What iOS 7 means for pilots

6 min read
iOS 7 control center

iOS 7 features an all-new Control Center that makes it faster to change settings.

Today, Apple unveiled its much-anticipated iOS 7, the latest version of the operating system that drives the iPhone and iPad. While the company continues to make great hardware, some users have complained that the basic software was getting tired and needed a major overhaul.

That’s exactly what CEO Tim Cook delivered today, calling iOS 7 “the biggest change to iOS since the introduction of iPhone.” The initial pictures seem to support that claim–Apple has removed many of the wood and leather design elements in favor of clean, flat icons and bright colors.

While much of this update is cosmetic, there are some big changes under the hood too. Some of these should be good enhancements for pilots. Let’s look at some highlights.

Control Center

One of the biggest complaints about iOS has been how hard it is to adjust the settings–if you wanted to turn Airplane Mode on, for example, you had to close the app you were using, open the separate Settings app, find Airplane Mode and then turn it on. This has been simplified in iOS 7, with the new Control Center. Swipe up from the bottom of the device to see a selection of quick access buttons, then toggle Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, screen brightness and other settings with a single tap. It actually works a lot like Android, but it’s an improvement nonetheless.

This should make it a lot faster to connect to wireless accessories in flight (like a Bluetooth GPS or a WiFi ADS-B receiver), and it also puts the calculator and timer features close at hand. Both of these can be helpful in the cockpit. Finally, the Control Center also features a flashlight button that turns on your camera flash. While it may sound like a gimmick, we’ve been surprised how frequently we use free flashlight apps on pre-flight inspections, and this makes it a little easier. The new Control Center even works from the lock screen.

We talked to Tyson Weihs, CEO at ForeFlight, and he agrees: “As a pilot and iPhone/iPad user, Control Center is awesome. Part of the pre-flight checklist in my airplane is disabling cellular radios, adjusting brightness controls for better battery life, and enabling Bluetooth so I can get ForeFlight audio alerts. Being able to access those settings quickly from Control Center will reduce the number of taps and touches required to adjust settings.”


iOS 7 multitasking

Multitasking gets a big upgrade in iOS 7.

The ability to switch back and forth between apps (multitasking) has always been an area where iOS lagged. Currently, pilots have to double tap the home button, then choose an icon to switch apps. In many cases, it’s not much different than simply closing the current app and choosing another from the home screen, especially since background apps can’t do much.

iOS 7 promises a much smarter multitasking system. It will monitor which apps you use most often, and use that information to determine which ones need more full-functioning multitasking. For example, iOS 7 will allow background app processing so that apps will work more quickly and intuitively when they start back up. When switching between apps, you’ll also see a preview of the screen, not just an icon.

The practical effect here is that some aviation apps may be able to do a lot more in the background. For example, ForeFlight has enabled limited background downloading of charts, but this is really just tricking the system and it’s limited. With iOS 7, this should be much more powerful, and keeping content updated in apps that are running in the background should be a lot easier. Weihs says, “The new multitasking support and background push notification capabilities could let us do things, for example, like trigger background downloads when wireless connections are strongest and trigger background downloads as soon as charts become available, ensuring the most current charts are always aboard. We can get much smarter about digital chart delivery.”

The big question here is what effect this new multitasking system will have on battery life–some Android phones have terrible battery life when running multiple apps in the background. Look for more details here later in the year.

iOS 7 AirDrop screen

The new AirDrop feature could have uses for pilots, like sharing flight plans.


This feature allows you to share files and photos directly with another iOS device–eliminating the need to send an email or text message. While this is a great way to share a photo or contact with a friend, there are also some interesting potential uses for pilots. You could share a flight plan with your copilot, for example, without an internet connection (using Bluetooth). It will be interesting to see how well developed this feature is; Apple says it will work with “any app with a Share button.”

