iHype: iPad = Perfect EFB?

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So obnoxious and overpowering was the hype surrounding today's introduction of Apple's iPad that even my inbox started to catch some incoming. From reader Andy Taylor came this note: "I assume someone is already working on an EFB software application for the iPad? May be just the thing we've been waiting for, for search and display of approach plates, enroute charts and so on."

As much as I hate to admit it, he's on to something. We don't yet know much about the technical specs of the machine, other than it looks like a giant iPod Touch, has built-in wireless and a very thin, flat display architecture. That last part is the alluring factor for an e-reader and an EFB, although true EFBs also need at least a little processing/display horsepower. If you've ever run maps on a Touch or iPhone, the delay in map refresh is annoying. I'd never put up with that in the cockpit. Presumably, the iPad will address this.

For the March issue of Aviation Consumer, we're working on a comparison of electronic plate library hardware and, frankly, the killer app just isn't out there. All of them are compromised in some way, either being too small, too slow, too large or just not ideally suited to plate display. None of this has stopped developers from flogging them into the market anyway.

So, now the iPad. Watching some of the live blogging and tweeting going on Wednesday, my crap detector was off-scale high. Whenever you hear the phrase "game changer" or, gag, "this will change your life forever," there's an understandable urge to find a sharp object to slit your wrists with. Perhaps I'm being unkindů

I heard a funny quote from media writer Ken Auletta who was asked shortly after the rollout if he thought the iPad would prove the savior or the struggling publishing industry. "Savior?" he replied. "If you want a savior, go to church."

What seems likely to me is that the iPad will draw more consumers into the world of e-readers. I've had a Kindle for about a year and love it. I might go for a color version, if the size and price are right. Starting at around $500, the iPad's price strikes me as about right, but its size might not be if it won't fit into a small backpack or it's too big to hold comfortably.

We will watch for aviation apps for the iPad issuing forth in due course. My prediction is that you'll see the first one well before Sun 'n Fun. Bets anyone?

While I'm waiting, the game hasn't changed and my life is pretty much the same: A dark, swirling vortex of unfulfilled promises.

Comments (36)

I bought a Sony Reader to try the online PDF approach plates and was very disappointed at the performace. It could take 30 seconds to flip pages. www.pdfplates.com has just introduced a lower resolution version of the plate that I just downloaded - this might just be a winner. The response time is much better - probably 2 or 3 seconds so far. The iPad could be very cool, but I don't think EFB software will be needed for plates - just download them as PDF's or buy the FAA's DVD. Now if they put sectionals and L-charts on it, I'll probably buy one.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 27, 2010 6:52 PM    Report this comment

Imagine adding WAAS GPS and ADS-B. Then you have traffic, weather, and precision approaches.

Posted by: Brad Koehn | January 27, 2010 7:07 PM    Report this comment

I have never been a Apple convert but I will venture to say that this device will be infinitely more successful than the PC variants available now. That is provided Apple allows anyone with the proper software and knowledge to create apps as they do for the iPhone. The apps make the iPhone stand out. Built in 3G, Wi-Fi, and presumeably Bluetooth connectivity will make this device very usable for many applications and since it has a descent performing processor, it should perform much better than the iPhone. If charts, plates, and a basic aviation gps app is developed and offered for a nominal fee, I'm in.

Posted by: Michael Piervy | January 27, 2010 7:34 PM    Report this comment

I just switched from a PC to a MacBook this week - my first experience with Apple. I don't know if I buy all the hype, but I will say that out of the box it worked well - kind of reminds me of my Garmin handheld( Now if only Jepp would make a database updater that works for Mac!) I love the idea of XM or perhaps ADS-B weather Unfortunately, it's not likely at all that a WAAS enabled iPad will ever be approved for precision approaches, but would come in handy if the panel ever went dark.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 27, 2010 11:17 PM    Report this comment

Josh, never say never. It wasn't all that long ago that people were saying the same thing about GPS.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | January 28, 2010 7:44 AM    Report this comment

For me, when it comes to electronics and aviation, I'm all about redundancy. If it's going to let me leave my charts on the ground, I'm going to have two of them. I'm still skeptical about enroute information. This device is great approach plates, airport diagrams, and A/FD information, but I love the warm fuzzy of having an enroute or sectional on my lap. The app developers are going to have to come up with a super-smooth way to navigate those types of charts on these devices.

