State of the app market

At iPad Pilot News, we often get asked for our sense of the aviation app market–who’s on top, who’s growing and who’s new. There are any number of ways to answer this question, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. The “best app” for any one pilot is the app that matches the mission and is easy to understand. One size does not fit all.

But pilots always enjoy the horse race element of apps, partly because it’s such a fast-moving and dynamic part of the aviation marketplace. To offer a more detailed answer to the question, we have reviewed a number of resources to offer a snapshot of the aviation app market. The result is a ranking of apps based on popularity, not a discussion of features or customer reviews.

How to rank them

The only number that offers a clear look at the overall popularity of an app is the rank in terms of grossing–that is, how high did this app rank in terms of revenue generated in the app? While downloads can be tracked, that says more about the number of trial users than the number of paying subscribers. Likewise, rankings in particular categories are interesting, but do not offer an apples-to-apples comparison. Top grossing ranks every app in the App Store on one scale. It’s certainly not a perfect measure (some apps also sell subscriptions outside the App Store), but it’s a representative gauge.

To obtain these rankings, we went to AppAnnie, an independent app-tracking service, and reviewed the top four general aviation apps: ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin Pilot, WingX Pro7 and AOPA FlyQ EFB. There are certainly other apps available, but based on numerous surveys of pilots, we’ve found these four capture 95% or more of the GA market in the U.S.

Results

The one clear answer from the numbers is that ForeFlight remains on top–in a dominant position, really. It’s consistently in the top 50 top grossing apps in the entire App Store. That puts it ahead of some very well-known apps, including Apple’s own Pages program. It has remained steady in this ranking for the past year or so, and over 150 spots ahead of the next closest aviation app. The graph below shows ForeFlight’s top grossing rank for the past 90 days.

ForeFlight rank

The race for second is more interesting, and more competitive. 18 months ago, WingX was in firm control of second place, and the typical “Coke/Pepsi” discussion came down to ForeFlight and WingX. But since then, Garmin has come on strong, with a slew of new features and some serious marketing muscle. We’ve noticed more and more pilots using the app, and the top grossing charts prove it. Garmin Pilot is ahead of WingX on most days, hovering around the 200 rank overall.

Garmin Pilot rank

WingX may have given a little ground to Garmin, but this app still has a solid following. The rankings below could be inflated (slightly) by the fact that WingX actually charges 99 cents to download the app, whereas the other apps are free to download but then require in-app purchases. Regardless, WingX bounces around the 200-300 rank overall.

WingX rankings

ForeFlight, Garmin and WingX are definitely the big three apps in aviation. We’ve seen some interest in AOPA’s FlyQ EFB app lately, so we looked up its rankings. In short, it doesn’t seem to have too much traction. While it ranks well in the Navigation category, it has not made the top 500 grossing apps in the overall App Store.

AOPA FlyQ rank

Jeppesen is harder to track, since its apps are free to download and require a separate subscription (sold outside the app). But based on recent surveys, both in person and online, its apps are used mostly by airline pilots and some jet operators. It’s the only option for charts in many parts of the world, but for piston airplane pilots, it hasn’t caught on.

Conclusions

Why is ForeFlight on top? There are plenty of plausible reasons. As one of the earliest aviation apps, it was the first app many pilots tried. Having become familiar with the app, these pilots may view switching as a hassle. Others point to the word of mouth effect or the app’s ease of use. Regardless, nothing is guaranteed in the app world, and ForeFlight will have to work hard to stay on top. There are plenty of apps coming after it, with Garmin Pilot and WingX particularly strong challengers.

Beyond the specific rankings here, it’s remarkable how many aviation apps rank so highly. The App Store is absolutely huge, with over 1 million apps available. Compared to many other industries represented in the store, aviation is tiny. And while the price of aviation apps may be higher than the average $1.99 game, these high rankings for the big three apps are a powerful sign of how popular the iPad has become in aviation. Apple is surely taking notice.

18 replies
  1. Gordon bosch
    Gordon bosch says:

    As current long time Foreflight user I am intrigued with Fltplan Go app. As a totally free app (how long???) and connection to FltPlan.com it looks good. Would you be able to provide some evaluative comments? As a retired USAF pilot and CFI always looking for good and inexpensive options for my students. Thank you. Gord

  2. Cary Grant
    Cary Grant says:

    As soon as I read “at the end of the day,” I almost stopped reading the article. This over used worthless phrase used consistently by “Beltway Talking Pundits,” often refers to politicians arguing their opposing points when in view of the public then are the best of buds when no one is watching “at the end of the day.” . It is the acme of hypocrisy and is an instant turn off. Please banish its use. If a guest says it on Bill O’Rielly’s program, Bill has imposed an instant contribution by the guest to Wounded Warriors. I like that idea!

