Ever wonder what happened to the ‘500’ series of Garmin portables? When the big dog on the GA avionics porch released its 695/696 units last year, some questioned why the leapfrog from the enormously successful 496. Now we know. Garmin announced its latest, the Aera (pronounced ‘air-uh’) series of portables at this week’s AOPA Summit in Tampa, Florida. And the big news is not new capability, but rather all-new simplicity in the form of touch-screen technology. Many 396/496 users over the years have shaken the lapels of Garmin reps demanding a simpler alternative to the rocker switch data-entry system. Now they have it. The Aera’s brighter, larger screen (4.3 inches diagonally compared with 3.8 inches for the 496) incorporates touch-screen technology that draws on the logic found in smart phones such as the Apple iPhone and iTouch devices. The rocker switch gives way to a menu page with icons. Alphanumeric data entry is now performed with a touch keypad rather than scrolling with the rocker switch. The driver behind the Aera design is ease of use, rather than new features. The Aera line includes four models that roughly correspond to the ’95/96′ predecessors. The 500 (296); 510 (396); 550 (495) and 560 (496). Garmin views the new Aera series the latest generation of entry- to mid-level navigators, with the large-screen 695/696 representing the high end of its portable product line; in part, because it can serve as an FAA-approved electronic flight bag, replacing paper charts. Still, Garmin expects that even large-jet pilots will buy Aeras, both as an emergency backup in the air and as a portable street navigator on the ground. The software and display symbology are derived from Garmin’s nüvi series of street navigators. Garmin recently discontinued production of its 296 and 396 and will stop making 496s in about a year.