iPad mini Poised For Rapid Pilot Adoption

 - December 2, 2012, 3:55 AM
Jeppesen photos compare the regular iPad (9.7 inch) and iPad mini (7.9 inch). Jeppesen expects that the 18-percent reduction in screen real estate will not pose a readability issue for users.

Apple unveiled the iPad mini on October 23, and developers of aviation apps are already showing how well their products play on the new device.

The mini, with a 7.9-inch (diagonal) screen, is smaller than the 9.7-inch iPad but contains the same speedy dual-core A5 processor as the iPad 2. The mini (Wi-Fi-only starting price $329) weighs 0.68 pounds compared with the nearly 1.5-pound regular iPad, and the mini is easy to hold in one hand and takes up far less cockpit real estate. The mini should be much simpler to mount and better able to use suction-cup mounts that stick to windows without worrying about damaging plastic windows by hanging too much weight on them. For yoke mounts, the mini will block much less of the instrument panel. While many expect the mini to be an ideal backup device for regular iPad EFBs, on its own it is large enough to work well as an EFB by itself.

Backup Device

The mini’s screen real estate is about 18 percent less than the iPad’s and the mini doesn’t have the latest iPad’s 264 pixel-per-inch (PPI) retina display (fourth-generation iPad). But the mini’s smaller size means that it squeezes more pixels into a smaller space, thus its resolution is better than the iPad 2’s (164 PPI versus 132). Touchscreen elements thus are 18 percent smaller. “It’s not a huge reduction,” said Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen’s director for aviation strategy, “but it is noticeable. It’s something we don’t think is going to be a usability issue.” Approach plates are a bit smaller than on the iPad, he said, “but it’s surprisingly readable.” Jeppesen’s new Mobile FliteDeck 2.0 iPad app uses more of the available screen space, so that helps make terminal charts more readable on the mini.

Ellerbrock agrees that the mini will find common use as a backup device, especially in commercial operations where iPad use must be approved by regulators. “There is a lot of freedom on how [operators] provide system failure backup,” he said. “It can be another iPad, a laptop, a voice call to get specific information about an approach or some combination. Now we have a less-than-$350 backup device that is immediately accessible and quite readable, so that’s pretty attractive.”

The mini will also encourage developers to create new apps for other crewmembers, thanks to its light weight and small size. “There may be a whole new set of apps that are enabled by the form factor for other uses like flight attendants and mechanics who don’t have readability concerns or cockpit needs but love the form factor. Innovation springs forward with new devices.”

Jeppesen conducted decompression testing on both the iPad mini and the new fourth-generation iPad on November 6, and both units passed the test. The company said it does not “anticipate any issues for operators to gain regulatory authorization of Jeppesen Mobile apps on the iPad mini according to the FAA AC 120-76B standard or the EASA draft AMC 20-25 standard.”

Hilton Software’s WingX Pro 7 “runs beautifully on the iPad mini,” according to company founder Hilton Goldstein. “[Apple] turned out a fantastically light and usable device. It is fast, slick and incorporates all the great features such as track up, GPWS, terrain profile view, ADS-B weather and traffic integration, split screen and more. I might be going out on a limb here, but I believe the iPad mini will be more popular than the iPad.”

ForeFlight Mobile blogged that during a test flight, the mini was ideal for one-hand operation. “One-handed operation is great for reading, briefing approach plates and even panning sectional charts with one thumb. Also, yoke mounting is now a pleasure. Minis on suction mounts will block less of the view, and it will be no surprise in the near future to see minis snapped into custom panel enclosures.” Added ForeFlight co-founder and CEO Tyson Weihs, “I would suggest that pilots order 3G minis, though, as that version includes the GPS chip,” which is desirable and eliminates the need to buy a separate external GPS.”