It seems just about every electronic device pilots buy these days includes a GPS, including your phone, watch, ADS-B receiver and personal locator beacon. When you go flying, the odds are good that all these devices are with you in the airplane, so does it really make sense to spend the money for an upgraded iPad that includes GPS? Here are some things to consider.
The Facts – Apple’s iPad GPS option
Google the phrase “does the iPad have a GPS” and prepare to be overwhelmed. More than ten years after the iPad was introduced, lots of people are still confused about whether the tablet actually has a GPS in it. And if it does have a GPS, is it a “real” one? Let’s bust some myths and settle the issue once and for all.
First, some simple facts. Every iPad ever made has both WiFi and Bluetooth, two wireless technologies for connecting to nearby devices (in the case of Bluetooth) and the internet (in the case of WiFi). The only additional option is to add cellular service, which allows the iPad to connect to the internet anywhere your cell phone works.
This comes at a premium though, costing an extra $130 to upgrade to the WiFi + Cellular model. It’ll allow you to browse the web while driving down the interstate, or check the weather and update your flight plan when WiFi isn’t available (but it won’t work in flight).
There’s more to the story, though. In addition to the cell data service, the cellular models of the iPad also include a built-in GPS receiver. But it’s important to note that the iPad does not require the cellular connection for the GPS to work. In fact, you can purchase an iPad with cellular data, never sign up for service with Verizon or AT&T, and just take advantage of the built-in GPS for reliable navigation in any aviation app.
Should I upgrade to the model with GPS?
So now it’s decision time. Let’s assume you have no interest in using the cellular data component and are strictly weighing the pros/cons of paying the extra $130 for the GPS receiver in the upgraded iPad model. If cost is no object and you want the best of the best, we’d say go for it. Many prefer the peace of mind knowing their iPad is a fully self-contained navigation device which can provide backup navigation guidance if everything else in the panel goes dark.
On the other side of the equation, many pilots these days are flying with an ADS-B receiver, like a Sentry or Garmin GDL 50 for datalink weather and traffic, and these devices also include a GPS to show your location on the iPad’s moving maps. When you factor in that your iPhone or Android phone also includes a GPS (in addition to the GPS in the panel), many pilots find that it’s not worth the extra cost to add the GPS feature when buying a new iPad.
If you do end up making the decision to buy the WiFi only model without GPS, you can always add an inexpensive external GPS later. They start out at under $100 and wirelessly connect to your iPad (here are some tips for buying an external GPS).