iPad Mini For the Cockpit

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One thing I've never figured out about the iPad—or actually the people who use them in the cockpit—is how tolerant pilots are of mounting the things in suboptimal locations. Well, okay, ridiculous locations. My Oscar for most ludicrous mounting in an airplane too small for it goes to the Mooney owner who mounted his iPad at eye level a foot from his face, blocking radios and instruments. I've always felt the iPad was just a beat too big for ideal cockpit use, so when I use it for flying, I rarely mount it and especially not on a yoke.

Now comes the iPad mini which, theoretically, at 70 percent the size of the full-up iPad, should solve this problem. But does it? I've been messing with a mini for a couple of days and I'd say yes, it definitely does. In my view, it's what the iPad could and should have been in the first place, and not just for cockpit apps. The mini is perfectly sized to work with a small kneeboard I have and I suspect it will mount nicely in a yoke, although I haven't tried that yet.

There are some tradeoffs. Images and iconography for app commands are smaller and this can't always be addressed with pinch scrolling. But for plates and charts, you can find the right scale to make them just as readable on the mini as they are on the iPad. One unexpected bonus is that the slightly smaller keyboard and overall smaller size of the mini make it easier to thumb type than on an iPhone. I haven't mastered fast or accurate thumb typing on the phone, so I tend not to do it much. The iPad is just slightly too large and too heavy for thumbing.

Speaking of weight, at 10.9 ounces, the mini is less than half the weight of the iPad. When I toss my iPad in my backpack, I know it's there; I don't even feel the mini. One thing I don't like is that Apple is still equipping these devices with the highest reflectance displays among all the products in this market segment; the mini could double as a signal mirror. This is a nuisance in daylight and sometimes even at night, since it can also reflect instrument displays. The solution is a $30 anti-scratch/anti-glare screen that the competition doesn't require. (And of course, you need a $30 case and a $100 remote GPS, unless you buy a celluar version, which have onboard GPS.)

The tech press has been mildly enthralled with the mini, but some evaluators say that Apple blew it by not equipping it with the high-res Retina display. The mini has the same 1024 by 768 pixel display found in the original iPad, rather than the 2048 by 1536 used in the pricey iPad with Retina model. Those, by the way, start at $499, compared to the $329 for the starter mini. I haven't used the Retina version, although I've seen the display. For $170 and twice the weight, I can't see a functional difference for cockpit use. The lower res works just fine.

But, as the tech writers have noted, Apple's competition in the Android market, Google's Nexus 7, has a higher res display so Apple is seen here as somewhat wanting. The entry level Nexus is also cheaper, at $199. That got me wondering if Steve Jobs, were he still with us, would have let the mini out of Cupertino with a lesser display than the competition has, assuming he could have been talked into a 7-inch product in the first place. For some technical reasons related to power consumption, thickness and weight, the lower res display has some advantages. But Jobs was famous for pushing his technical staff to achieve what they argued wasn't possible. So my bet is that he wouldn't have let the mini out with the lower res display and would have insisted on something better that also wasn't heavier.

Judging by the timing, maybe Apple just didn't want to give up the Christmas sales to Google. As a result, the mini may not be insanely great, as Jobs liked to say, but for the cockpit, it's still an incremental improvement over the original iPad, which I have not picked up since the mini came out of its box last week.

Comments (42)

I've been a very strong convert of the 7" tablet these past few years with the Samsung Galaxy range and these take precedence over my 10" apart from magazine subscriptions. Just need more flying apps on Droid !

Posted by: Dean Rowley | November 26, 2012 1:45 AM    Report this comment

Allan, we can't see the link.

Posted by: Tim Toussaint | November 26, 2012 3:00 AM    Report this comment

Folks, our security software strips out links to keep you from being spammed to death by offers for knockoff Rolex watches and lady's handbags. You can post a link if you like, just remove the http and/or replace it with www.

Here's a good technical review of the screen comparisons.


Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 26, 2012 6:15 AM    Report this comment

I've been using the iPad mim for about three weeks now and like you Paul, have never looked back. I use a yoke mount and it works very, very well; it's so light I hardly know it's there. I thought the only downside would be the inability to write on approach plates, but blank paper on my kneeboard seems to work just fine. I upgraded from an iPad One and the only use for that was prefight planning and filing; it went in the back when I got in the airplane. My brother-in-law has it now and uses it for geocaching instead of a laptop. We're both happy.

Posted by: LOUISE ANDERSON | November 26, 2012 6:44 AM    Report this comment


Allan's missing link.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 26, 2012 6:47 AM    Report this comment

About a week ago I made the transition from an iPad 2 to a mini. Night and day! I found myself unable to find a good location for the full size iPad in a piper warrior cockpit other than tossed in the back seat. The mini on the other hand is perfect. I use a small flyboys kneeboard and the mini fits perfectly; tucks under the strap and clips into the clipboard.

Louise, consider getting the fltplan.com app for your approach plates. It's not an easy to use app, but does let you write on approach plates in any color you want. I keep it up to date only with procedures and if I plan things right it's only a 4 finger swipe away when I need it.

Onto the short comings, the screen could be better, but that's just nitpicking. My biggest gripe is they put out a brand new product with old technology. It shares the internal components of the ipad 2. Not an issue today, but give it a year or two and it will likely not be able to run the latest OS. Then again, for $350 after taxes it's comparatively disposable.

Posted by: dennis mahan | November 26, 2012 7:09 AM    Report this comment

Dennis, it's really closer to $500 when you add the remote GPS, the case (always stupidly expensive for Apple products) and a decent screen film to knock back the glare.

But the average ownership cycle seems to be about 18 months. So it certainly is disposable. A good pair of socks lasts longer. Maybe they ought to sell these things on a subscription basis. About $30 a month would do it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 26, 2012 7:18 AM    Report this comment

I must say it amuses me greatly to read all the hype about using the iPad and Mini in the cockpit! You'd think from what some of the Apple fan-boys write that they invented the tablet for the cockpit! I started with AnyWhereMap and an Ipaq years ago, eventually migrating with a Windows-based AWM to various tablets years before the iPad hit the cockpit. I'm now using AWM in the "Freedom" Android app in a Toshiba Excite 7.7. The 7.7 is the perfect screen size for the cockpit and works just fine with its standard-equipped internal GPS.

Posted by: JOHN AUSTIN | November 26, 2012 7:57 AM    Report this comment

A new Carbon Cub we flew cross country had an Ipad instrument screen with WingX. It provided a comprehensive amount of information for an LSA. The biggest issue traveling in the hot great plains was overheating of the ipad3 and display, resulting in a shut down of the unit for a few minutes. My ipad2 with the basic display had no such problem during the flight, but it was warm also.
It appears that the mini is the best cockpit solution yet.

Posted by: PHILIP POTTS | November 26, 2012 9:03 AM    Report this comment

I have been using the iPad2 for about 18 months now. Although, I find it a little big in the cockpit, it has replaced my laptop on the road. As a fractional pilot that has to pack for a week at a time in a roll aboard and a flight bag, space is a premium. I have not tried the iPad mini, because the space savings in the cockpit would not be worth the size sacrifice outside of the cockpit.

Posted by: Paul Nation | November 26, 2012 9:40 AM    Report this comment

Pilots tolerate them because we can't afford retrofitting with real "aviation" hardware! The cost of certified large screen panel mount navigation units is outrageous. Even the cost of "aviation" specific portable GPS units is outrageous.

The iPad does so much for so little that it's a no-bainer for use in the cockpit. A smaller one is the death knell for Garmin portables.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 26, 2012 11:15 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I have never understood why the iPad irritates you--don't deny it. I still remember your comment: "Let's see if we can leave it for dead." You complain about the lack of the retina display then say, "I can't see a functional difference for cockpit use. The lower res works just fine." You complain about the price--Garmin charges several times that for their product and much more for subscription fees than Foreflight, WingX, etc. You mention Apple's competition, Google's Nexus 7, without mentioning that Foreflight does not offer their product on Andriod. Maybe I'm an Apple fanboy, but it's not an exaggeration to say Apple has changed the world with their products and changed our little aviation world too, with credit to the people at Foreflight, WingX and others.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | November 26, 2012 11:20 AM    Report this comment

I wonder if the Microsoft tablet can fly without crashing.....