    As for the rest of the article, good information.

  3. Ron Craft
    Ron Craft says:

    What your article misses (I have no idea how to correct this) is that many pilots use more than one of these. I, personally, use foreflight to plan and file and use WingX to fly. The reason? WingX is fairly agnostic as to where it gets it’s info from … I personally use a SkyRadar D running on ship’s power w external antennas to get both 1090Mz and 970Mz ADS-B “in” for very reliable weather and traffic. Foreflight is heavily biased to only one info source (Stratus) which is a portable “sit on the glareshield” deal. The SkyRadar unit (with dual mode in and AHRS) is mounted on the hat rack in the back of the airplane, completely secure and out of the way, pulling power directly from the battery (no recharging, no cigar lighter plug). I have used Foreflight in flight (I have a Stratus 2) but I only use it now as a back up to the SkyRadar/WingX.

    • ted
      ted says:

      I am with Ron. I use foreflight for planning and WingX in the air. I am currently looking for a solution that ties my GTN750, iPad and ADS-B-OUT together. I bet that WingX will be part of the solution when I figure out the parts. There is already a somewhat kludgie solution that includes WingX.

  4. Gene Stevens
    Gene Stevens says:

    I too utilize multiple applications. While I like ForeFlight, I only use it within the pattern at FDK or on the ground where I can get cellular weather. I can not justify purchasing the stratus just for that app. I use Wing X and used to use FLYQ EFB with my Dual 170. Since having ADS_B Out on my plane, seeing traffic is much more important consideration and I have moved back to the SkyRadar application as my 2nd application (Wing X running on the iPad and the SkyRadar on the Mini). (Currently I having traffic issues with FLYQ EFB that should be resolved at some point.) ADS_B Out has changed the way I am flying. Before, I used to file IFR for all my flights, now I go VFR for many flights using my traffic display to avoid traffic and seeing that traffic before I receive an ATC alert. I am looking for another ADS_B In device because I do not like all the wiring associated with the 1st generation Sky Radar solution with the 1St gen iLevil device. If I am assured that FLYQ EFB will work with the Clarity ADS_B better than the Dual 170 device, I may go that route because I really like the FLYQ EFB app.

  5. Andris Skulte
    Andris Skulte says:

    I also use Foreflight as my primary, but have started using FltPlan Go for the international charts. Since it’s free, it wouldn’t make the rankings.

  6. Eddie Abel
    Eddie Abel says:

    Canadian pilots don’t really have ads.b as a good option. Foreflight on the iPad is primary, an aera 560 with satellite weather for weather and fltplan go loaded on an old galaxy pad for backup. So far it is all working well.

  7. ted
    ted says:

    One thing that the article does not mention but in my opinion one of the top reasons that foreflight is top rated is their customer service. Their website is kept up to date, there is a manual that is up to date and downloaded automatically, and the blog/emails are relevant. The few times I have had to ask for help from their help system the response has been almost instant and the problem solved right away. Their web site talks about “fanatical customer service” and they mean it.

  8. Jim Conn
    Jim Conn says:

    Have been using iPad with Bad Elf in our club plane P28A for some time now and very pleased overall. I have a 2.1 amp power source plugged into the lighter receptacle to power both devices on long legs. On two separate flights recently I noted that the transmit icon on our Garmin 430 was on without any corresponding outgoing transmission nor communication on the center frequency. There was a noticeable squelch-like static in my headset whenever the transmit icon was on of its own volition. When I placed my hand close to the iPad (mounted in a Ram yoke mount) – the static and transmit icon went away immediately. As soon as I removed my hand the static in my headset and transmit icon on the 430 returned. I also noted that the iPad battery charging icon showed no charge during these periods of abnormal behavior of the 430. I then reversed UBS charging leads between the two devices and noted that the iPad started charging again and abnormal 430 symptoms went away for a while – only to subsequently return during the flight. Please comment – could this be an issue caused by an old airframe (1970 Cherokee) with poor electrical signal isolation?; could it be due to the 2.1 amp UBS charger?; could it be caused by a static signal being induced through the USB cables which triggers the abnormal 430 symptoms?

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Jim, this problem is not uncommon. Unfortunately, every airplane is different, so there’s not a single right answer. I’ve found that the wire is often the issue, so make sure you’re using an Apple charging cable. Other than that, the cigarette lighter is just a noisy thing on most airplanes. Might be worth a look by your avionics shop.

    • ted
      ted says:

      Jim, I have had exactly the same problem.

      I have had the problem when charging my Dual GPS as well as my ipad. It is also independent of radios. my GTN750 and King Nav/com have both had it, usually at the same time.
      It is dependent on the frequency you are using. I have had it show up when changing frequencies only to go a way when I went back to the previous frequency.

      It does not seem to be airframe dependent. I have had the problem when flying in a friends plane. It was a piper twin vs my C-182

      I have done a lot of trail and error work and have found a number of things:

      1) It is the USB cable.

      2) It will occur when attached to an external battery as well as the lighter power plug.

      3) as you found, it is VERY sensitive to cable position. I have tried short, long, neatly coiled, loose, and apple/not apple cables.

      4) I purchased a couple of “3.5mm Ferrite Core filters” and attached one to my iPad charging cable. I also make sure that my Clarity (it replaced my dual) is connected via a USB cable with a Ferrite Core. I have not completely convinced my self that this solves the problem, but I have not had the problem in a couple of flights.

      5) I make sure that I am in a position to quickly disconnect the cable if I detect the problem. I always leave them un-plugged during critical operations, talking to ATC thru that kind of static is not something that you want to do when IFR or in Class B.

    • Gene Stevens
      Gene Stevens says:

      Jim I have the same issue with my bonanza and not with my C 172. I have the Garmin 430 in the bonanza and King radio’s in the C 172. I will try Ted’s ferrite core cables and see if that works. Another solution I have used is to use portable USB battery packs which when placed between the seats worked for my past 15 hours of flying.

      • ted
        ted says:

        I have gotten the static using an external battery. In fact, I figured out that it is the USB cable when I dropped the battery –> got static, picked the battery up –> static went away. a couple of cycles of moving the battery up and down convinced me.

  9. Rod
    Rod says:

    I use both foreflight and Flyq I use Foreflight because of their Canadian service however I do a fair amount of flying in the US northwest and and definitely prefer FlyQ coupled with Bad Elf Pro

  10. Nate
    Nate says:

    Its the best because its used the most? haha, nice logic. Red cars must be the fastest and the sheeple are always right…
    Might as well just print-screened the app store rankings and posted that.

  11. Edward Block
    Edward Block says:

    I believe there is another way to evaluate the aviation software vendors such as ForeFlight, Wing X and Garmin.
    My wife and I are in our mid 70’s and both private pilots. I have been licensed since age 18 and she since age 55. We have owned a 1978 Cessna 172N since 1999 that we have slowly upgraded with improved safety equipment and better avionics. We enjoy today’s technology and as such we each have our own iPhones, iPads and home computers.
    About three years ago we started looking at apps for our iPads that would give us flight planning, weather and navigation functions. We downloaded trial apps from all three of the above mentioned companies and decided that Wing X had the most bells and whistles. We subsequently purchased and used the app on a one year subscription. At that time ForeFlight came in a close second with Garmin a distant third. We looked again at ForeFlight and Garmin before renewing our one year Wing X subscription. We were pleasantly surprised at the progress both had made in that time frame with Garmin gaining the most ground. Now what do we do?
    Although Foreflight was the pioneer in this segment of the aviation market and now appeared to have the best program, which of the companies had the most potential to continue enhancing their software? Which company had the most talent and the financial staying power to be in business next year and the following years that we hope to still be flying? Looking from that prospective it was, of course, Garmin and they have not disappointed as we enter our second year of using the Pilot App. The quality of their screens and the ease of use from start to finish of all portions of a flight are excellent. We particularly like having the full use of the TargetTrend traffic system since we have ADS-B both “in” and “out”. Getting the Zaon PCAS (now out of business) off the glare shield along with mounting the new GDL-39 3D in the area underneath the extended baggage compartment makes the cockpit safer. Obviously many of these functions are coming from their years in providing both portable and in panel avionics to general aviation, a background which the other vendors do not have!
    As a matter of record my wife and I do not have any financial ties to Garmin except to have purchased some of their software and hardware products.

  12. Greg
    Greg says:

    AOPA FlyQ EFB bills subscriptions directly to your credit card, not through the iTunes store, so like Jepp, their revenue isn’t showing up in the App store data. I went with FlyQ this year since I’m VFR only & this is the cheapest app with terrain warnings. Their Sun n Fun $49.99/year pricing sealed the deal. I like it almost as well as ForeFlight with more bang for my buck.

  13. Matt P
    Matt P says:

    I work for the allegedly “big one” and get free subscription – does it say much that I pay for ForeFlight?

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