Five Reasons Pilots ‘Need’ the New iPad

The changes might seem minor; here’s why they matter to pilots.

iPad 3
iPad 3
iPad 3

What does the launch of the “iPad 3” mean to pilots? Well, Apple Computer’s announcement of its New iPad, which everybody, much to Apple’s consternation, is still calling the iPad 3, seemed to hold no breakthrough technologies. NPR on its Morning Edition program made fun of the new product, calling it essentially an iPad 2 with a faster processor and better graphics while mocking Apple CEO Tim Cook for the energy with which he hyped the new tablet, including calling the event the start of the “Post PC Revolution.”

Notwithstanding some observers’ skepticism, aviation app makers are excited about the new tablet and believe that once pilots know what they’ll be getting with the latest generation iPad they’ll be sold. The new iPad is available for pre-order from Apple now with pricing identical to that of the previous version, the iPad 2, which Apple will continue to produce with prices starting at $399.

1. Power
John Zimmerman, the guy who’s in charge of keeping Sporty’s Pilot Shop on top of all things technological, believes the new iPad will change the pilot’s experience for the better. “I think this is an evolutionary upgrade, so it doesn't fundamentally change the iPad experience.” Zimmerman agreed, adding that “more processing power matters, especially for in-flight apps like ForeFlight and WingX. For higher-end features like weather or synthetic vision, this will really pay off.” Hilton Goldstein, founder of Hilton Software, developers of the popular WingX Pro, says the greater horsepower will make things faster for all pilots but especially for users of WingX Pro7, "since its moving map rendering is multi-threaded and will magically maximize the new A5X CPU's cores," referring to the new iPad's improved processor.

2. Graphics
The New iPad will also feature dual processors, a quad core unit for crunching graphics and a less power hungry dual core version for everything else. The dual processor approach will allow the new iPad to conserve power — the 10-hour battery life figure remains a big selling point — while doing a great job on video, something that increasingly matters to pilots who use their iPads for flight training purposes.

3. Display
Tyson Weihs, co-founder and managing director of ForeFlight, pointed to the new tablet’s display. “Retina display [so called because the display is so sharp the human eye can’t see any better than that] is a very nice addition,” said Weihs. “Charts will be easier to read, high definition, and documents will be very sharp, reaching the fidelity of printed paper.” Zimmerman agreed. “The new screen will be great for map clarity and video training. I know we're looking at ways for Sporty’s training apps to take full advantage of the new resolution.”

4. Connectivity
Zimmerman also pointed to the cellular enabled version’s 4G connectivity. “4G is a big deal,” he said. “Specifically, database updates over 4G will finally be possible, allowing pilots in a pinch to download new charts.” Weihs agreed, saying that the “4G LTE wireless support will mean faster downloads over the cellular network allowing broadband speeds,” though he warned users to be mindful of the charges and changes to carrier data plans pricing structures.

5. Ease of Use
So pilots will enjoy sharper images, faster downloads, better scrolling and greatly improved video performance. What will these improvements mean in the cockpit?

There are two major quality of life improvements that pilots will enjoy; faster scrolling and higher resolution charts and scanned maps. That means that going from screen to screen, pinching and zooming, making changes to a flight plan and searching for a waypoint will in many cases be faster, smoother and easier to do. Weihs summed it up nicely, saying, “Everything will feel faster, and faster is important in the cockpit where cutting task times is helpful.”

Goldstein added that while pilots who fly with an iPad 2 might want to hold onto it for another generation, March 16th will mark the date that pilots still flying with the iPad 1 will know it's time to upgrade.