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | November 26, 2012 11:46 AM    Report this comment

I have been evaluating the various cockpit solutions (that don't require me spending money, or at least no more than $20) for a little more than a year now. I bought a cheap low-end 8" Android tablet, and while I found some uses (such as checking weather at my en-route stops), I didn't find it reliable enough to use as a paper chart replacement.

I flew to KOSH from KDXR this year and borrowed a friend's iPad2 with WingX and SkyRadar, and compared it to my tablet running the Garmin Pilot app. I was impressed with the reliability and responsiveness of the iPad, as well as the battery life, but unimpressed with the size. It was too big to fit on my lap, and I didn't want it obstructing my view of the instruments with a yoke mount, so I ended up leaving it on the passenger seat. I would not have wanted to be without my paper charts if I had to shoot an instrument approach.


Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 26, 2012 12:01 PM    Report this comment


My conclusion so far is that Android's limited selection of apps and unknown reliability means it's not quite a good enough solution for me. And the iPad's size and screen reflectivity (it was somewhat of a problem on my flight) mean it's also not quite a good enough solution.

In comparison to the iPad, I found my 8" tablet about the perfect size; which is pretty much the size the iPad mini is. From a general productivity point of view, I find Android the better OS. But there's something to be said about the stability of iOS, which might just make the iPad mini (with ForeFlight - I found WingX too complex) a good solution. As a runner-up, I do actually like Garmin's Pilot app (which runs on both iOS and Android). If AnyWhereMap has a free trial version (I don't believe there was, last time I checked), that might be something worth looking in to, too.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 26, 2012 12:06 PM    Report this comment

Here's that to the comparison photograph I tried to provide above. Thanks for the assistance, AvWeb.

However, AvWeb didn't link to the site I had discovered. It's worthwhile noting again my Android friends are telling me this photograph is a fair comparison, and why some of them are going Apple just one more time. Here is the link one more time (I hope).


Posted by: Allan Ramsay | November 26, 2012 12:35 PM    Report this comment

Just to clear up some confusion, Allan, the link you posted above is identical to the one I posted earlier. They are the same site.

They don't hyperlink. You have to cut and paste. Unfortunately, that's the limitation of our software to avoid spamming. When the new site is introduced in a couple a months, I hope it will address this nuisance.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 26, 2012 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Thomas, I don't know if you're a fanboy or not. Remember that routine from Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a redneck if...? Well, you might be a fanboy if, upon reading anything critical of Apple, you lose the ability to parse the actual information offered.

What I said was that some tech pubs and writers were critical of the mini's display option. Steve Kovach is one. Brooke Crothers another. I think it's fair game to mention such things.

So, let's see, I own three iPods, two iPhones, an iPad, a mini, an iMac and a Macbook Pro so I guess I like the products. But when I lose the ability to examine them or Apple critically or I exhibit that most virulent of fanboy symptoms, utter lack of sense of humor, please just come and shoot me. You can take all of the iStuff as a reward.

As for the comment about Droid not running Foreflight, why are you assuming the entire world wants to limit itself to apps that run only on IOS? WingX and Garmin's Pilot run on Android and they are perfectly credible. I've used them all and just returned from a flight using Pilot.

As for the mini, this much is true: It's a catchup product. Nexus and Amazon are already out there with 7-inch tablets and doing well. Apple wanted some of that money, so they simply shrunk the iPad 2 and installed IOS 6.01. Innovation? Not so much.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 26, 2012 1:14 PM    Report this comment

"... I own three iPods, two iPhones, an iPad, a mini, an iMac and a Macbook Pro ..." Yikes! You need an intervention :-)

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | November 26, 2012 1:29 PM    Report this comment

Regarding, "inovation;" when the iPad came our everyone dismissed it as nothing more than a big iPhone, and they were right. But, boy, did it ever surprise us!

