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iPad GPS Navigation – Preview


Yes, the iPad 3G (the one with GPS) is out and despite its size there are people considering using it as an in-car navigation system. While we’re just a few days into using the iPad 3G with GPS and few developers have had time to adjust, we can report how some of the various navigation applications function on the iPad. Most of these applications are iPhone apps, running on the iPad.

GPS Performance

First, let’s talk about performance of the GPS chip itself. So far I’ve been very impressed. The GPS in the iPad gets a position fix faster than my iPhone 3G, and doesn’t drop the fix nearly as often. The accuracy looks very good. From what I’ve seen so far the GPS performance in the iPad is better than the iPhone 3G.

What follows are not “reviews” of these apps– we’ve already done that in most cases. Rather just a few short notes about any idiosyncrasies or issues specifically related to running the current iPhone apps on the iPad.

App “Zoom”

Since all of the apps mentioned are not compiled for both iPhone and iPad, they all either run in the tiny window at original resolution, or “2x” zoomed where they show some pixelation. Text looks particularly bad when zoomed, however the graphics on the apps were not horrendous.


I didn’t have any significant issues with the TeleNav app, aka “AT&T Navigator”. Unlike the other apps tested TeleNav doesn’t include on-board mapping so be sure you’re on the unlimited data plan if you go this route as it won’t take many miles of driving to suck down 250MB of data. 🙂


The Navigon appalso didn’t experience any significant issues. With on-board maps you won’t chug down a ton of data (things like traffic and Google search excluded will use data).


The one app I tried that I did have issues with was the TomTom App. It complained when I launched the app that it wasn’t connected to a GPS, and then continued to flash “Connect to GPS” in the title bar. Ironically, it could track my current position as I drove along, however it would not update my route progress. For example I created a route and it would show the highlighted route, but it wouldn’t show me the distance to the next turn nor provide any voice guidance. All it did was draw the route on the map. In all fairness, these apps were not designed for the iPad but it is interesting that this particular app choked while others didn’t. I imagine this will be addressed.


The Magellan iPhone app has on-board maps just like the Navigon and TomTom apps have. The app worked well in my limited test, similar to the Navigon app.


A tiny note that CoPilot does have an “HD” version of their app out specifically designed for the iPad. I haven’t included it here for two reasons. First, because it is designed for the iPad it doesn’t fit in the same class as these apps and should be evaluated separately. Second in my testing of their iPhone app I’ve found their map data to be so bad that it was practically unusable for navigation in the three states I’ve used it in.

Scosche Mount

So how are you going to mount the thing? With the Scosche in-vehicle iPad mount of course!

40 Responses

  1. Tim – The Scosche mounting system is what I envisioned would be the size of mount needed. Yikes! All you need now is a mini-fridge, porta-potti and one can sell the house or give up the apartment and start touring the world! Wait ’til Oprah hears about this!

    Jim - May 8th, 2010
    • Yeah, it might not work well in my car since the double din is low and the iPad might interfere with the shifter. 🙁

      Tim - May 8th, 2010
  2. Can you use the 3G model’s GPS WITHOUT subscribing to the monthly data plan or you must subscribe to a data plan in order for the GPS hardware to be utilized?


    Randy - May 10th, 2010
    • Randy, the short answer is yes, but the long answer is that you might not like the results. Like smartphones, the iPad is designed to use as little power as possible to preserve battery life. With that in mind the GPS in the iPad 3G is “A-GPS” meaning “assisted” GPS. This means that the GPS chip gets “assistance” finding your location by first approximating your location based on nearby wifi signals as well as nearby cellular towers. Since it will typically be getting this assistance the GPS chip itself is of lower power than those found in a dedicated GPS device and thus isn’t quite as good at pulling in weaker GPS signals

      I’ve turned off wifi as well as turned off cellular data on my iPad 3G and it can still find and track my location… just not nearly as quickly as it can with “assistance” from wifi and cellular data. So while it does work without the data plan, it might not meet your expectations in how fast it can get a fix, how well it keeps the fix, and how accurately it tracks your location.

      Tim - May 10th, 2010
      • I have not subscribed to 3G and my iPad GPS has worked great for GPS Navigation. (I live in a canyon in the mountains).

        Dustin - May 13th, 2010
      • There’s quite a bit of confusion out there about what A-GPS means. Basically, “assisted” means that the GPS circuit gets additional location information from one or more data sources, other than satellites.

