The year ahead: 2013 predictions for the iPad

This is the final article in a series where we review the year that was and look forward to the year ahead. Previous articles have discussed apps and accessories for iPad pilots. Here, we’ll look ahead to what might be coming in 2013.

This has certainly been an exciting year for the iPad in aviation, from new apps to whole new categories of accessories. What’s to come in the year ahead? It’s nearly impossible to say, but we’ll try anyway.

iPad mini in hand

Will the iPad Mini dominate in 2013?

iPad Mini takes over

Apple’s new 7″ tablet has been a hit so far, but we think it will dominate aviation in 2013, becoming the new standard in electronic flight bags for pilots. There are some good reasons for this, most importantly its size and shape. The Mini mounts well on a traditional yoke (much better than the 10″ iPad), without interfering with the controls or blocking too many instruments. But it’s also easy to hold with one hand or put on a kneeboard, so it’s much more adaptable to different types of airplanes. We might even see the iPad Mini in the panel of some experimental airplanes. In spite of this compact size, there are very few compromises on the screen, as approach charts are easy to read and standard iPad apps run just fine on the Mini.

Besides a convenient form factor, the Mini is also less expensive. No, it’s not the cheapest 7″ tablet out there, but it’s the best value among iPads and it will only get better when the iPad 2 eventually disappears. If nothing else, you’ll probably start seeing iPad Minis showing up as backups to full size iPads. Read our report on flying with the iPad mini to see why we think it’s so impressive.

App developers are already reacting to the Mini, by updating their software to look just right on it. Expect more of these updates in 2013, some of them significant. Just like some websites are now designed with a “mobile first” mindset (meaning it’s designed to work perfectly on a smartphone, not just as an afterthought), we predict some aviation apps will target the Mini as their preferred platform. This doesn’t mean radical changes to the app’s features necessarily, but user interface and readability tweaks to fully embrace the new size.

Accessory manufacturers are also reacting. RAM already has a pretty well-developed line of mounts for the the Mini, but they’ll almost certainly have more on the way in 2013. iPad Mini kneeboards are pretty scarce right now, but there are dozens of designs in the works from a number of companies. As we mentioned above, the Mini is particularly well-suited to a kneeboard, so we would expect this to be a hot segment of the market.

One last iPad Mini trend–don’t be shocked if it gets the same high resolution Retina screen in 2013 that is on the iPad 3.

Dual XGPS170

Dual’s XGPS 170 is the latest ADS-B receiver to hit the market.

ADS-B wars

The launch of Appareo’s hugely-successful Stratus and Garmin’s robust GDL 39 last year showed that ADS-B receivers are the hot iPad accessory right now. Expect to see the market get crowded next year, as more companies introduce increasingly-sophisticated products. Dual just recently launched their XGPS170, and companies from SageTech to Levil have ADS-B receivers on the drawing board. New apps like AOPA’s FlyQ and Bendix/King’s myWingMan do not support any ADS-B receivers right now, but it would be surprising if they didn’t soon add this–subscription-free weather is the new must-have feature.

One thing to watch is how these various receivers integrate with different aviation apps. Unlike GPS, which is easy to implement across a variety of apps because it’s built-in to Apple’s iOS platform, ADS-B integration is hard work. It takes time and effort to make the hardware and software work seamlessly. Stratus was developed from the beginning to work with ForeFlight, and Garmin likewise could control the entire GDL 39-Garmin Pilot experience. This led to “closed” products, but pretty predictable performance. Our initial testing of the Dual XGPS170, an “open” platform product designed to run on multiple apps, revealed some issues. Can those be fixed? Is open the wave of the future or does it compromise the user experience? We may find out in 2013.

Consolidation in apps

As we mentioned in our review of the app world in 2012, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the start-up era in aviation app development is coming to an end. The majority of pilots have made their choice of app, and the market has become split between Coke and Pepsi–once you pick one, you tend not to change. Beyond this, it’s simply a reality that the market can only support so many apps. That suggests the big three (ForeFlight, Garmin, WingX) will probably get bigger, and smaller players will fade away.

That’s not necessarily bad for consumers, though. These big three are competing fiercely with each other–new features are coming fast and furiously, yet prices are staying the same or going down. Three may be the right number of players for now, but keep an eye on FltPlan.com, as they may yet mount a challenge with their free app.

Of course, not all of the action on apps revolves around these deluxe in-flight navigation apps. 2013 will almost certainly see dozens of exciting new apps hit the market with less audacious goals, whether it’s the next great logbook or advances in pilot training apps. This is where the entrepreneurial app developer can still make an impact, and it’s where we expect to see growth in app downloads. Having chosen their cornerstone app, pilots are now starting to venture beyond the big names and try different things.

Airline pilot iPad

Professional pilots will be the biggest users of the iPad in 2013.

Pro pilots using iPad

This was an emerging trend in 2012, as airlines and major corporate jet operators began to abandon paper and adopt the iPad (saving weight and fuel). Expect this to really take off in the year ahead, as the FAA and other regulatory bodies get the paperwork caught up with the technology. With American Airlines having blazed a trail, United, British Airways, Delta, Alaska and many others are integrating the iPad into regular operations.

This is just the latest example of a revolution in thinking among these big companies–whereas once they would have custom-built expensive display devices, they are now thrilled to use off-the-shelf technology that lowers costs. That means they can spend less money on hardware and more on software, so company-specific apps will probably become popular. Some airlines have already announced plans in this area–are airlines the next big hirer of app developers?

Lots of Lightning accessories

With the launch of the iPad Mini, iPad 4 and iPhone 5, Apple made a major change by replacing the ubiquitous 30-pin charging plug with the new Lightning connector. The new connector is much smaller and should offer improvements in the long term, but in the short term it’s a major transition and a bit of a hassle for owners of older devices (this adapter can help).

That means almost every accessory that has to be plugged into your iPad will have to be updated, whether it’s a charging cable for the cockpit or an alarm clock for your nightstand. Many accessory companies have taken this opportunity to overhaul their product lines, so 2013 should bring a host of new gadgets. Just make sure you buy the right connector for your iPad.

“Just maybe” predictions

We’ll finish by going out on a limb for a few predictions that just might happen in 2013:

  • Digital charts will remain free, as the FAA backs off its pledge to charge app developers for charting data. This effort is by no means dead, but it does seem like the industry’s strong reaction against user fees on digital charts has sent the agency back to the drawing board. Let’s hope so.
  • Android tablets finally gain some traction in aviation. While companies are shipping millions of 7″ and 10″ tablets running Google’s Android operating system, they simply haven’t taken hold in aviation. Three things might help in 2013: the hardware has matured and is competitive with the iPad, pilots are starting to see some good aviation apps for Android, and accessories (like the Dual 170) are finally becoming available for Android apps. Garmin has the most to gain here if this prediction comes true, with its powerful Pilot app, but we wouldn’t bet against the iPad right now.
  • Apple finally releases its long-rumored TV product and world peace takes hold. That may be going a bit far, but expectations are astronomically high for this product. Will it run iOS apps and open up a whole new market for app developers?
  • A “cheap iPhone” hits the market. This is another popular rumor, the theory being that Apple needs an inexpensive phone to compete in emerging markets. We give this a 50% chance of becoming reality (at best), and even if it comes true it probably won’t be great for pilots.
  • Finally, a real long shot: the ultra-thin Macbook Air line of laptops gets an overhaul and runs on iOS instead of Apple’s traditional OS X computer operating system. Unlikely, but wouldn’t it would be great to plan your flight on ForeFlight–from a laptop?

Your comments

What do you think? Do you expect to see major changes in the iPad world next year? Anything you’re hoping to see? Add a comment below.

22 replies
  1. Samer Abdallah
    Samer Abdallah says:

    I am curious as to when Apple will release a Retina display on their iPad mini models. I currently own the iPad 2 and the mini is looking more and more like a must have for the tighter cockpit. However I’m debating on whether or not to wait until the summer/fall of 2013 for possibly a more advanced mini. The retina display would hopefully also increase the clarity of approach plates on the smaller screen.

    Im also excited to see what else Foreflight can offer. The app has already proven its worth in the cockpit and then some. After a year with the standard subscription, I had absolutely no hesitation renewing the service while also upgrading to the Pro Subscription. Keep up the good work, Foreflight!

  2. Thomas Autrey
    Thomas Autrey says:

    I was disappointed that there was nothing mentioned in your article about possible firmware upgrades for the Stratus – allowing it to show ads-b traffic on Foreflight.

  3. charley Valera
    charley Valera says:

    How’s this for a few upgrades????
    -Taxi diagrams that we can write on. Or that can highlight our taxi like the magenta line after inputting the instructions as we cross into taxiway. Type in end location and all options show up, pick on or use ATC’s. notice if at control Twr.
    And how about a small pop up window of some sort showing the next freq’s available on the next sector for our flight?
    -I like MyFlightbook for a logbook. Shows number of flights, but nm would be a good total as well! How many miles did you fly in 2012?
    -Top notch ipad integration with Garmin 430 and 530’s. an app!
    – tax documents created based on flying. Costs for rentals, fueletc.
    – in air Skype of some sort. Very cool idea 🙂
    – Internet connection in air for certain apps.
    – Bluetooth full engine analysis during flight.
    – Siri like commands for all these goodies
    What else could we dream up?

    • John Trautschold
      John Trautschold says:

      I believe the latest version of WingX just added the taxiway capabilities you are asking for. I haven’t had a chance to try it out myself yet but will as soon as we get some decent weather so I can get out to the airport!

  4. Kelston
    Kelston says:

    For me the big thing for developers is an app that supports airprox. We still have poor and additional devices attached in various fashions to our cockpits. Roll on some new developments

  5. Joe Brown
    Joe Brown says:

    I hope foreflight will upgrade to show ads-b traffic. Granted it will not show everything, but any traffic will help. I hope they can find a way to display the weather briefing in translated form.
    Overall they have a great product.

  6. Tim Percarpio
    Tim Percarpio says:

    I wish ForeFlight would give us cloud tops. We can see ceilings (cloud bottoms), visibility, sky coverage, etc. If we had cloud tops it would help, especially in the winter when it’s necessary to get on top and out of any ice possibilities.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Tim that’s a great idea, but it’s really not a ForeFlight issue. We just don’t have good reports of tops. Only the Area Forecast has them, and it’s not very detailed.

  7. Mario Fernandez
    Mario Fernandez says:

    I think that with the great interest that the airlines have shown for the Ipad use, it will be a must that the charts and maps include all the countries in the world. I live in Mexico and I have not found any app that includes this country, in spite that all the Garmin GPS’s include Mexico, all the americas countries, Europe, etc.
    Many pilots would be interested in charts and maps including the “americas” full version.

    • Richard
      Richard says:

      Ditto for Canada. Unless you fly within 20 miles of the US border and then only in eastern Canada, there is poor content and even Garmin has poor maps for us.

      • Cenk E.
        Cenk E. says:

        Same for Turkey too. In our AIP we do have IFR Hi/Lo, VFR routes … But most of apps I am using they dont cover Turkey except Jepps FD. Other problem is weather reports in EU. They are nothing like US reports. I love flying in US with my Ipad and its apps but flying over rest of the world is not much fun due to missing datas. At the end I love my Ipad and apps I am using cuz they make my life alot easier.
        What I like to see;
        – Air Nav is my fav And i wish they have Flight Plan Profile show on 3D view over Topo. Flight Simulator had squer boxs showing your flight path, something like that with Navpoint info and next way point eta, dme etc. infos.

  8. Victor C. Anvick M.S.Tax E.A.
    Victor C. Anvick M.S.Tax E.A. says:

    Don’t forget the tax deductions for all of this new hardware, software, aps, etc. As tax rates increase, so does the value of each deduction. As long as you use even a portion of your aircraft for business, a portion of the cost of the hardware, various subscription costs are also deductible. As always, consult your tax advisor concerning your particular facts and circumstances. Victor C. Anvick M.S.Tax E.A. Aviation Tax Specialist

  9. John Dwyer
    John Dwyer says:

    Happy New Year to all
    I would like to see ForeFlight/Stratus animate radar inflight. ForeFlight provides this feature on the ground with no problems via wifi. However, inflight ForeFlight/Stratus falls short. This is my only disappointment from dropping XM weather on my Garmin 496.

  10. John Cronley
    John Cronley says:

    As a CFI I have been using ForeFlight and ForeFlight Pro since it was introduced, thought nothing else compared. We just installed a Garmin GDL 39 in one of our aircraft and have it hard wired to a Garmin Aera and with the Garmin Pilot app we get the also get the ADS-B Traffic and Weather on 2 iPads through a Bluetooth connection. I have a 30 day free trial of the Garmin app and so far I am very impressed, it does more than ForeFlight, for less $$. I just want “track up” display, not just “north up” only wing-X offers this at this time.

  11. Mark
    Mark says:

    Somehow the author missed a few of the most revolutionary changes coming up:
    1.) A transition to vector based VFR maps a la Garmin’s navigators instead of the scanned charts currently found in all the major applications. Will allow for features such as Track Up, decluttering and terrain shading & alerts. I believe Jeppesen promised this in 2012, but it hasn’t seen the light of day yet.
    2.) The integration of solid state compasses, gyroscopes & accelerometers to add inertial navigation capabilities and accurately simulated instruments to GPS/ADS-B receivers. I believe SageTech is working on this.
    3.) Spoken alerts as found in Garmin’s navigators.
    4.) That 2013 will be the year Foreflight finally takes responsibility for cleaning up its data set for the rest of the world. Example, their South African airport data is approximately 18 years out of date. (i.e. the state of Bophuthatswana ceased to exist after apartheid was eliminated in 1994). They claim they have no control over the accuracy of their data – not the kind of response one enjoys hearing from a maker of software that is increasingly used to make safety critical decisions. But the CEO has known about this problem for over two years and done nothing to rectify, so wouldn’t bet on it.

  12. Martin Rice
    Martin Rice says:

    I’m a big ForeFlight fan. Use for planning and pair to Bad Elf Pro in-flight as backup nav to the Perspective Avionics in the SR22. A few really nice enhancements would be:

    1) Jepp terminal charts in the app (willing to pay extra if it is offered as an option)

    2) An incorporation of ForeFlight’s Checklist app into Foreflight so you don’t have to change apps to run a series of checks in high-demand situations.

    3) Heads-up display to match tracking we use on the MFD in the Cirrus

    4) Sync between iOS devices for favorite airports & flight plan similar to how the Checklist app syncs. Particularly helpful if folks start using the Mini in conjunction with perhaps a regular Pad, etc.

  13. Russ Still
    Russ Still says:

    The most unique new mount for the iPad mini will be the iPro Navigator (www.ForPilotsOnly.com). It includes an articulating clipboard that slides up to act as a glareshield over the tablet.

  14. Tomas Rozar
    Tomas Rozar says:

    I am a helicopter pilot flying Medevac in the Virginia mountains west of Washington D.C. I use Foreflight daily and love it. The only thing I wish that the Foreflight development team would focus on more is TERRAIN.

    During flight planning using the rubber band feature, I would like to see all obstacles in my route of flight depicted in accordance to my en-route altitude and be able to get an MSA based on that. (AO-21)

    This would make flight planning for EMS operations a bit faster and would give pilots an added situational awareness.

    Safe flying!

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