Automatic App Updates

App updates are one of the best features of iOS, as app developers continuously release new features that are free and instantly available via download. But you have to remember to do those updates to get new features. iOS 7 promises to make most of these updates automatic, so your apps will always be up to date. Much like multitasking, the software will only schedule updates at convenient times–like when you are connected to WiFi and the screen is on.


One of the overlooked features of the iPhone and iPad that makes it so powerful is the built-in sensor package. Smart app developers have used the on-board GPS, gyro and accelerometer to do interesting things–like a simulated instrument panel. Buried in a footnote about iOS 7 was the bullet point that an inclinometer will now be available. This is used in turn coordinators in airplanes, so there are some exciting possibilities for aviation use if a gyro, accelerometer and inclinometer were combined. It certainly won’t be an AHRS replacement, but there could be some entertainment value if nothing else.

New Video Options

While recording video is hardly a core feature for pilots, the latest version of the iPhone in particular is an excellent video camera–on part with many purpose-built HD cameras. iOS 7 promises to add even more high end features, including the option of 60 frames per second recording. While 30fps is plenty for everyday use, 60 fps allows for great slow motion video.


iOS 7 is available now for developers, and will be available to the public this fall. Surprisingly (in a good way), Apple announced that it will be compatible with iPhone 4 or newer and iPad 2 or newer. Those are the same requirements as iOS 6, and it should have iPad 2 owners breathing a sigh of relief.

This is a major change, no doubt about it, but a lot of it relates to non-aviation uses like the Photos app, internet radio and Siri. We think iOS 7 will be an update almost everyone will want to do, but it certainly doesn’t make iOS 6 obsolete for aviation use. It does reinforce that iPhone 3G/3GS and iPad 1 users should be thinking seriously about upgrading. Those products will not get any more updates.

Complete details are available on the Apple website.

30 replies
  1. Rick A
    Rick A says:

    I personally think this update is a lot of hype with little real benefit to the current state of iOS in the cockpit. My devices are fine as is and planned obsolescence like this is rampant in the industry.

    Requiring one tap vs three taps is a great thing? One second vs three seconds? Really?

    Allowing simultaneous running without user control has a great opportunity to further degrade battery life as John notes.

    I will NOT be upgrading either my devices or operating system on those that can run iOS 7 no matter how much Apple nags me to do so.


    • Russ
      Russ says:

      Negative nelly there. Why would one not want to grab a free upgrade when there are benefits and the possible drawbacks will likely be optional?

      For me, when I’m flying/driving, whatever, 1 click means my attention is diverted for less time than 3 clicks.

  2. Kenneth P. Katz
    Kenneth P. Katz says:

    I hope that iOS 7 fixes the bug that causes problems with external GPS sensors. In my opinion, this is the #1 problem for aviation applications on the iPad.

    • Norman Hayes
      Norman Hayes says:

      Hi Ken. I am from New Zealand and we all use Air Nav Pro with or without a Bad Elf Pro. The only problem we have is that we need to off the SBAS/WAAS/EGNOS option which relates to the USA only. Can you tell me what problem you are having with External GPS sensors

      • robertschorr
        robertschorr says:

        Well, I’m not Ken, but I have the same problems. The GarminGLO remains ‘connected’ to the bluetooth, but ceases to show position or progress on the trip. All other programs are ‘off’, privacy settings have been addressed, and I have to reboot sometimes twice to get it going again.


  3. John Lindinger
    John Lindinger says:

    The Bad Elf GPS that plugs into the 30 pin port was, at first, only “talking” with the Bad Elf App and not with the Fore Flight App. I fussed with this issue for hours until a Google hit finally advised of the solution…
    1. Plug in the Bad Elf GPS.
    2. Download the Bad Elf App from the Apple App Store.

    [you probably did #1 and #2 within minutes of unwrapping your Bad Elf GPS]

    and finally…

    3. Reboot the device.

    The Bad Elf works flawlessly thereafter.