        In mobile phones, such supplementary data usually is obtained by distance triangulation to base stations (cell towers).

        Another location-data source that is increasingly used by GPS devices relies on databases of recorded locations of WiFi hotspots, for example the databases provided by Skyhook Wireless. The latter, incidentally, is the only source of location data used in the iPad WiFi-only model.

        However, the term A-GPS must NOT be understood as implying anything about the sophistication or “power” of the GPS circuit itself. The only fact the term A-GPS expresses with certainty is that we’re dealing with a hybrid positioning system that is using the Global Positioning System as one of its data sources.

        A great variety of GPS chips and devices have been on the market that differ in
        – the number of satellites they can track simultaneously,
        – processing speed (which may influence the speed of acquiring a position lock),
        – tolerance to reflected signals and RF interference,
        – design (specification) accuracy,
        – and more.

        I don’t know whether the iPad WiFi+3G model and the iPhone 4 use the same A-GPS circuitry, but they behave differently when in Airplane Mode, i.e. both cellular data and WiFi circuits disabled. In that case, the iPhone provides no location information at all.

        The iPad 3G, by contrast, continues to provide accurate position readings. Its GPS works well on the road, even in remote mountain valleys and under a thin tree canopy. But it does not get a position lock inside a one-story home, even when cellular data is turned on again.

        In the same spot, a five year old stand-alone Holux GPSlim 236 Bluetooth GPS Receiver has no trouble delivering a position to the Mac. Unfortunately, neither the iPad nor the iPhone support connections to such Bluetooth data sources, though I have read that a more versatile Bluetooth utility is available for jail-broken iPhones.

        Nevertheless, the iPhone 4–with Airplane Mode turned off, i.e. cellular data enabled–also displays a strong GPS signal and accurate position in Motion-X GPS inside this same building. That leaves me with the suspicion that the iPad 3G uses a different GPS chip than the iPhone 4. I would have expected the iPad to do at least as well at this location as the iPhone, since the iPad has more space for a potentially better GPS antenna.

        On the iPhone, with cellular data turned off, but WiFi enabled, position tracking can be quite jerky when driving, depending on the density of WiFi hotspots. In dense urban areas it may actually be good and more accurate than with GPS alone or on a A-GPS cellphone that uses base-station information along with GPS, but without WiFi hotspot data. But in some suburban and generally in rural areas, WiFi alone is not very useful, except if you’re lost and and are lucky enough to come upon a rare hotspot that ends your anxiety.

        One interesting artifact of 3G A-GPS that you may observe when launching some mapping application: As the app acquires the GPS position, the “current position” marker may initially show up for a short moment at the location of the base station of the cell which currently serves your mobile device, before it shifts more or less swiftly to the vicinity of where you actually are. Go and check out that first spot. You’ll probably find a tower or antenna structure there.

        Wolf - July 13th, 2010
  3. I’d love one of these mounts, but it would have to work with the Macally case.


    Dustin - May 13th, 2010
  4. I’m frequently in remote, mountainous areas, where there are no cell towers, not to mention WiFi hot spots, within dozens to 100+ miles. Do the iPad and/or any of these navigation apps support external GPS receivers connected via USB–or preferably–Bluetooth?

    Wolf - May 16th, 2010
    • The iPad does not have a USB port and Bluetooth is only for keyboards. There is a possibility of it working with some iPhone external GPS chips through the dock connector (I haven’t tried any) but really– the GPS chip in the iPad works very well without any wifi or cellphone connectivity.

      Tim - May 17th, 2010
      • Just returned from the Apple store where the salesman said the 3G iPad would NOT work without wi-fi or 3G connection. So, I didn’t buy. I want to use this with iNavX navigation software on my boat, where I’m usually out of range of both 3G and wi-fi’s.

        Can anyone verify that the 3G version’s GPS will work without 3G and/or wi-fi connection?


        Ron - May 23rd, 2010
        • Ron, see thread #2 above. My iPad 3G will get a GPS signal just fine with the wifi radio disabled and the cellular radio disabled (which you can’t do with the iPhone). You can’t use apps that don’t store maps locally, like the included maps app. But all other mapping programs I’ve tried that store maps locally work fine, as mentioned above.

