As 2018 winds down, we’re looking back at another busy year in the world of iPad apps and accessories. There was no miracle cure for in-flight connectivity, no major Android expansion, and no new iPad Mini (you could even say iPad sales were flat). And yet, at least for pilots, tablets and electronic flight bag apps have never been more important or more popular. From antique taildraggers to the newest business jets, pilots of all experience levels and interests are planning and flying with a tablet.
Here’s a look at some of the trends we saw in 2018.
App consolidation continues
This is a continuation of a trend that took off last year: the big players among app developers continue to gain market share and even merge with rivals. The big story in 2017 was the deep partnership between Jeppesen and ForeFlight; in 2018 it was Garmin’s turn to join forces with another big player, in this case Fltplan.com join. That merger promises new services in 2019, especially for turbine airplanes and professional pilots.
The result of these tie-ups has been ever more advanced features, from pre-departure clearances on ForeFlight to engine instrument displays in Garmin Pilot. It’s also led to accelerated growth outside the US, as ForeFlight in particular made huge strides and can be considered a full-featured option in Europe now.
New ADS-B receivers
With the 2020 mandate to install ADS-B Out in airplanes just 12 months away, the market for panel-mount avionics was surprisingly quiet (although the $500 FAA rebate is back). Portables, on the other hand, remained red hot with multiple new product introductions and new software integrations. There were even new weather products available from the FAA’s FIS-B weather feed. Pilots apparently see a lot of value in a portable ADS-B receiver; the jury is still out on more expensive panel-mount products.
iOS 12 brings new features
Apple updates its mobile operating system annually, but iOS 12 brought some major changes in 2018. Whereas previous updates changed a lot of the look and feel, this one focused on speed, performance, and new productivity features. It also changed some long-established operating procedures – there isn’t even a home button on the latest iPad Pro models.
New Apple hardware
Along with the new software came new hardware from Apple. There was no updated iPad Mini, a product pilots have been begging for, but the latest iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″ models set a new bar for performance and screen quality. They are the best tablets yet for the cockpit. Also don’t overlook the new iPhone models – while hardly cheap, the larger screens are now quite usable in the cockpit, and ForeFlight’s introduction of synthetic vision on the iPhone closed a major capabilities gap. Is the iPhone XS Max the new iPad Mini?
Headsets and apps
The other essential product for pilots (besides an iPad), is a headset. While the integration between these two products has moved somewhat slowly, 2018 showed the potential for more features. Lightspeed’s popular FlightLink app gained fans, and Bose’s new ProFlight headset introduced new headset-iPad options. Look for more in this space in 2019.
Flight training is hot
Airline pilot hiring is the strongest it has been in a generation, so it’s no surprise that flight training is growing right now. Flight schools across the US reported record flying hours and plenty of interest from prospective pilots. The app world has responded, with new options for at-home and in-cockpit training. The days of sitting through a boring ground school class in a drafty hangar are long gone.
Finally, there was a wide variety of new iPad accessories introduced in the past year. While maybe not as flashy as a new app or ADS-B receiver, many of these are quite useful – maybe even essential. From staying connected in flight to keeping your iPad charged, there are some excellent options for pilots of all levels.