Thursday, January 28, 2010

The iPad's here ... almost

Note: See my latest post on the iPad here

No, I wasn't at the big soirée in San Francisco and I have yet to actually handle an iPad, but after all the rumors I, like many others, was excited to see the actual device on display. As my readers know, what I'm primarily interested in is the iPad as EFB and it looks like it could work nicely for that purpose, with some caveats. First the good, then the not-so-good.

The Good

As one might expect with Apple, the construction quality and the form factor are excellent.

Height: 9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
Width: 7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
Depth: 0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
Weight: 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) Wi-Fi model; 1.6 pounds (0.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G model

Decent estimated battery life of 10 hours.

Nice looking, crisp display. Haven't seen it in daylight, but if it's like my Macbook Pro then the LED backlight display with auto contrast control is quite good.

Price seems reasonable and competitive, though I'm thinking I'd probably go for the version without 3G.

Lots of connectivity options for moving data to and from the device, though you'll have to buy the 3G version to get the SIM card tray. D'oh!

The Not-So-Good

Maximum operating altitude is 10,000 feet. The first thing everyone says when I mention this is "But it has a solid state disk drive!" Now this is pure speculation, but the altitude limit could be due to any number of components - the display, the internal switches/accelerometers that detect rotation and movement, who really knows? The altitude limit is not such a big deal for displaying approach plates as I know of few airports with a field elevation at or above 10,000 feet.

Operating temperature range could be an issue for some folks, depending on your location and the season: 32° to 95° F (0° to 35° C).

At the moment there is no support for multi-tasking, though the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 is rumored to support multi-tasking.

The other issue with the iPhone OS is that some of my favorite applications that I'd love to see run on this device, like ReadyProcs for instance, would need to be ported. Depending on the APIs, this may not be a huge deal or it could be a lot of work. I'd speculate that Nacomatic and PDFPlates should be pretty usable with an iPhone-based PDF viewer.

iPhone applications for viewing maps, like SkyCharts and ForeFlight should be much more useful on the iPad.

Right now, this is all academic. The device won't go on sale for another 60 days and even then, one can expect shortages. But at least the cat is out of the bag.


Jake Reynolds said...

Don't forget, no GPS support except on the 3G version. I still think an android based e-ink solution with the right form factor is going to win out over a DRM laden, app-store locked, Jobs Profit Machine.

John Ewing said...


The lack of GPS is not a big deal to me since it wouldn't be certified for IFR and most folks have something in the panel of their aircraft that is certified.

As for the Droid, I'd like to see it succeed and time will tell. Right now it doesn't seem to have much momentum. I hope that situation changes because more competition is generally good for consumers.

Your comments about Digital Rights Management are both ill-informed and counter-productive: Everyone needs to get paid for their work. App users are right to expect good value for their money, but expecting full-feature apps for free seems childish.

Ad hominem attacks just aren't relevant to the discussion at hand and only serve to decrease the signal-to-noise ratio.

ipearx said...

The iPad is very exciting for in cockpit use, one big unknown thus far is how well does the screen work outdoors?

For glider pilots:
- The 10'000 foot and temperature limits aren't a problem most of the time, until you want to do some wave flying.
- Reasonable sunlight readability is critical. If it's anything like the iPhone screen, that will be fine. If it's more like a normal laptop, then it might not be good enough.
- A high res, affordable screen in the cockpit is just what we need.
- A battery life of 10 hours is amazing. My PNA device I'm using at the moment has 3 hours tops. Most flights I do are 2-5 hours.

Can't wait to hear what it's like outside. I have a feeling, not as good as we would like still.

Sarah said...


Really? You can imagine an 8x10" tablet in a glider cockpit? Not in mine!

Apart from that, sunlight readability is all important to me. I am still using an ancient ( 10 year old! ) PDA because it has a 'transflective' screen rather than a purely backlit one. Most current phones/pdas look like they're off to me in sunlight.

But for an EFB in an airplane... yes, looks nice.

David Cheung said...

I've read that the 3G version uses a new type of MicroSIM, is incompatible with the existing SIMs, and only works on AT&T for now.

Dr.ATP said...

While airports above 10,000' MSL are few and far between, there are lots of IAPs with higher charted segments: see Jackson Hole, WY, Rifle, CO, and Bishop, CA, to name a few. So, the 10,000' MSL operating limitation is a genuine limitation for anyone going to those airports in an unpressurized airplane.

John Ewing said...

Dr. ATP,

Thanks for correcting my oversight regarding the altitudes of approach segments versus the airport altitude. As for Bishop, the company for whom I used to fly freight has a scheduled route into that airport and they only do it in VFR conditions.

I don't think the MAJORITY of GA pilots fly non-turbo piston, non-pressurized light aircraft into such airports. So the iPad as EFD is not necessarily out of the question for most pilots.

Anonymous said...

There's an Apple iPad development person posting on the Van's Air Force iPad thread. The 10K limit is just boilerplate and means nothing.

Anonymous said...

the 10K' limitation is most likely due in part to the cellular data component and the restrictions of using such a device above 10k'.

There is an interesting patent that was just granted for deck to deck cellular at any operating altitude here:

Russ Still said...

Here's an image of the new iPad kneeboard:

There are more pictures at

Anonymous said...

Just completed my first flight from MWC - YIP with my iPad and Foreflight. Must say it's an awesome combo. Great visibility in direct sun, really works flawlessly.