Friday, October 11, 2013

Mobile FlightDeck VFR, Take 2

After a rocky start, Jeppesen has released version 1.1.4 of their Mobile FlightDeck VFR app for the iPad that they claim addresses iOS 7 incompatibilities. I learned of this, not via email from Jeppesen, but by happenstance: I noticed the AppStore showed an update was available. Odd that Jepp would not notify their customers via email, the way ForeFlight does. However I received a snail-mail invoice from Jeppesen in my mailbox for $0. Why did they send it? Who in Jeppesen's management sets their priorities? Perhaps they are addicted to paper? I gotten used to having more questions than answers when dealing with a monolithic business. Now, on to the review.

Installation Frustration

Jeppesen really needs to get refine the process of installing and updating their app. Never before have iOS users had to jump through so many hoops just to install an update. Why take an easy-to-use OS that's supposed to make life simple for the user and make it complicated? I know, more questions ... Here's my update saga.

App got stuck here after updating to V1.1.4

I saw there was an update in the AppStore, clicked on it, when the download finished, I clicked on OPEN within the AppStore. That appears to have been a mistake because all I got was the app's splash screen. So I deleted the app and started over. This time I got past the splash screen, but because I'd deleted the app and reinstalled, I no longer had the US coverage area. And the Jeppesen servers were unavailable. Bummer ...

The next morning I successfully downloaded US coverage again, which it took over 10 minutes and the app then hung on the extracting process. This launched a long, trial-and-error process to get things working. In the three-plus years that I've been using the iPad and various incarnations of iOS, I've never seen such a temperamental app. Here's the sequence that worked for me, your mileage may vary, and surrounding your iPad with chicken bones during this procedure is optional:
  1. Go to Settings, locate the Mobile FD VFR settings, and de-authorize the app
  2. Quit all open apps
  3. Delete the Mobile FD VFR app
  4. Do a hard reset of your iPad
  5. After restarting, go to the AppStore and download the app again
  6. After downloading, you'll notice the AppStore then says an update is available
  7. Click on Update and wait for it to finish, then
  8. Quit all open apps
  9. Open Mobile FlightDeck VFR and enter your userid and password
  10. Go to the Download section and select your area of coverage
  11. Remember to not exit the Jepp app until the download and extract process completes

Seriously? Jepp wins the award for the most unfriendly install/update process - ever.

Go Fly

The Go Flying mode is where version 1.1.3 crashed repeatedly, apparently during chart rendering changes due to scrolling or just because the aircraft was moving. Version 1.1.4 has improved, but I still saw numerous crashes. The crashes were less frequent and still seem to be related to their chart rendering engine (that is just a guess). Leave the chart alone (don't scroll or resize, perhaps leave in North-up orientation) and the new version can go for 30 minutes or more without crashing. Changing to another app and then returning to Mobile FD VFR seems to have about a 30% chance of causing the app to crash. It's unfortunate that one of Jepp's biggest selling points - data-driven charts - could actually be the app's Achilles' heel.

Sometimes when you leave the app and switch back, there's a delay in how much detail the chart renders. Give it time or scroll around and it will eventually render all of the details.

Where'd the airspace rendering go?

Ah, there it is!

Airport Data

The release notes say the presentation of airport data has been improved, but I don't see a difference. Concord Buchanan Airport (KCCR) still lists the incorrect tower frequency.

The correct tower freq is 119.7 ...

An airport's ATIS/ASOS/AWOS is still buried. And you'll really need to drill down to find out if a runway is left or right traffic.

Where for art thou, AWOS?
Several of the airports I checked listed fuel as "--" when we know for a fact that 100LL is available. Compared to ForeFlight, this is primitive. The airport pop-up feature could be very useful, but the current presentation needs to be re-prioritized to list the most frequently used information at the topmost level.

No 100LL fuel or what?

Buying Advice

This app has a lot of promise and the stability in version 1.1.4 has improved under iOS 7, but it's not something I'd want a student pilot of mine to rely on. I wonder if the development of this app relies a toolkit that allows one set of source code to be compiled for iOS and Android, because therein may lie the cause of the stability problems. The trial version is interesting and except for the time and effort required to install and download coverage, it's free. After 30 days, Jepp is charging money for this product and that's a problem: It ain't ready for prime time. Jepp needs to devote considerably more time to fixing bugs and doing more rigorous quality assurance testing. Given the poor track record of this app, the next version will need to be rock-solid or it will be difficult for this app to gain wide acceptance. Version 1.1.4 has improved, but Mobile FlightDeck VFR is not something I'd want to rely on in the cockpit of an airborne aircraft.


Ron said...

It sounds almost like the app has, if anything, gotten worse. Since I'm not a regular user of Foreflight, how often has that one crashed on you? I'm guessing not that often.

The Jepp FD (IFR) app seems to be better, but the crashes are just unacceptable if they expect us to rely on it in flight.

John Ewing said...


ForeFlight has crashed on occasion, but I can't remember the last flight when that happened. With Jepp's VFR product, I haven't had a flight where it didn't crash multiple times.

Stability of the product in flight is paramount, but the app is also hard to install and configure, too.

Jepp has some work to do on both counts if they are serious about having a product in the VFR pilot marketplace.

Shawn michel said...

Nice very informative post. great job.
PPl student