  4. Joe
    Joe says:

    I must be missing something. With an iPad that has GPS the external is only needed when iPad can’t see the satellites. Plugging the Bad Elf should have the same problem. Any GPS talking to iPad should be capable of being in a more satellite visible position. Not on the bottom of the iPad. What am I missing here?

    • John Lindinger
      John Lindinger says:

      ForeFlight runs on my iTouch4 perfectly with the Bad Elf plugged in. Screen is smallish but usable and fits nicely on the yoke mount. I think other iOS devices (like iPad2 wifi only) lack the internal GPS too.

      • Joe
        Joe says:

        John, I didn’t mean to imply the bad elf didn’t work. It is if you have an iPad with built in GPS, if that doesn’t work it is because of the location of the iPad. If you have to plug in the bad elf there is reasonable chance it will not work due to the same location issue. My iPad with internal GPS has only had an issue one time and it may be conincidence but there was an array of antennas a few miles east of me that I couldn’t even count how many.

  5. Cary grant
    Cary grant says:

    What a bunch of worthless dribble. This tells us about a bunch of hyped up features , not what fixes what is broken. If I can t get my dual gps to talk to foreflight, the program is worthless. I am so pissed off at apple tweaking the Bluetooth standard my words can’t express it. I am not alone, look at all of the people trying to connect to car sound system or headphones to the apple devices. This situation is ripe for a class action law suit and apple deserves to be taken to the woodshed. Aviation applications cannot be this vulnerable to “hack” programming and application software companies must demand more stable tested operating systems than apple has provided. When it comes to aviation, lives can be on the line. The product has too work.

    I have called for an FAA Safety Fast Blast to be sent out to all users of Dual and Bad elf Bluetooth devices to be aware that their products will not consistently and dependable pair to an apple device.

    Will IOS 7.0 fix this…not a word is said on the issue.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Apple has been quiet on this issue so far in iOS 7, so we can’t report what we don’t know. As soon as we get some time flying with the beta of iOS 7 we’ll report back.

      It’s worth pointing out that not everyone has issues with the Bluetooth accessories–I’ve never had it on any of my WiFi-only devices. That makes it very frustrating, because it’s intermittent, but it’s not a problem everyone has.

  6. Andy
    Andy says:

    You said: “The ability to switch back and forth between apps (multitasking) has always been an area where iOS lagged.” Not since IOS 6 at least. If you had turned on multitasking gestures (under general settings) you could have used four fingers to swipe and switch almost instantly between apps. You loose much credibility when you write about something like this and didn’t even know of basic features in the last IOS release.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      You’re right that multitasking gestures are great–especially in the cockpit. We’ve written about those many times before: https://ipadpilotnews.com/2012/10/how-to-use-multi-touch-gestures-to-increase-your-ipad-productivity/

      But that’s not the point. Even with multitasking gestures, the background apps were paused or killed. The big change here with iOS 7 isn’t the preview screens, it’s the fact that Apple is allowing background apps to keep running. That’s what will allow aviation apps to keep downloading charts and do other background tasks. That is not available in iOS 6.

      • Andy
        Andy says:

        OK, my apologies then, but that’s the way it was written. The way you described switching between apps in IOS 6 accomplishes the same thing as multitasking gesture – four-finger swipe. I didn’t read on carefully enough, though.

  7. Russ
    Russ says:

    Thanks for the iOS 7 preview.

    The description of how hard it is currently to turn airplane mode on is a bit excessive. You never have to ‘close’ an app to launch another. You just launch the new app. Nor do you really have to ‘Find’ the airplane mode switch. It’s always at the top of the settings page unless you left the settings app on another page the last time you were in there.

    So typically, the steps needed now to turn on airplane mode are:
    1. Open the Settings App
    2. Click the Airplane Mode button at the top of the screen.

    • Bill R
      Bill R says:

      Russ, last time I checked the Settings functions are in a dedicated app. So if you’re running ForeFlight, you need to close the ForeFlight app, launch the Settings app, toggle your desired switches, and then switch back to ForeFlight. I’d say this new feature is a slick shortcut since you can access these settings at any time without leaving the app you’re running.

  8. Chris
    Chris says:

    Aside from the obvious user interfaces changes, I think its difficult for most end users to realize the benefits of these type of operating system updates. I think this article helps pinpoint some of the outright changes that are immediately available to pilots, but until app developers take advantage of all the changes to high level access that Apple has made available in the OS, most users won’t realize that these updates aren’t just “hype”, but will really allow pilot’s to take advantage of the iPad as powerful hardware in the cockpit.

  9. Todd
    Todd says:

    I have an iPhone 5 now. But I used to have the first version of droid. I am not lying when I say the first version of droid was equal to the iPhone 5. iPhone has a long ways to go and catching up to the droid user interface system. If it wasn’t for my job I wouldn’t have an iPhone five, I have a droid.

  10. David
    David says:

    Hey Cary Grant, please tell us you are not using the iPad/GPS (internal or external) as a means of navigation. If you are, then lives are in danger!

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      What a dumb comment. The iPad is extremely useful for navigation, in combination with all of the traditional forms. It is merely another tool to make navigation and aviation in general MORE safe. Someone who relies ONLY on the iPad IS foolish. But someone who uses it to GREATLY increase their situational awareness, while using outside references, VORs, etc, is a SMART pilot, taking advantage of modern technology. I personally trust the internal GPS in my iPad more than the piece-of-crap VOR in the ancient 172 I fly, and in either case (GPS and/or VOR) I’m still looking outside all the time to make sure I’m where I think I am. And the VOR doesn’t warn (remind) me to look outside because that there is an obstacle in my path, dead ahead.

    • Joe
      Joe says:

      Hi David. Been flying with an IFR certificated panel mounted GPS and yoke mounted iPad 1 and have never seen them vary more than a knot in ground speed, a degree in track and have never detected any variation in location. I guess an iPad could fail but then so could the panel mounted unit. That is in a 172G. I have had the iPad 1 lose a satellite lock when in a Baron once but iPad was in my lap instead of up higher as it is with yoke mount. My iPad 3 has no internal GPS but the external is WAAS enabled and very nice. The only lives in danger would be the ones employed by Garmin in their grossly overprice units. Are you a Pilot David? Age? Rating? You talk like a pilot wannabe that has never flown.

  11. Lee Edwards
    Lee Edwards says:

    I’m still pissed that Apple produced the Ipad Mini
    like the Ipad II. What in the hell are they thinking?
    I will not buy an Apple device until they offer a Mini with latest processor, OS and display as the latest version of the Ipad. Do you see this happening? If so, when?

    If it’s not soon Nexus 7 looks good to me.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […]  This free update is available now, adding a number of new features and a completely new look (see this article for details on what’s new). iOS 7 is the most significant change to the iPad’s […]

  2. […]  This free update is available now, adding a number of new features and a completely new look (see this article for details on what’s new). iOS 7 is the most significant change to the iPad’s […]

  3. […]  This free update is available now, adding a number of new features and a completely new look (see this article for details on what’s new). iOS 7 is the most significant change to the iPad’s […]

  4. […]  This free update is available now, adding a number of new features and a completely new look (see this article for details on what’s new). iOS 7 is the most significant change to the iPad’s […]

  5. […] problem will only get worse this Fall, when Apple releases iOS 7. This update represents the most radical overhaul of iOS in years, and will force app developers […]

  6. […] ADS-B receiver, or those using the internal GPS in the 3G/LTE iPads. We’re hoping that the new iOS 7 software update that Apple announced last week will fix this problem, but we have not seen or heard anything from […]

  7. […] Apple News:  Apple unveiled its much-anticipated iOS 7, the latest version of the operating system that drives the iPhone and iPad. While the company continues to make great hardware, some users have complained that the basic software was getting tired and needed a major overhaul. […]

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