus or when we were nearing a desired stop. For that, we needed active GPS. (By the way, the friendly Irish were willing guides when we became confused, needed directions or simply wished to confirm where we were headed.)

You can see the results of one of my tests in the video below. The sequence of screenshots was taken during a bus trip from downtown Dublin to our B&B a short distance from city center. These images show the Maps app tracing our route as we made our way by bus to our B&B. Note we’re on the left side of the road as we should be in Ireland [grin].

[jwplayer mediaid=”3996″]

Acquiring the GPS signal and getting GPS to pinpoint your location may take a few minutes. Apps that use GPS will drain your iPad battery more quickly.

Your Wi-Fi only iPad can also show your location using assisted GPS or A-GPS. This technology uses Wi-Fi connections near you to show your location. However, you can see that A-GPS is practically useless in remote areas or for navigating on the go, in a moving vehicle for example. A 3G/4G iPad also uses assisted GPS to speed up satellite signal acquisition by referring to nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi networks. This reduces the time to get an initial location fix before pinpointing exactly where you are.


About Andy Brovey

Dr. Andy Brovey, The Portable Prof, has over 30 years experience in educational technology, including teaching, administration and professional development. In 2007, Apple Inc. recognized his work and named him an Apple Distinguished Educator. Andy now runs a professional development business, working on site and online to help others make sense and make use of digital tools. He started this iPad Academy website shortly after the first iPad went on sale to help others become more comfortable and competent with the iPad, in person and online. Click Here for Video Lessons