Often the question will come up about using an iPod touch or iPad with GPS; this post is intended to give at least a start to answering the question. The iPod and the iPad have different answers to the question though. If you have had a full night’s sleep and or a fresh cup of coffee and are feeling ready to wade into the details, here we go…

The iPod touch and the iPad with WiFi only do come with a digital compass app and when connected to a WiFi network can determine your location. When they do not have internet access, they cannot use location information but the internal sensor will allow the compass to work.

Here is the description from Apple’s iPod Touch product page:
“For iPod touch with Maps, the Maps application provides your approximate location using information based on your proximity to known Wi-Fi networks (when on and available). The more accurate the available information, the smaller the circle identifying your position on the map. The feature is not available in all areas. Known Wi-Fi networks are predominantly in urban areas.”

One way that the iPod and the WiFi only iPad can be used away from a location that has WiFi, such as a school, office, or home, is to connect the device to the a personal hotspot or to an external GPS receiver, such as the Dual Electronics GPS Receiver (Link for product at Amazon.com, http://goo.gl/X5DvUt).

There are some apps that may give limited information about location based on Skyhook data, which is information provided by local networks in their WiFi, this information is transmitted even when not actually “connected” to the WiFi network.

Generally, unless in a very rural area with limited cellular service, the safest route to guarantee the best integrity of information is to share the internet connection by using the option to set up a personal hotspot on a smartphone (such as the instructor’s telephone when they are in close proximity to the student) or having the student carry a mobile hotspot device such as a MiFi.

The iPad with cellular and WiFi capability, like the iPhone, uses hardware that allows it to use Assisted GPS, or A GPS, which uses a combination of information from GPS and cellular/WiFi data to identify your location. The A GPS allows you to have much faster information about your location than waiting for a connection to satellites alone.

So, there are many answers to the original question, “Can an iPod be used with GPS and other apps that are handy for O&M instruction?” Each application purchased on the Apple App Store has information about which devices can be used with it and will generally include a disclaimer for the iPod Touch and iPad with WiFi only to let the purchaser know that the full functionality of the app requires an internet connection. The trick then is to get the internet connection to the device.

As new devices arrive in the marketplace, new capabilities arrive, so the answer today may be different than tomorrow’s answer. It is a quickly evolving area and one that our students generally take to like water.

Happy Adventuring with Technology!
: )