          Tim - May 23rd, 2010
          • Thanks, Tim. I will try it since the navigation maps will be stored on the iPad. The iNavX program works well on the iPhone, but the screen is too small to be very usable. The iPad should be a good substitute chart plotter.


            Ron - May 23rd, 2010
  5. I have used the iPad 3G for car navigation and hiking. The GPS in this is far superior to the iPhone gps. I get a lock pretty fast and it holds really well. I used it hiking this weekend with the Gaia GPS app (It can download topo maps for of line use)I started the app, had my notebook style case on my iPad (trip jacket) Once I got a lock I started recording and put the iPad into my water Pack/back pack. I took it out at the top of the mountain and it record the whole way up! (even under trees). For about 5 hours of GPS use the battery went down 50%. The GPS iPad 3G does NOT need a data plan. It takes a little bit more time for it to first acquire with out a data connection (1-2 mins)

    Peter - May 25th, 2010
  6. well I guess I waited to long to get unlimited plan from ATT , I was looking night of the 8th and the apple site said if I ordered as of the 6th I could have got a unlimited plan for just a few dollars more than 2 gig plan. gees that stinks, snooze you loose I guess, but this interesting about using the Ipad as gps without wifi or a cell connection, Im thinking I kinda like that, alot of times the screen on my regular gps can give me a large enough general area for me to really see where I am at,,,,, so I dont see anything about google maps on here, in case your wondering I have the samsung eternity, google maps comes up really quick, but supposedly ATT has you locked out from hettin a percise fix like on a apple phone, even if you use the 30 dollar data plan, that also stinks cause ATT navigator takes FOREVER to load and work on that phone,,,, so if I could use google maps, full screen , on this I pad and get a good fix that soungs great, hum, wait a minute, I bet I have to be able to log on to internet to get google maps though,,, did not think about that, But I could go for some preloaded maps type program I guess, has anyone tried googlemaps on Ipad yet???

    terry - June 13th, 2010
  7. I am \desperate\ for a good iPad 3G car nav GPS and ready to pull the trigger on CoPilot except for your bad mini-review. I have been holding off hoping TomTom or Navigon will release iPad versions but I need to buy within 2 weeks for a big car trip – have you heard any news? I am also concerned that if I buy the TomTom or Navigon that I will have to buy the full HD version when that eventually comes out. Or can you do a full review of CoPilot? I bought MotionX but it’s lack of onboard maps and limited functionality is not working for me. Thanks.

    Chris - July 13th, 2010
    • Chris–

      I bought the GPS Drive HD app from MotionX (very cheap, but it may have been an introductory offer, or require re-newing to keep the voice–not sure). It works very well. It has all the maps on the pad.


      Ron - July 13th, 2010
      • I bought both the MotionX GPS and the Motion (nav) app. For $3 each they are amazing. However I am trying to plan a trip and one thing I really want is being able to select a location and navigate to it, whether there is an address or not (I am traveling in the mountains and addresses are simply not there – or at least these ones not recognized by Motion X). If I could select the location in Motion like I can in their GPS app, I would be just fine, but I can’t. Also – I am nervous about not having maps onboard for when I am out of cellphone areas, as I would expect to happen in the mountains. Both maps are DEFINITELY worth more than their $3, but I wish I could have this little piece of functionality.

        Chris - July 13th, 2010
  8. Can I download GPS on my ipad

    Carolyn - July 26th, 2010
  9. Does anybody have information about using the IPAD with a real external GPS connected via Bluetooth. I want to use this in my airplane as a navigational aid.

    Troy - August 1st, 2010
    • The required Bluetooth profiles are not on the iPad as far as I know.

      Tim - August 1st, 2010
      • You can use an external GPS if you jailbreak your iPad and install roqyBT from Cydia. It allows me to use my BT-335 with my iPad.

        Sam - December 7th, 2010
    • I want to do exactly the same thing in my plane. I have the 3G ipad with built-in gps, but he unit does not track well enough unless I hold it by a window or put it on top of the dash, which is impractical. Jailbreaking to get the functionality, but I haven’t been able to confirm if it is possible to switch between internal and external gps after such a modification.

      If anyone figures out if this is possible, please let me know..

