Aerovie update shows how Apple Watch is slowly becoming useful for pilots

Since the Apple Watch was introduced 18 months ago, a debate has raged about its prospects. Some analysts claim it has been a complete flop, hampered by poor performance and a lack of useful apps. Boosters argue that it’s the beginning of an exciting new category of smart wearable devices, and selling 15 million units in less than two years isn’t exactly a disaster.

Handy, but not essential

Handy, but not essential

We’ve been using with the Apple Watch since it first came out, and our opinion is somewhere in between these two extremes. It’s hardly a must-have product (we’d give it up long before our iPhone or iPad), but there are useful everyday features like notifications, activity tracking and payments. In terms of flying, though, the watch has been pretty limited – more of a gimmick than a useful cockpit tool.

There’s reason to think that may be changing now. With the release of watchOS3, Apple’s latest operating system for the watch, performance has improved dramatically. Perhaps more importantly, app developers are giving the Apple Watch a second look, enhancing their watch apps with new features that are actually helpful. The latest example is Aerovie, maker of a popular Electronic Flight Bag app, who released version 4.11 recently.

Aerovie heart rate

Aerovie’s latest feature alerts you when your heart rate goes above 120.

The lesson of many early watch apps was to stop trying to make a full featured app work on the watch’s small screen. The processor and OS simply couldn’t keep up. With that in mind, it’s encouraging to see that Aerovie has created features to take advantage of the Apple Watch’s unique place in the cockpit and its unique sensors.

One example is the app’s new “Pilot Health Monitoring” feature, which uses the built-in heart rate monitor to alert pilots of an elevated resting heart rate. This isn’t as good as a pulse oximeter (which might someday be added to the watch), but it can be useful for preventing hypoxia. The alert is set at 120 beats per minute, but it is adjustable. It also appears on the timer page.

Aerovie complication

Aerovie now uses Apple Watch Complications.

Another interesting update is the ability to add Aerovie to your watch face, using a feature Apple calls Watch Complications. This essentially lets you run small pieces of an app on your main watch screen, which is valuable for quickly checking important information. Some fitness apps allow you to monitor your steps walked or calories burned throughout the day; other apps show continuously updated sports scores.

In the example at right, you can see a digital watch face that includes a lot of traditional watch information: time, day, date, outside air temperature. But Aerovie also shows valuable aviation information like the current METAR, Zulu/UTC time and sunset. This screen appears every time you raise your wrist – no app launching or data input required. It’s simple, but useful, and we think there’s more room to get creative here.

Aerovie TAF face

Time Travel allows pilots to see the forecast weather conditions.

Aerovie can also use one of the Apple Watch’s most under-appreciated features, called time travel, to add additional functionality. Time travel allows the user to spin the digital crown on the right side of the watch and advance the time shown on the watch face. Along with the time, you’ll also see calendar events, forecast temperature and other data that correspond to that time in the future.

With watchOS3, non-Apple apps can access this feature, and we think this could be an exciting area of experimentation by a lot of apps. Aerovie has taken advantage of it to show forecast weather conditions, in the form of a TAF, plus the correct Zulu/UTC time and sunrise/sunset. This makes it quick and easy to check what the weather might be like for your takeoff tomorrow morning.

Aerovie audio alert

Audio alerts keep pilots on their toes.

Version 4.11 isn’t all about the watch app; using audio is another focus area for Aerovie. What the company calls “portable TAWS” offers a variety of audio alerts, including the “five hundred” callout on landing. Now, pilots can create custom climbout and descent callouts as well.

There’s also an automated altitude change alert: the app detects when you have leveled off, then provides visual and audio alerts when you leave that altitude. It’s a handy feature for single pilot IFR in particular.

Aerovie is available in the App Store. Downloading the app offers a 30-day free trial; an annual subscription is $69.99 per year.