Between weather and aircraft maintenance, getting the iPad2 into the air has proven more difficult than anticipated. Yesterday's afternoon flight was scrubbed due to a dead battery, but I did manage one flight in the morning. The iPad2 performed just fine during the 1.9 hour flight, leaving me confident enough to box up the original iPad for shipment to its new owner. Here are my impressions of the iPad2 in flight along with some thoughts for current iPad owners on the relative advantages of upgrading.
Size and Weight
The iPad2's slightly smaller size and thinner profile not only makes the iPad2 lighter, cases like the semi-rigid one that I'm using are also smaller and lighter. This means my minimalist flight bag is noticeably more minimal when I pick it up. The iPad2 feels lighter when you hold it and it's definitely lighter when strapped to my leg. The thinner profile makes the 30-pin connector look a bit precarious when inserted. Same for the audio port. This could be a consideration for folks who use the Bad Elf GPS Receiver with a 30pin extention cable.
|Thin profile means plug connections could be more fragile?|
Lights, Camera ...
The iPad2 has two built-in cameras, one rear-facing and one front-facing. If you are familiar with the iPhone4, it's a similar set-up. I say similar because the quality of the rear-facing is not very good at all (actually, it sucks). One would assume that a lower quality camera kept the iPad2 unit cost down, but it makes one wonder why Apple bothered at all.
Here are some photos I took and while the quality is not great, using the iPad2 camera did provide a déjà vu moment. The iPad2's screen is so large and bright that while framing a photo I was reminded of bygone days (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) when I regularly used a large format view camera, except the iPad2 image is right side up. Oh, and you don't need a mammoth tripod and dark cloth. Of course the iPad2 camera can't provide view camera features like swing, shift, and tilt that architectural photographers rely on.
I haven't tried the iPad2 video capability, but the front-facing camera lets you make video calls using FaceTime and one imagines that eventually Skype will provide video support for the iPad. The addition of these cameras doesn't really add much value for pilots. I guess when trying to electronically copy a large sheet of paper it could be easier to frame with the iPad2 as opposed to an iPhone4. The image quality is undoubtedly better with the iPhone4's camera.
Speed & Clarity
The faster graphics performance of the iPad2 is evident when loading a terminal procedure in ForeFlight, SkyCharts Pro or Jeppesen's app. Scrolling around on charts is also faster. Downloading chart updates seems quite a bit faster, too.
The iPad2 screen is not terribly different from the original iPad except that it offers a wider range of brightness. You can make it much dimmer and a tad brighter than the original. Note these images have been adjusted to try to capture the relative brightness settings.
|Brightest setting ...|
|Dimmest setting ...|
Some have observed that operators who just received OpSpec authorization for using the iPad1 as an electronic flight bag (EFB) may now be faced with certifying a new device if they wish to upgrade. I'm not certain of the particulars, but it does seem incredibly inefficient and expensive for the FAA to require individual operators to replicate decompression and electromagnetic testing on the self-same device. At least they won't have to change the approved training programs since it will be the same software, just running on a slightly different device.
The GNS 5870 Bluetooth GPS Receiver worked just as well with the iPad2 as it did with the old iPad1. As before, ForeFlight showed my position on approach charts and airport diagrams. With both SkyCharts Pro and ForeFlight the groundspeed and heading readouts closely (often exactly) matched the KLN 94 GPS displayed values. The GPS-derived altitude was within 50 feet of the altimeter most of the time. The GNS 5870 achieves satellite lock so quickly that I don't really know how long it's taking. My only complaint continues to be the touchiness of the swipe-style on/off switch. It's just too easy to inadvertently turn the thing on when stowing it in your flight bag.
For non-aviation use, there are some other features of interest. Using a HDMI connector (available separately), you can mirror your iPad2's screen on a larger monitor.
Battery life of the iPad2 seems on par with the earlier model; about 10 hours.
The new magnetic cover looks cool, but it isn't designed to work with a case and than makes it a non-starter for me. It's interesting to note that the iPad2 itself contains 10 magnets and the cover contains 21 magnets. Call me old-fashioned, but lot of magnets seems like a bad idea in a cockpit. I haven't done any testing with the magnetic cover in the cockpit since I don't plan on using it, but my anecdotal observations are that with the iPad2 strapped to my leg there didn't seem to be any adverse effects on the compass in the Piper I was teaching in yesterday. I observed the aircraft compass on the ground through 360 degrees of heading change and it seemed to accurately indicate known headings. The aircraft compass aligned correctly with three different runways at two different airports. This is something I'll continue to watch in the coming weeks.
Preliminary investigation of the iPad2 accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass features seems to indicate that there isn't an app at the moment that can provide accurate Attitude Heading and Reference (AHARs) features. The idea of using an iPad in flight as a back-up attitude indicator may seem ridiculous, but keep in mind that only a year ago a lot of things seemed farfetched.
Apps 'n Stuff
People new to the iPad game always ask what apps I recommend. Here are the apps I've used on the iPad2 so far:
SkyCharts Pro - Limited wx features, but best chart-based EFB app around.
ForeFlight Mobile HD - Interface is a bit cumbersome, but this EFB app does it all from weather to approach plates.
ForeFlight Checklist Pro - Fly a lot of different aircraft? With a bit of effort on your part, this app can help you keep it all straight.
Jeppesen Mobile TC - Limited features right now, but if you must have Jepp charts ...
AvCharts - Low cost way to carry and access terminal procedures. Only app that allows you to make notes on a chart.
LogTen Mobile - This logbook app may actually have too many bells and whistles, but if you have a special logging requirement, this app can probably do it.
DUAT - Simplified way to access your DUAT account, get weather briefings, file flight plans, etc.
Square - Cost-effective way for self-employed professionals to accept credit card payments.
Penultimate - My favorite note taking app.
PFMA - Easiest-to-use electronic E6B I've found.
GoodReader - Not just good, this is a great PFD reader. Use it to read all those FAA handbooks you're carrying inside your iPad.
Atomic Web Browser - Does a few things the built-in Safari browser can't do.
Numbers - Not exactly like Excel, but if you need spreadsheet capability on the iPad then this is a good choice.
Pages - Solid word processing app, though a bluetooth keyboard makes it more usable.
Keynote - Let's you give PowerPoint presentations with your iPad. Add this app and you'll have your audience yawning in no time!
EverNote - Great way to take, save, and distribute notes across multiple platforms.
As for accessories I'm using or have used and recommend:
GNS 5870 MFI Bluetooth GPS Receiver
Square Credit Card Reader
Upgrade or Wait
More speed is always better, but for frugal pilots I'm not sure the iPad2's speed bump and lighter weight are worth the cost and trouble of upgrading. Pilots who already have an iPad1 or who are considering acquiring a used iPad1 may actually get more bang for the buck. If you do decide to purchase a new iPad2, I personally don't see a need for more than 32Mb of memory. I chose the 16Mb version. I don't store music or videos on my device, but with several chart apps and associated data, lots of FAA handbooks, a PDF version of the AIM, and so on, I still have 8Gb of free space out of 14Gb. So why did I upgrade, you ask? Well it's obvious! Nerds like me must do whatever we can to preserve what little blogosphere cachet we possess. We must!