      Andrew - August 29th, 2010
    • I have now been using a Dual Electronics XGPS150 receiver via Bluetooth for a few weeks. It works very well with our original iPad WiFi+3G and iPhone 4. It has a special switch to put it in Apple compatible mode and it does NOT require the iPhone or iPad to be jail-broken. When in Apple mode, the XGPS150 is easy to pair with the i-device using the latter’s built-in Bluetooth settings pane under General settings. It appears that with the current firmware version of the XGPS150 it can only be paired with one i-device at a time, but because no code is required for pairing it is quick to pair it with another i-device if you want to swap the XGPS150 among two or more of them.

      The XGPS150 is more sensitive than the built-in GPS circuits of Apple’s current i-devices. It works inside our (wooden) home, is less likely to lose the satellite lock in remote mountain valleys and forests when there are no cell towers or WiFi hotspots, and it also is quicker to reacquire a fix under those conditions.

      However, in urban canyons you may be better off using the built-in aGPS circuit–if your i-device has one–because the aGPS can triangulate with cell towers and WiFi hotspots when there are not enough satellites in view.

      Dual also supplies a tiny “Dual Status Tool” app for iOS that allows you to see the remaining battery charge of the XGPS150; current longitude, latitude, altitude, heading, and speed; and provides a map of the currently followed satellites.

      Wolf - June 13th, 2011
  10. Does anyone have any experience with iNavX for iPad using electronic charts published by CHS (Canadian Hydrgraphic Service)?

    I plan to acquire a marine chartplotter, but they get very expensive once you go to 7\ screens or larger – I want to know if the iPad/iNavX combo is worth considering, and if it works as well as ‘normal’ chartplotters when outside of 3G and WiFi coverage areas.

    Gordon - August 18th, 2010
    • Yes, the iPad and iNavx work well with the. Canadian charts. I’ve been using them all summer.

      Ron - August 18th, 2010
  11. Any experience with coPilot on the iPad? I just installed the iPhone version on my iPad 3G.

    Omar - October 23rd, 2010
    • My experience with CoPilot is that the maps are so bad in most areas that it makes it almost unusable. The app itself isn’t too bad, but the map quality just eliminates it as a possibility for me.

      Tim - October 25th, 2010
      • Depends on where you live I guess. I have used Copilot on Android and Windows Mobile and it has been as good as TomTom on my iPhone.

        Dave - December 7th, 2010
  12. Has anyone else experienced a difference in the iPad 3G’s ability to acquire a position lock since updating the iOS?

    For me, it used to take only a couple of minutes, even with Airplane Mode turned ON (i.e. without using assistance from cellular data). Recently, however, it has often outlasted my extremest patience (20 or even 30 minutes, with Airplane Mode ON).

    Although I did not renew the 3G data plan for the iPad after the initial month, it appears that with Airplane Mode OFF, a GPS lock may be achieved quicker. Sometimes in a few minutes, though other times it may still take 10 to 15 minutes despite good visibility of a clear sky and resting the iPad on the dashboard in a stationary or only slowly moving vehicle. The longer delays might be due to being in areas with weaker mobile coverage from ATT Extended network only (i.e. no 3G coverage).

    Although the iPad has always been slower than the iPhone 4 to achieve a lock and has had much more trouble then the iPhone 4 doing so inside a car with a metal roof, my iPad 3G has remained very good at keeping the lock, even when driving on narrow forest roads.

    Unfortunately, if one accidentally turns off the iPad for just a few seconds, it will get bogged down again trying to acquire a lock. One may have to drive out of the forest AND get close to some AT&T towers before navigation can resume.

    Overall, after initial enthusiasm, I am very disappointed now with the iPad 3G+WiFi’s GPS capability.
    It’s not worth the high extra cost!
    This GPS weakness makes theiPad impractical for daily navigation use. Perhaps, it’s OK for people who wouldn’t mind using a car that they have to start with a hand crank and run in idle for 10 minutes before they can take off …

    What has been your experience with iPad 3G GPS performance?

    Wolf - October 25th, 2010
  13. Does the Wi-Fi only iPad have a GPS chip in it? If so, could I use it while on the road if I have pre-loaded appropriate maps (or if I’m in a WiFi hot spot)?

    Clark Waite - October 29th, 2010
    • The WiFi only iPad does not have a GPS chip inside.

      Tim - October 29th, 2010
    • No. The GPS chip is built into the 3G circuitry. The wi-fi model has no GPS.

      Ron - October 29th, 2010
  14. looking for the most reliable gps for the I-pad for off road trips in a truck camper,mostly in the Western US

    sidney - February 20th, 2011
  15. I really want to make my navigation in my car bigger. So I decided to use ipad for navigator in my car. But where can I install this mount for ipad.

