The Settings app was fairly basic when the iPad was first released in 2010, providing control of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless radios, screen brightness and email account settings. Seven years later it has evolved into a collection of hundreds of settings, with multi-tier menus that can make it difficult to find what you’re looking for.
It’s so complex that Apple added a search function within the Settings app in a previous update. There’s also the control panel, which is accessed by sliding your finger up from the bottom of the screen to quickly change frequently used settings.
All these settings and configuration options are great for customizing everything to your liking, but at the end of the day there are really only a few settings you need to be concerned about when using the iPad as an EFB in the cockpit. Here’s a quick rundown.
1. Disable Auto-Brightness
Display and Brightness > Auto-Brightness
During testing, we’ve found that lowering screen brightness by about 20 – 30% will give an extra hour of battery life in the air. By leaving auto-brightness enabled, the iPad will automatically reset the brightness to full bright when you get into the cockpit and shorten the useful battery life. And at night you’ll probably find the need to lower the brightness of the screen below the minimum value, using the in-app brightness dimming feature found in most apps (or by using the next tip when viewing approach charts).
2. Enable multitasking gestures
General > Multitasking > Gestures
Enabling this setting allows you perform basic actions like switching between apps, reveal the app switcher and close an app, by placing 4 or 5 fingers on the screen at the same time and swiping or pinching. This shortcut eliminates the need to use the home button to perform routine actions.
3. Configure location services
Privacy > Location Services > Custom app settings
This is the spot to specify a preference for each app on whether or not it can access your location. Some may disable a particular app’s use of location for privacy issues, but more importantly from the pilot’s perspective we’ve found that using location services in the background decreases battery life. Allowing ForeFlight to show your position on the chart or record your track log is great during flight, but you probably don’t need the Weather Channel tracking your location as you routinely drive around your home town. Consider setting this option to “When Using” for certain apps, to allow it to use your location when the app is open, but prevent unnecessary battery use when running in the background. Read more about iPad Location Services here.
4. Lock rotation
Control Panel (swipe up from bottom of the screen)
This simple setting is located in the control panel, allowing you to access it anytime by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. It allows you to lock the orientation of the screen, which is useful when flying in turbulence and you don’t want the screen to inadvertently change the layout when viewing a particular chart.
5. iCloud Find My iPad
Apple ID > iCloud > Find My iPad (and Send Last Location)
This setting should be on by default, but it’s a good time to verify while you have the iPad in your possession. You’ll find this extremely helpful (we know by experience) when you misplace your iPad or leave it in the airplane. Enabling this option allows you to locate your device using a computer, iPhone (with the Find my iPhone app) or another iPad. Make sure to also enable the setting here called “Send Last Location”, which will automatically send the location of the iPad to Apple when the battery is critically low, in case it takes a few days for you to track it down and the battery runs out of juice.
6. Enable Invert Colors
General > Accessibility Shortcut > Invert Colors
After enabling this setting you’ll be able to press the home button three times quickly to invert the colors of the screen. This is really helpful when flying at night and viewing approach charts or a taxi diagram since it shows the chart as white text on a black background and helps you maintain your adjusted night vision.
7. Disable app auto-updates
iTunes and App Store > Automatic Downloads
While having your iPad automatically download and install new app updates may at first seem like a helpful feature, leaving this feature enabled can leave you high and dry at the worst possible time. Many of the popular aviation apps need to connect to the internet the first time they launch after an update, which will render them useless at 8,000 feet if you don’t take care of this task on the ground first. For this reason, we recommend updating your apps manually and launching them right after the update to make sure they’re functioning as expected and have the necessary data installed.