Sunday, November 04, 2012

iPad mini Takes Flight!

Today's three instructional flights (two instrument candidates and one commercial) provided a great venue for testing out the new iPad mini. The goals were to test mounting options as well as the readability and usability of the smaller form factor. My iPad workflows utilize Notability (for recording the ATIS and ATC clearances), LogTen (for recording starting Hobbs/Tach, block in/out, and off/on times), CloudAhoy (for documenting instructional flights for later critique), ForeFlight (for charts, weather briefings and more), and ForeFlight Checklist Pro (to help me keep track of all the different types I fly). These uses may or may not resemble other pilot's typical use of an EFB, but they provide a good way to evaluate the iPad mini. Two different aircraft types were used: The Cessna 172 Nav III (G1000) and the Diamond DA40 DiamondStar.

Brief Comparison

When placed side-by-side, it's surprising how the iPad mini offers almost as much screen real estate as the full-sized iPad. The weight difference can't be described well in words. You'll need to experience it firsthand and once you do, you'll probably be surprised at the difference the lighter weight makes. I know I was.

iPad mini (red) and original iPad 

iPad mini Cases and Mounts

All iPads can benefit from the protection of a case or skin. Just one bump or a hard drop is enough to dent the edge of the iPad's metal case which will likely fracture the glass, leading to an expensive repair. This is somewhat academic since there are limited options for iPad mini cases, but the presence or absence of a case will affect your mounting options. RAM makes two basic mounts for the iPad mini: One that holds the mini sans case/skin and one that will hold the mini with a case. Assuming I'll eventually acquire a case or skin of some sort, I opted for the RAM Universal X-Grip II.

RAM X-Grip with Yoke Mount
iPad mini in the C172

On today's flight, I tested the X-Grip with a yoke mount in the Cessna 172. Unlike the full-sized iPad, the lighter weight of the iPad mini makes it ideal for yoke mounting. While the yoke mount worked well on the right seat yoke. The chart holder clip that is standard equipment on the left yoke in a late model Cessna aircraft would need to be removed for the yoke mount to work, which could be problematic for renter pilots.

In the yoke mount, the iPad mini sits at an ideal distance for readability and accessibility. The lack of anything sitting on my knee had me thinking I was forgetting something, but I soon adjusted! I also liked the fact that checking the flight controls was no longer hazardous to the health of the iPad screen.

Having the iPad mounted higher up limits head-down movement, making it easier to quickly refer to the screen. But having the iPad mounted higher up also makes screen glare an issue. I found it manageable and there are sure to be anti-glare screen protectors for the iPad mini (if they aren't already available). I find the loss of screen sharpness caused by non-glare screen protectors to be a bigger distraction than occasional glare on an unprotected screen, but you may feel differently.

Spread out! The yoke mount causes a bit of interference ...
Cessna suction mounting options are a bit limited ...

iPad mini in the DA40

The full size iPad is a bit of a problem in the DA40 and DA42 since the flight control stick makes it virtually impossible to use a kneeboard style solution. Enter the iPad mini with a RAM suction mount and you have ... blessed relief! The only issue I encountered was the slight interference between the suction mount and the side window. With some tweaking, I was able to make it work.

Seemed like a good idea ...

As in the Cessna 172, having the iPad mini mounted higher paid big dividends - less head-down time, easier to quickly locate and use apps, and more time spent controlling the aircraft (or teaching and looking for other aircraft). Mounted for right seat use, the iPad mini doesn't obscure much, save a few circuit breakers.
Hey! With a stable surface, my handwriting doesn't suck so badly!

Engine start, in progress ...

Unlike the Cessna, there aren't many limits in mounting the iPad mini with the RAM suction mount on the left seat. So not wanting to be the only one having fun, I offered the pilot I was flying with a chance to see how the iPad mini works. The photo below doesn't really capture the display - too much contrast for the camera to render. And the pilot's response? "Damn you! Now I'll have to buy one!"

mini Conclusions

Now that I've experienced the iPad mini with the above mentioned applications, it's hard for me to see lugging around a full-sized iPad. Granted, I've only done one day's flying with the iPad mini, but all the apps that I use in my usual workflow worked just fine. The smaller screen size was not an issue because the lightweight of the iPad mini makes it easier to hold or mount closer. And check this out! I even found a way to get a track-up display with ForeFlight on the iPad mini!

Look Tyson! Track up!
If you haven't yet purchased an iPad for aviation use or are thinking about upgrading from an earlier model iPad, choosing the iPad mini is a no-brainer. Whether you get a Wifi unit or one with cellular data capability (due out later this month) is up to you. I still recommend 32Gb as the minimum size unless you are extremely frugal in the apps and charts you use. Over the next few days I'll be testing the iPad mini in Pipers, Cirrus and some other types, but I don't expect to run into any surprises. Other than my flight bag being lighter! 


JohnOCFII said...

Looks really great. Thanks for taking the time to post photos too - it really helps explain the story. I'd guess that many of the people I fly with either either older iPad 1's or no tablet at all will be preferring the iPad mini. It looks like a winner!


John Ewing said...

Your welcome!

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Craig said...

I see you use a few apps in flight. Can you comment on how you use (e.g. stylus for Notability) and switch between apps in flight? Assume iPad novice.

I use ForeFlight, but might add ForeFlight Checklist Pro and perhaps Notability if I could switch between apps quickly and with minimal distraction.

John Ewing said...


I don't use a stylus, but many pilots do. I'm a minimalist at heart so the fewer things I need to carry, the better. It took a while to get used to writing with my fingertip and when learning anything new, I try to focus on the intention and the goal rather than how awkward it feels. With practice, I began to forget I was writing with my fingertip. Here's a demonstration video using Penultimate. I switched to Notability because it's easier to select a black page background and a yellow pen for night use. I made a feature request to the Penultimate folks several times, but always got a "Yes, dear ..." sort of response.

As for switch between apps, I enable multi-tasking gestures in the iPad Settings. This lets you swipe four fingers up on any screen to see a task bar of all your open apps. You can also swipe left or right to change app context. Check out this video: