What pilots need to know from Apple’s latest announcement

4 min read

Just one month after unveiling the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple held an event today to show off even more new gadgets–including the latest iPad models. While the upgrades are incremental improvements rather than revolutionary redesigns, there are some interesting new features (especially for pilots). The event covered more than just iPads, so let’s explore what’s new.

New iPad Air

New iPads

Apple now offers a wide range of tablets, starting at $249.

The big news was the launch of the iPad Air 2. This upgraded version of Apple’s 10″ tablet is 18% thinner than the previous iPad Air and includes the new A8X processor. The company claims this boosts performance by 40% over the previous iPad Air. The new Air 2 also adds TouchID, the fingerprint security system launched on the iPhone 6 last month. In addition to its use as a password, TouchID enables Apple Pay. This new payment process should eventually make it easier to make purchases, both in apps and online.

There’s also a built-in barometer, a new feature that was also added to the iPhone 6. There are some interesting possible uses for this in aviation apps (although none are available yet), so this could be a nice feature for pilots. Another interesting update is the screen: the Air 2 is made from a single laminated component, whereas previous models had two layers with air in between. This new construction, plus a new anti-reflective coating, supposedly reduces screen glare by 56%. This could be a huge feature for pilots, but we’ll have to fly with it to see how big of an improvement it is.

The iPad Air 2 has the same dimensions in width and height as the previous model, so it should fit existing kneeboards and mounts pretty well. Battery life is advertised at 10 hours, which seems to be an improvement over earlier iPad models.

iPad Mini update

In addition to the upgraded iPad Air, Apple also introduced the new iPad Mini 3. This is a smaller update than the Air, with the only significant change being the addition of TouchID. It still uses the A7 chip (not the faster A8X chip in the Air 2), so there’s not a performance upgrade. There’s also no mention of a barometer or anti-glare screen.

The previous generation iPad Mini (once called the “iPad Mini with Retina Display”) is now simply the iPad Mini 2, and it got a $100 price cut. The original iPad Mini (with a lower resolution screen) is also sticking around, and is just $249.

Which one to buy?

There are more options than ever from Apple:

  • iPad Mini (non-Retina screen) – $249
  • iPad Mini 2 – $299
  • iPad Mini 3 – $399 and up
  • iPad Air (previous generation) – $399
  • iPad Air 2 – $499 and up

Which one is best for pilots? While the $249 iPad Mini is a good deal, we would stay away from it. The lack of Retina screen is noticeable these days, and the speed will only become a bigger factor over time. In contrast, the iPad Mini 2 at $299 strikes us as a pretty good deal–it has all the features of the latest generation iPad Mini except for TouchID and it’s $100 less.

However, with this release, the iPad Air 2 may take the top spot among pilots. The addition of a faster chip, a low-glare screen and a barometer are compelling for cockpit use. We wouldn’t say it’s the only right answer, but it should get serious consideration for your next tablet.

Note that the iPad Mini 3 and Air 2 prices are the same as the previous generation (starting at $399 for the Mini and $499 for the Air), but the 32GB models have been replaced by 64GB models. That means you get double the storage space for the same price. Full details are available from Apple.

Other news

Apple also announced the availability of WatchKit, the software development kit for their new Apple Watch, in November. This means app developers will be able to start working on new software for the watch before it becomes available in early 2015. Will any aviation apps be ready for the launch? We’ll have to wait and see, but it seems like a good platform for aviation apps.

Finally, Apple showed of iOS 8.1, the latest version of the operating system that runs all iPads and iPhones. This update will be available Monday, October 20, and includes support for Apple Pay plus deeper iPhone-Mac integration.

20 replies
  1. John Phillips
    John Phillips says:

    I have an iPhone 6Plus 128gb on order and hope to be able to use it to replace my iPad in the cockpit. I have purchased the new RAM yoke mount for use in our club 172S. The phone is due in the week of Nov 4th. I will be glad to take some screen shots of ForeFlight and photos of it mounted on the yoke if they will be of use to you.

    • Brian Crane
      Brian Crane says:

      John, I’d love to see your screenshots and photos when you get the device and have it in the RAM mount. I’ve been thinking of an iPad upgrade to use once I get into cross-country flying in my PPL training, but I may just go with the iPhone 6 Plus instead.


      • Eddie Abel
        Eddie Abel says:

        I use an IPAD2 with Foreflight; my backup is a Galaxy Note 3 with FltplanGo. The Note 3’s screen size is the same as the 6+. A lot depends on how you use the device; for example, in glass panel cockpits, I seek to use the panel as much as possible and the IPAD as little as possible. Another important point is that at 60 years old, I prefer to minimize the strain on the eyes. I definitely prefer the larger tablet for flying.