Posted by: Nicholas Stolley | January 28, 2010 8:55 AM    Report this comment

There's already an app for approach plates and AOPA's diectory and a bunch of other stuff. You update the database every 28 days for free. It's called WING-X and is $100 app. I have it on my iPhone. I don't know if this app is available on the ipad but it will turn it into and EFB.

Posted by: Scott Warner | January 28, 2010 9:09 AM    Report this comment

I think we can say never for the near and distant future on portable GPS for IFR approaches. There is no certification basis for a handheld portable GPS, however our panel mount GPS equipment has been thoroughly tested and certified. I have no doubt of the equipment's ability to be able to navigate an approach (My old Garmin 196 can do that) it's the lack of certification that will kill the handheld for IFR navigation.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 28, 2010 9:23 AM    Report this comment

The possibility of the iPhone app Foreflight Mobile with its weather & dragable google-maps-like charts on an large screen has me seriously considering an iPad.

Posted by: ROBERT SNYDER | January 28, 2010 9:37 AM    Report this comment

Paul, all the apps that run on the iPhone run on the iPad right now, albeit at the size of the iPhone app until the developer optimizes them for the iPad screen size. Apple said the apps that were demonstrated yesterday took the developer about two weeks to optimize for there new creation. As an aside, I wish AV GPS hardware developers would take lessons from Apple's ease of use. To make things easy to us is very hard and takes time, Apple is very seldom first into a new market and they don't usually release junk to fix later with "service packs". And Paul Sun N Fun is too far away, we'll see AV apps for the iPad in two weeks or less. But I do agree that killer AV app is still out there in someone's mind.

Posted by: Marty Rogers | January 28, 2010 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Garmin should be shaking in their boots right now. This thing is going to kill their handheld business, if for no other reason than it has four to eight times the screen for approximately one-third the price. Even if I had to buy a dock connector-based hardware add-on to get XM weather, a "real" GPS, and ADS-B for another $500, the iPad is *still* less than one-third the price of a Garmin 696 and has a far better screen, plus the ability to do all the stuff an iPad can do anyway. Around $1000-1200 for an EFB with a 10-inch screen? Yes, please.

If Apple ever felt like burning up a couple billion in cash and starting an avionics division, they could put Garmin, Avidyne, and Honeywell's and Rockwell-Collins's avionics divisions out of business, too, and they'd make aviation far better for it. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you work at any of those companies), I don't think Jobs cares enough about a niche market like aviation to make that push, but if the iPad takes off as an aviation accessory, maybe it'll finally get his attention. I would like nothing better than to see Apple bring some UI innovation to the cockpit. What we've got now is comparatively atrocious.


Posted by: Chris Lawson | January 28, 2010 11:02 AM    Report this comment

I have been using a Sony PRS505 bookreader and a full US set of approach plates+ facilities Directory from Readerplates.com (9.95/month) for over a year. I am very happy with the service and the readability. My only hope is for a bigger screen. I am waiting on the new Sony Daily Edition reader, but the iPad is causing me to put any purchases on hold.

Jim Hiatt

Posted by: James Hiatt | January 28, 2010 11:13 AM    Report this comment

I have to agree with Paul - I use my iPhone for planning and filing (Foreflight), moving map (Foreflight and WingX), checklists, weather, FAR/AIM, listening to ATC, logging my hours (Logten) as well as playing X-Plane and a few other games. I've used it for approach plates using a large PDF reader, but it wasn't very practical, but in an emergency, can be used for a quick brief.