    Sang-Heon Song - February 28th, 2011
  16. would you consider substituting an iPad for woody terrain use instead of a Garmin Oregon 450 or similar high end handheld gps?

    Peter J Maleady - June 12th, 2011
    • That really depends on what you want to do with it.
      Do you ask about woody terrain because of concern about satellite reception under tree canopies?
      The iPad per se won’t help you much with that. I don’t have experience with the iPad 2, but from what I understand its GPS capabilities are not substantially different from the original iPad WiFi+GPS. I.e. the GPS circuit is an “assisted” one (aGPS).

      In my experience, with the old iPad, the GPS accuracy is pretty good, but when you lose the lock on the satellites, there is no AT&T cell tower around, and you have moved some distance or had the iPad turned off over night, it can take very long to regain a lock.
      From what I’ve read about the Oregon 400t, it doesn’t do much better under similar circumstances (cell towers not being a factor for it, of course). I don’t know abou the Oregon 450.

      In any case, if reception under canopies is important to you, you should consider devices that accommodate a larger diameter, perhaps pole-mounted external antenna.

      Other considerations:

      – The Oregon is designed for outdoor use, the iPad primarily for indoor/dry conditions use (though you could get a third-party water resistant or water proof case for it).

      – The iPad is much larger (and heavier). An iPhone would be more comparable. It has a much better display resolution, but may be less readable in bright daylight? The latter may be the case with the iPad also.

      – The Oregon is limited to doing just a few things related to GPS.
      – The iPad/iPhone is a highly versatile computing platform. It supports cellular data, WiFi, USB, and Bluetooth. I have had good success overcoming the iPad’s poor unassisted satellite acquisition latency by using a Dual Electronic XGPS150 Bluetooth GPS receiver, which you can mount on top of a baseball cap, or such, for optimum reception under canopies.

      – You’ll be constrained to the Garmin map application if you get the Oregon,
      – There is a great and expanding choice of mapping applications for iOS.

      – The iPad is too big and cumbersome, in my opinion, to carry around just for casual navigation while walking.
      – The iPad is terrific if you need to take field notes and sketches, wan’t to be able to access lots of existing documents, field guides, online data, etc., and/or need to be able to see detailed map views for a substantial chunk of land at once. You may want to ruggedize it with third-party products and perhaps an external power source for all-day use with continuous wireless connectivity.

      Over the last 15 years, I have used many handheld and built-in automotive navigation and tracking devices and map applications. Motion X GPS and Motion X GPS Drive on iPad are better than anything I have seen so far and also the most economical if you already own and use an iPad for other purposes.

      Wolf - June 12th, 2011
      • thank you
        i may not have encountered the Dual Electronic XGPS150 Bluetooth GPS receiver until after i wrote to you but an external antenna is how i was envisioning boosting the ipad2 reception.
        and this is exactly the information i was looking for.
        the iPad1 and the iPad2 gps receivers are the same.
        as is, i’m told, the iTouch. the iPhone 4th generation is supposedly slightly different but of similar performance.
        potential at least, aGPS, triangulation off of cell phone towers, should boost performance.
        as it was, i borrowed and used a Garmin Nuvi 260 GPS unit for the trail survey i recently did.
        based on google earth coordinates at the base of the telephone pole across the street from my house i got an error goose egg margin of 9′ north-south and 1′ east-west. wow!
        unfortunately nothing but a mark one eyeball resolved the micro-terrain.
        but now that we can link a photo of the terrain to the gps coordinates, we’ve made another leap in terrain navigation.
        and you are right on about indoor device clumsiness vs outdoor device dedicated design.
        outstanding answer, thank you again

        Peter J Maleady - July 7th, 2011
  17. Hello,did this programs works with iPad not 3g(just wifi)?

    Mohamad - July 7th, 2011
  18. What drives your speakers?

    azints - September 16th, 2011
  19. I really enjoy this forum and like the reviews. Any thoughts on doing a review on GPS Nav applications that are not named: TomTom, Magellan or Garmin?

    What about reviewing the less known players with unique and in many cases more advanced features. I suggest: Dynavix and Sygic. Both of these are from Eastern Europe and are now launched in the US app store.


    Jason Blanchard - September 28th, 2011

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