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | November 26, 2012 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Actually, I need a new Macbook....

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 26, 2012 1:35 PM    Report this comment

I've been using a Nexus 7 with the Garmin Pilot app. I cannot how express how awesome it's been as it's the same aspect ratio of a plate. iPads are pretty clunky for up front.

Posted by: Joshua Griswold | November 26, 2012 2:54 PM    Report this comment

I can't wait to try my new iPad Mini in the cockpit! Perfect size and feather-weight.

I'm also fascinated by the new App from Austin Meyers (X-Plane) called Xavion. One time cost ($99), it has synthetic vision and it will show boxes in the sky to the nearest place you can glide to if the engine quits!

Read all about it here: www.x-avionics.com/xavion

BTW, only available on iDevices.

Posted by: CRAIG MAIMAN | November 26, 2012 3:10 PM    Report this comment

I'm a little confused about the complaints about the size of the iPad. I have an iPad 1 I got from my wife when she replaced it with a 2. I run Foreflight on it on a kneeboard. I land with it there with no difficulty and it's easy to read. So, what's the problem?

Posted by: John Worsley | November 26, 2012 9:37 PM    Report this comment

I'm in agreement with John on this one. I'm an early adopter of “i-Flight” and a “certified app-addict”. I’ve always managed to position my iPad-1 to minimize glare or obstruction of instruments.

My iPad 3 is noticeably faster, though, and my “aging eyes” appreciate the retina display. As far as the “i-Mini” is concerned, I can readily see the designers of the Garmin 7/696/5 having many sleepless nights. I also own a 695, and with one single exception (that I won’t get into), ForeFlight has rendered the Garmin into an outdated (and expensive!) paperweight.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | November 26, 2012 11:59 PM    Report this comment

"I'm a little confused about the complaints about the size of the iPad."

This is like saying you're confused because everyone doesn't like to wear paisley pants or drive Smart cars or whatever decision that involves taste and preference. Or you'll not only eat your peas, you'll like them, too. (A 1950s dinner-table favorite.)

Adapting to the full-sized iPad requires certain compromises around the fact that some people don't like big things in their lap or mounted on the yoke. I'm one of them and there are many others.

I suspect some of these people will love the mini or the Nexus 7 and some won't. That's what personal preference is about, no?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 27, 2012 5:55 AM    Report this comment

I agree with John Worsley- I find the iPad (I have a Gen 1 with GPS, running Foreflight) makes a fine kneeboard with the right case. Mine has a folding cover with a clip. Sure, it's a little heavy, but so were all the charts I used to lug around.

Since the mini came out, I've been wondering how I would use it-too small to act as a kneeboard? Like others here, I have multiple Apple products so the iPad fits right in.

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | November 27, 2012 9:26 AM    Report this comment

I have an iPad1, and it's very awkward to use in the cockpit. My iPhone5 works OK, but it's hard to see sometimes.

Does the Nexus 7 include an internal GPS?

If you want to see how ridiculous some iPad mounting schemes are, click on the ad for the (otherwise excellent) new Bad Elf GPS. There is a picture of an iPad mounted above the glare shield on the co-pilot side, effectively blocking the view of the right side of the sky, with extra benefit of cooking the iPad!

Posted by: Jim Howard | November 28, 2012 10:13 AM    Report this comment

I fly a Cessna 402 for an aerial mapping company. We travel all over the 48 states. I carry two iPad 2's and no paper. I have found that mounting the iPad or a kneeboard is a waste of money. There is always a glare from the sun in that aircraft requiring the iPad to be tilted in various directions to read it. Mounting the iPad makes the tilting difficult if not impossible. No problem with room in the 402. I'll stick with my bigger screens.