I think the iPad, being able to run all those and be big enough to use/mount in the cockpit AND be able to read plates and maybe get an XM-receiver for Nexrad.... All for less than the cost of an Aero...

Posted by: Robert Heise | January 28, 2010 3:43 PM    Report this comment

I don't know why people are so down on decent Windows PCs, my best example is the Fujitsu P1630, which have been able to do approach plates PLUS A LOT MORE for a long time. They work pretty well. I don't think any non-dedicated device will work so much better as to be a miracle cure.

Dedicated devices such as Garmin's 496 and 696 are a different category IMHO (though even the 696 doesn't really do the approach plates thing very well).

Posted by: JON CARLSON | January 28, 2010 9:29 PM    Report this comment

Jon free yourself from the shackles of the blue screen of death and try a Mac they can run any app a PC can run and you might find out what you've been missing. And maybe why we think Garmin hasn't even scratched the surface when it comes to an easy and intuitive UI.
Antoine de Saint Exupery Said, "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away." But of course it is easier to add another button here or a toggle there.

Posted by: Marty Rogers | January 28, 2010 11:23 PM    Report this comment

Marty, I haven't experienced a BSOD for at least 10 years on any of the many PCs I've used in that time. I'm quite familiar with how a Mac can run a PC app in any of several ways. But of course, if your Mac does everything you need it to do, why are you bragging that it can run PC apps? :-)

Posted by: JON CARLSON | January 29, 2010 12:30 AM    Report this comment

Rated by Apple for operation only to 10,000 feet (cabin pressure altitude, would be the measurement I would presume).

No mention of meeting the rapid decompression testing requirements of standard RTCA DO-160E for Class 1 and 2 electronic flight bags.

See FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76A.

Missing any sort of useful GPS (A-GPS with the 3G option is not adequate).

Missing SDHC slot (break-off dongle for copying files from SHDC is their suggestion).

Doesn't look nearly as rugged as a Garmin 696 to me, but that's not based upon any sort of testing.

Lack of a couple of dedicated page up/down, scroll left/right seems like it might make it more difficult to use in turbulence.

I'm not convinced that the iPad is even close to a reasonable solution.

The electronic ink displays have much better readability in direct sunlight.

I wouldn't buy one for displaying charts.

Oh, a separate Bluetooth GPS would probably work if the app supported it, so at least that issue might be solved.

That might also make it easier to place the GPS with a better sky view than if it was embedded in the iPad.

Posted by: R. Gilligan | January 29, 2010 2:05 PM    Report this comment

Regarding the Mac/Windows debate. My Windows Vista PC crashed while burning photos to a DVD to install on my new Mac. For a somewhat critical app like supplemental navigation in flight, I think the Mac/Unix based system definitely has a reliability advantage. Perhaps Linux on a tablet PC would be an interesting option?

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 29, 2010 5:36 PM    Report this comment

Jon, point well taken. Whatever we can us to keep us safe in our airplanes is a good thing and Avionics ease of use will catch up very soon I'm sure. Look at Avidyne it's getting closer with every new release, just wish Garmin would focus a little more on intuitive UI.

Posted by: Marty Rogers | January 29, 2010 5:43 PM    Report this comment

I would like to point out an alternative to the Apple iPad. The HP Slate, revealed a week ago, is similiar in size and shape to the iPad, with a 10" screen. However, it runs Windows 7, a full desktop operating system. The iPad runs what is essentially a revamped smartphone OS.

This means that almost any existing aviation software that works on Windows XP/Vista/7 will work on the HP Slate, although the touch screen interface is not guaranteed to be well suited for it.

Also, unlike the iPad, the HP Slate has a USB port. One little difference that makes it dramatically more useful. Since it runs full Windows 7, you can presumably use any USB device you can use with your Windows desktop/laptop. IE, any USB keyboard, mouse, webcam, printer, USB memory stick, USB GPS device, or whatever.

