Ten years after the iPhone was introduced and seven years after the iPad hit the market, the world of aviation apps and accessories has matured significantly. New app startups are much rarer than they used to be and iPad sales are plateauing, but that hardly means it was a quiet year for electronic flight bags (EFBs).
2017 brought countless app updates, dozens of new products, and lots of news for pilots. How’s this for progress? ForeFlight turned 10 years old and set its sights on even bigger prizes, while professional pilots finally got approval to use own-ship position on EFBs. Here are seven other trends we followed this year.
The big two EFB apps, ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot, both continued their push into overseas markets in 2017. ForeFlight announced a major partnership with Jeppesen that unlocked global charts, while Garmin introduced a number of European features at the Aero show in the spring. There is no sign of this competition slowing down anytime soon.
New weather receivers
While the first ADS-B receivers were introduced six years ago, there is still plenty of innovation in the market for portable weather receivers. As ever more pilots decide to add this key feature to their tablets, options continue to expand. ForeFlight introduced Scout, a tiny ADS-B receiver developed in partnership with uAvionix, offering pilots a low cost option for in-flight weather. Garmin was busy as well, announcing an all-new SiriusXM receiver for Garmin Pilot and Garmin portable GPSs, as well as an all-in-one ADS-B/SiriusXM/AHRS/GPS device this fall (the GDL 52). Even Dual Electronics refreshed its popular XGPS170. What will 2018 bring for this category?
iPhone takes center stage
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the iPhone launch, Apple announced three new phones: the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. These are the most powerful (and most expensive) iPhones ever, but sales were brisk and app developers responded with updates to support them. As phone screens get larger, they are becoming more capable everyday navigators and we’re seeing plenty of pilots use them alongside a tablet. ForeFlight’s latest update proves the point: the company did a fairly extensive overhaul of the iPhone interface to make it more like the iPad. It’s no longer a side show.
iPad Pro 10.5″ is Apple’s best EFB yet
Just because the iPhone stole the spotlight doesn’t mean iPad news was slow. After a few years of fairly minor updates, Apple pulled out all the stops for the new iPad Pro 10.5″ model. This is clearly their best tablet yet, with a phenomenal screen and a lightning faster processor. Combined with the much more capable iOS 11, it’s the first major leap in iPad functionality in years. We think it’s the best tablet for pilots.
Trying new connectivity options
Portable, affordable in-flight connectivity has been the Holy Grail for avionics companies, but it simply doesn’t exist yet (and may not for quite some time). Internet in the sky is more popular than ever, but it will cost you dearly – over $70,000 for the most capable systems. But 2017 saw some progress on the lower end. Garmin’s latest generation of inReach communicators added more seamless integration with the Garmin Pilot app, while AirText introduced an installed text/phone product that offers reliable in-flight service for far less than $70,000. Even more interestingly, MITRE showed off its concept for a remote IFR clearance delivery app that uses LTE instead of scratchy RCOs.
Augmented reality experiments
Augmented reality, where digital objects are overlaid on the real world, is one of the hottest trends in consumer technology. Companies from Apple to Microsoft to Google are spending huge sums of money to develop affordable AR systems, many of them using either goggles or smartphones. While most of the technology is still fairly limited at this point, the potential is huge. Some app developers offered a taste of things to come this year, with AR app experiments for nearest airports and flight tracking. We expect a lot more news in this area during 2018.
Lots of iOS updates… Lots
As usual, Apple released a major update to its iOS operating system this year. iOS 11 was, in some ways, one of their biggest releases yet – especially for the iPad. It added significant new capabilities for file management, app multi-tasking, photos, and payments. It also brought with is a number of bug fix updates – eight in just three months. This unprecedented pace of iOS updates caused more than a little frustration on the part of iPad owners; watch our iOS Update Green Light page for advice on when to tap Update.