It seems iPhone (and iPad) actually has a standard feature that is called external GPS device?

I hope to find out more about it:

  1. First of all, why would we use an external GPS device? I can understand if it is wireless-only iPad, then it has no GPS hardware and it is "best guessed by wireless", so an external GPS device can help, but what about for iPhone -- why do we need it?

  2. If it is external GPS device, is it by BlueTooth only? Can it be by WiFi, or by lightning connector, USB-C if it is iPad Pro, or possibly, another other method? (such as using the Internet to pass the location to iPhone, instead of BlueTooth?)

  3. Does it in general work for iPhone and iPad both?

  4. So the device can also move around from the true GPS location, such as for whatever reason, simulate a location that is 20 feet away? Or even to 50 miles away? What are some examples of such devices?

The question is to understand about "external GPS devices", which I never knew is actually a standard feature for the iPhone / iPad.

1 Answer 1


Per specs, only iPads with cellular modems have GPS hardware built in—where by definition all iPhones will have it.

There's a discussion thread in Apple communities that appears well-sourced with a few links to more information.

Speaking from experience, full-fledged GPS in an iOS device WILL drain battery quite quickly—due to the need for satellite tracking. That can be an unwelcome surprise in the wilderness—and something dedicated GPS devices may be better suited for.

Another example is aviation-use iPads in the cockpit for management/flight planning, where external GPS devices run the risk of interfering with the aircraft's installed GPS transceivers.

  • you mentioned "Per specs, only iPads with cellular modems have WiFi built in"... you mean "Per specs, only iPads with cellular modems have [GPS hardware] built in"? Jan 24, 2021 at 3:18
  • @deeper-understanding Ha! That has been corrected.
    – karolus
    Jan 24, 2021 at 3:20
  • ah I think it might be better to mention "GPS hardware" while Wifi-only iPad is by simulated GPS (by Wifi and their locations, by SSID names nearby, etc)... i heard some company (Google and wonder if Apple has it)... have a database of SSID names, so if they see a few SSID names that exactly match their database, together with WiFi, they can guess where you are Jan 24, 2021 at 3:31
  • The part about SSID is true—there are third-party tools used by retailers, for example to track users throughout store space, a type of targeted marketing research. Aside from that, even on devices with GPS hardware, it's recommended enable WiFi for better location accuracy—but that polling only increases battery drain.
    – karolus
    Jan 24, 2021 at 3:55

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