Indeed, Apple brags about having 100000+ Apps in the iPod App store, but the Slate can theoretically run any program ever written for Windows XP/Vista/7, limited by its CPU and RAM. Not all of these programs will work well with the touch screen interface though.

Sorry to sound like an ad for HP, but I feel like the Slate is a far more capable device, mostly because it has a full desktop operating system instead of a glorified smartphone OS.

Big disclaimer, the processor, RAM, and price have not been announced. But if they are in the same ballpark as the iPad, then the only real advantage to the iPad is its slick iPhone style interface.

Posted by: Jeremy Martin | January 30, 2010 2:09 AM    Report this comment

That being said I recognized the holy grail of a cheap EFB being based on a mass produced device. I saw a new reader type product at CES that although was based on the electronic ink technology was fused to a thin piece of stainless steel which was flexible. That sure would be an asset in the rough and tumble environment in a cockpit.

Posted by: RAY DAMIJONAITIS | January 30, 2010 9:26 AM    Report this comment

Why would Apple be interested in Aviation? Their market for the iPad is tens of millions of units. What percentage would go to aviation and why would they want to take on a major liability for a minor market?

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 30, 2010 6:19 PM    Report this comment

Conventional spinning hard disc drives require a cushion of air between the disc and the head to operate. If the air is not dense enough, then the head hits the disc, often with catastrophic results. Normal computer HD drives are limited to 10,000 feet at standard atmosphere. This would preclude them from beong safely operated in aircraft. Does the iPad have a solid state hard drive, which would overcome this problem.

Posted by: John McLean | February 1, 2010 5:54 AM    Report this comment

I was a "Switcher". It's true...the Mac doesn't have a Blue Screen of Death. But they have the Spinning Pinwheel of Death. Had that waaaaay too many times on my Mac. Eventually, I switched back to the PC. But I do love my Touch and would consider an iPad for another toy.

Posted by: Loren Jones | February 1, 2010 9:10 AM    Report this comment

I bought a Fujitsu tablet a year ago hoping to not only get my moving map with bluetooth GPS in the plane, but have the functionality of the Windows OS with my flight planning programs, etc.

After trying to use this in the plane, I am convinced that Windows does not belong in the cockpit. It just is not as responsive as it needs to be, and even with limited programs running, it was not as reliable as it needs to be.

I was seriously considering the Garmin Aero, but with the iPad, I believe this will prove to be a dedicated enough device with all the functionality needed (and a lower cost) to be the right device.

Sure, the Aero and other aviation GPS devices will always have the functionality/interface more focused on aviation, but the iPad will be a platform to do what a lot of other devices can't.

I will be in line for the first one.

Posted by: Robert Heise | February 1, 2010 12:18 PM    Report this comment

Paul, yes, we are planning on WingX for iPad, this will build on WingX for iPhone's GPS-Enabled Terrain-Aware Moving Map - we just released Version 3.5 with Class B, C, and D airspaces and very very nice new RADAR with route overlay. Needless to say that I am very excited to get WingX's Moving Map on the iPad with its large screen etc. Maybe I'm biased (OK, I am biased), but I find WingX's Moving Map much easier to use the Garmin's Aera and for much less money to boot.

Posted by: Hilton Goldstein | February 1, 2010 1:12 PM    Report this comment

Interesting that no one brought up the fact that Burt Rutan used an early model Mac laptop to run the systems on one of his experimental designs (Catbird?) during the early/mid-1990's

Posted by: j rood | February 1, 2010 2:12 PM    Report this comment

Give me "rubber banding" for my flight planning course line. With an overlay of downloaded weather, allow me to touch, press, drag my course line around weather and automatically update the distance, fuel required, eta base on flight planned winds.

Posted by: j rood | February 1, 2010 4:21 PM    Report this comment

I use both Mac and PC, about 50/50. Like the Mac operating system, hardware and interface. Hate the slow file transfer and the way the stupid Finder organizes files and the lack of much right-click utility.