All I hear about is Foreflight and WingX. I use Flight Guides charts. I chose them because I always used their airport facility directory which comes with their chart subscription. I would like to see some articles comparing the WingX, Foreflight, Jeppesen and Flight Guide features (and any others that may exist).

Posted by: cary mcdonald | November 29, 2012 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for entering the link, Paul. I clearly did not see you had already taken care of it. That was thoughtful.

Posted by: Allan Ramsay | November 29, 2012 11:28 AM    Report this comment

Aviation Consumer had a comparison article about a year or so ago, though I think it was right around the time that Garmin was just releasing their Pilot app. The app has since been improved quite a bit on Android, so it'd probably be good to have a more recent comparison. Flight Guide and AnyWhereMap are two others that are new to me, and it'd be good to compare those two as well.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 29, 2012 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Sooo immensely happy they didn't listen to Jobs and released the mini. The big iPad is just too big for us AA5 drivers, as you can see here:


Posted by: Peter Kuhns | November 30, 2012 9:14 AM    Report this comment

Gee - I just sit my iPad3 on my lap with the kneeboard in a Cessna 150. Seems to work.

Posted by: Graeme Smith | November 30, 2012 2:25 PM    Report this comment

HELP!!! I know I am incredibly spoiled (sorry!) but I received both the iPad mini (64 gb) from my mom and the iPad w/ retina display (32 gb) from my in laws… I am terribly torn on which to return! If cost was not a factor at all, what would you choose?

Posted by: Michael Shell | December 25, 2012 11:26 PM    Report this comment

I would keep the full size iPad, but upgrade it to 64 gb. My plane partner and I both use iPads in the cockpit and do not find them too big.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | December 26, 2012 8:07 AM    Report this comment

I would keep both and try them out to see which one works best for me. The full-size iPad is definitely too big for me in a Piper Archer, but my other aircraft partners think the size is just fine. It definitely seems to be a personal preference thing.

Or, keep both, use the one you like best as your primary, and use the other as a backup. I'm only just moving to paperless, but I have my tablet, my phone, and a Garmin 696, and wouldn't consider doing it without at least 2 of those 3.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | December 26, 2012 8:26 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for the insight. That is where I was originally leaning but a lot of people are telling me to keep both for backup/security reasons. I am not the type of person that would keep two iPads but it is hard to argue with the safety and peace of mind of having two devices in IMC. Does that sound crazy?

Posted by: Michael Shell | December 26, 2012 8:28 AM    Report this comment

I have the iPhone as a backup, so I wouldn't need two iPads.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | December 26, 2012 8:31 AM    Report this comment

Ya, Gary... That is definitely what I am leaning towards. I don't have an iPhone, Thomas but that is a good thing to think about. I appreciate everyone's insights! I would try to ask what everybody likes as far as apps but I am afraid the comments would get long, haha. Are there any articles I must read before I decide?

Posted by: Michael Shell | December 26, 2012 8:59 AM    Report this comment

... he difference between a man and a boy ...

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 26, 2012 9:03 AM    Report this comment

I use both Foreflight and WingX. If you only want to pay for one, I'd go with Foreflight.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | December 26, 2012 9:15 AM    Report this comment

App choice also seems to be a highly personal thing. In my case, I use Garmin Pilot because they have a version for both iOS (for when I get an iPad Mini) and Android (my current-but-outdated tablet, and my phone). Like ForeFlight (and I think WingX), you can share one subscription with two devices, so I'll be able to run the same app with the same subscription on the iPad Mini and my Android phone. I also like the simplicity of Garmin Pilot, since it does exactly what I want it to do: be an electronic replacement for my paper charts.

ForeFlight and WingX both do far more than Garmin Pilot, but I also found using WingX not always intuitive and ForeFlight's touch-screen buttons were too small for me in turbulence.

My suggestion is to get a trial version of ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot (I'm not sure if WingX offers one as well) and try them out for real, and see which one you like best.

It really does come down to trying and then buying what works best for you.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | December 26, 2012 12:30 PM    Report this comment

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