  2. Bob Jacoby
    Bob Jacoby says:

    Benefit of iPad with 4G (i.e. Cellular)? Or is Wifi sufficient? I’ve currently using an iPad 2 with both Wifi and 4G with Foreflight, but am thinking about purchasing the new iPad with only Wifi using the logic that I’ve always got my iPhone (also equipped with 4G) in case I need any updates in the middle of the cross country trip.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Two benefits of the 4G model – you have a data connection just about anywhere (except in flight), and you get a built-in GPS. Both are nice, but they’re hardly necessary. You can get a good external iPad GPS for $100 so the GPS is easy to replace (cheaper than buying the 4G model to be honest). The data connection on the go can be helpful but depends on who you are and how you travel. WiFi is available so many places that it’s hardly a must-have.

      If you’re looking to save a few bucks, the WiFi-only model is a great choice and thousands of pilots use it every day. If you don’t mind paying a little more for the iPad and paying the monthly fee, the 4G option is certainly nice to have.

    • Tuck McAtee
      Tuck McAtee says:

      Bob, check out the Sratus 2. You get all the wx updates airborne and it integrates with Foreflight to give GPS position data. With this, there’s not much reason for 4G.

  3. Andy
    Andy says:

    I wouldn’t buy an iPad without cellular. I use the data too much. Sure you can do a hotspot but it’s just so much easier not to worry about it and it’s not that much more expensive considering you get the internal GPS a as well. I had an iPad 2 with cellular so it had the GPS but it was unreliable in the air so I got a Garmin external. Worked great. Then I upgraded to the iPad Air and I don’t even use the external GPS any more. THe GPS in the Air is SOOOO much better than previous models. I even have used it successfully in airliner cabins away from the windows.

  4. Pete Kuhns
    Pete Kuhns says:

    One problem with Apple’s release schedule is you will never be able to create a dedicated spot for an iPad in your panel. An air-gizmo’s type spot. Apple continually, frequently, ridiculously changes the form factor! I never thought I’d say this but it would be nice if Apple created a ‘never change’ iPad Mini that would just stay the same size/shape for years and years. Of course this is absurd to 99.9% of their customers.

  5. John
    John says:

    Appologies in advance to iPad lovers but I’m not much of a fan of Apple devices for a variety of reasons. I think the iPad got firmly entrenched in avaiation because initially it was the only game in town and when Android tablets started coming out they were weak in comparision. However that was yesterday. These days Android tablets offer more for less money than iPads. Take the Samsung Galaxy Tab S for example which came out over the summer. It’s a beautiful device without the needless restrictions imposed by Apple at a lower cost point.

    Given the “tablet” has turned concerning selections for avaiation I’d like to see equal treatment given to the Android side of the house, it’s not just iPads any more.

  6. Doug McCullough
    Doug McCullough says:

    I have been thinking of upgrading from my iPad 2 but wanted to know if the new models have overcome the overheating problem.
    I am still using the iPad 2 and only a month ago was on a 3.5 hour trek when 2.5 hours into it, my iPad shut down due to over heating. I was using a kneeboard strap to my leg with the magnetic cover folded under between my leg and the iPad and in a low wing aircraft that has a bubble canopy.
    Because of this problem I always have my track plotted into my dash mounted Garmin 296.
    I removed the iPad from my leg and approximately 30 minutes later was able to resume using it.

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      Unfortunately this is a limitation on the battery, and the new iPads are still susceptible to overheating. Until new batter technology is developed this will continue be a factor when flying with iPads.

  7. McChan
    McChan says:

    I haven’t have any of the overheating issues you speak of. I love foreflight and Garmin pilot but I find the android version lacking in speed and features I would love to use an android tablet but I could never find an option as robust or usable as Foreflight. Also it seemed a little less stable than foreflight on the Ipad. Garmin pilot was very close but just was missing a few things, truth be told I would love a hybrid of the vector maps of Garmin with the function of foreflight.

  8. Andy
    Andy says:

    John, I am not an Apple fanboy at all and I’ve owned and used both but I keep going back to Apple because they are simply the best. Maybe not the cheapest, but the best value in my opinion. I disagree that “Android tablets offer more for less money than iPads”, unless your only criteria for “more” is the lack of “restrictions”. My wife has a Galaxy Note 3 and it is plagued by bloatware and other issues that you don’t get with apple because of their restrictions. She is now thinking of going back to Apple too with the new bigger iPhones.