Like the Windows interface, the speed, flexibility and ability to get under the hood when needed. Hate the perishable nature of Windows load because of registry corruption. My office PC barely runs now due to malware corruption, which the Mac doesn't suffer.

As a Kindle user, I'm looking at the iPad as a Web-capable e-reader and wondering if it's worth $800 to have that. Haven't decided, really.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2010 4:31 AM    Report this comment

I own 6 Apple products so I'm definitely not a Windows fan but the iPad left me cold and disappointed. The inability to multitask is a real killer for me. No one is ever going to write the 100% complete EFB app, so we need several at once. I'm entering my flight plan and my friend shows up with a friend - can they come too? Er, year, let me quit my flight planner so I can update my W&B app. Then back into the flight planner, then quit that to get weather. With that gorgeous big screen, I should be able to see more than one app at once.

Hopefully a decent GPS will come along for the iPad that would make it reasonable for moving maps but at a minimum $630 there are better choices for such things right now. And I'm excited to see the HP Slate (if it doesn't break after 3 months) and Google's Chrome-based tablet later this year.

Posted by: Paul Sanders | February 2, 2010 9:48 AM    Report this comment

This type of device will be paradigm shifting, eventually. Google will do an open source version with connections for everything you can think of and the sky will be the limit. Nokia has just (finally) released the open source version of their Symbian OS and a similar tablet type device can not be far away. While lacking in grunt, the mobile phone type device comes from a more appropriate thinking than PCs where the OS is typically the weak link. Even Linux, with uptime measured in months, would not bear up to certification standards. I like the idea of a panel made up of several linked screens like this with soft keys around their bezels, wireless connections to each other and the aircraft sensors and antennae. Malware would also need to be excluded at the design stage.

Posted by: John Hogan | February 6, 2010 8:46 PM    Report this comment

My wife's Kindle DX is decent for terminal procedures: large screen is good for viewing, but the free PDF TPs are large files which the Kindle handles poorly (slowly). The USB "thumb drive" capabilities (transfer, file system) are slow and under-powered, but the Kindle is another closed design so I'm not surprised. Workable, but the door is wide open for something much better. My $0.02. YMMV.

Posted by: BRADLEY SPATZ | February 9, 2010 8:58 PM    Report this comment

The iPhone handles large PDF's well enough and fast enough, just not a big enough screen. I think the fact that the iPhone/iPad doesn't multi-task is a blessing as well as a curse. At least everything will continue to run fast. We're all going to have to wait for a review once its released.

Posted by: Robert Heise | February 9, 2010 9:03 PM    Report this comment

Foreflight has finally come out with a moving map update which shows heading, ground speed and altitude, which is getting part way there.

WingX has been advertising a new iPad moving map that looks like it will be a great app coming out in June for $99 per year.

Posted by: Robert Heise | June 17, 2010 4:13 PM    Report this comment

A new EFB program for the iPad was recently released. WingX now offers a moving map GPS with routing as well as AFD, weather and E6B functions. You can download the app for free, but will only get the AFD. It costs $99 per year to get all the other functions. Early reviews say the initial release has some bugs, but an update is awaiting approval.

The side-by-side views with map and an another view relevant to your phase of flight might give this an edge over Foreflight, despite it's higher annual cost. It will all be about how quickly you can access the information you need in flight.

I have used Foreflight on some trips and found it to be very useful. However it seemed more helpful in planning and does not seem designed for ease of use in the cockpit. The full size approach plates and scanned sectionals and low enroute charts with GPS heading and speed information were great.

I will have to try WingX and see which does a better job while flying.


Posted by: Robert Heise | July 5, 2010 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Anybody know of a descent lapboard that accommodates the ipad? "for pilots only" came out with one called the "Ipro kneeboard", but it is poorly designed and costs a bundle.

Posted by: J BRUCE CAMINO | July 10, 2010 4:44 PM    Report this comment

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