    Doug, I have never had my pad 2 or iPad Air shutdown for overheat. I am not usually in hot climate but I also don’t leave it running constantly. If I’m not using it, I turn the screen off until I need it again, even for a minute or two, especially when it’s hot in the cockpit.

  9. Peter
    Peter says:

    One factor you forgot to mention in the iPad vs. iPad Mini decision is the size. While a bigger screen is generally better, I switched from the iPad to the iPad Mini because I couldn’t fit the iPad on the yoke in the planes I fly. This meant putting it on a kneeboard, and therefore too much “head down” time. Even when on the kneeboard, in some of my aircraft the yoke would hit the iPad. For anyone buying an iPad or iPad Mini for aviation, try to find a friend who has one and will let you try it in your plane. Remember to take the controls through full range of motion and check to see what gauges or switches are blocked from view. Remember to put the seats in your favorite position, especially if you like to sit high in the cockpit. You may be unsatisfied with the result if you don’t – it can be an expensive mistake.

  10. James Hodges
    James Hodges says:

    my dinky iPad 2 is pathetic. Very slow and the thing substitutes entire words inappropriately. Must proofread very carefully. When I put in a 3 letter identifier it often substitutes something else. Potentially Fatal if I don’t catch it. Every program update makes it worse. I have been told that Apple deliberately degrades performance to induce people to buy a newer model. Screen even freezes and won’t respond until I reboot. I will never buy another Chinese made bunch of Apple Crap. Mine is the 64 capability version with wifi , ATT 3G. Bad on both wifi and 3G.

  11. James Hodges
    James Hodges says:

    Yes, if “froze up” on me. As I was about to make more nice remarks about I. No overheating and the blogs here don’t seem to be space limited. Bunch of Chinky Crap!!!

  12. Andy
    Andy says:

    James, you can turn off autocorrection under ‘keyboard’ in ‘settings’. Also the autocorrection in the latest IOS is much better. My iPad 2 still works fine, but the older devices do have trouble running the newer IOS’s since they are optimized for better memory and processors. That is normal for all computers.

  13. Keith
    Keith says:

    The best choice of tablet depends on how you use it. I use mine for charts, not navigation. The full size iPad works great for me, and a Mini would just be too small for me to read approach plates. The Air does seem to have better GPS reception than my old iPad2 – I got a 10m fix at 34,000 ft in an airliner this week.

    If you use your tablet as a navigator, like a portable GPS or even a portable EFIS, then the small tablet could work, but that’s strictly a VFR set-up.

  14. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    The iPad Mini screen is the same size as NACO approach plates, and the same size as the yoke “desk” I’ve had for years, so it’s perfect on the yoke of my P172D. The plates come up somewhat smaller than the screen on Foreflight, so they have to be spread–either tap or use spread fingers. With Foreflight Pro, there’s geo-referencing, which is great for enhancing situational awareness.

    As for whether to get a 4G model, WiFi isn’t everywhere, but 3G/4G is almost everywhere. Not only have I used my Mini for aviation purposes and updated my Foreflight over 4G when I couldn’t get WiFi, I’ve regularly used it for emails and web surfing over 3G/4G. Only once, when “Mah Woman” kept accessing Facebook on her iPhone while we were traveling have we come close to running over our Verizon data share plan, which is their minimum one of 3GB. Tablet access is only $10/month (smartphone data access is $40/month/phone).

    When it comes time to replace my original Mini, I’ll get a 64GB or greater–I have a 32 now, and it’s marginal with all of the stuff, both aviation and non-aviation, I’ve put on it. I also run Foreflight on my iPhone 5s, and instead of the 16GB version I have, when I upgrade I’ll go for 32GB or greater. Live and learn.

    For those who complain about buying from Asian manufacturing plants, Apple is not unique. I defy anyone to find a smartphone or tablet of any brand actually made in the USA. Using derogatory ethnic epithets to describe any of them is inappropriate.

  15. Dick Aaron
    Dick Aaron says:

    I have been using a 10″ iPad 2 for two years (bought refurbished) and use software version 6.1.3 and WingXPro7. It is the version with built-in GPS and I’ve never experienced any difficulties. I use it in a Swift with a clear top canopy, and although it’s in a case and I’ve not taken long flights, I haven’t experienced any overheating problems. I mounted it on the co-pilot’s side with a RAM mount attached to the lower windshield screws. It does not block anything and is easily visible and accessible. I did fashion a small cardboard sun shield which is helpful.

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