While many are excited about the prospect of full integration of the connectivity mobile devices provide, and the transportability and convenience of the new Apple Watch, those of us in aviation should take note of the opportunities this new technology may provide. Check out the article below, in which Matt Thurber explores the intriguing potential of the Apple Watch.
Apple is at it again: today is Apple Watch day, sure to be a thrill for legions of fan-boys and -girls who can’t wait to plunk down more money for the one Apple device that they don’t already own.
Just for fun, my friend and former colleague John McCarthy, who is retired but still geeked about technology, suggested that I speculate today on ways that the Apple Watch might serve aviators. After all, the iPad is nearly ubiquitous in light aircraft, business aircraft, airline and even military cockpits. Sure, there are alternatives such as the Android platform, and some airlines have selected Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet running Windows 8.1, but the iPad is overwhelmingly the low-cost electronic flight bag of choice among pilots.
The capabilities of aviation software developed for tablets are nothing short of amazing. The availability of relatively inexpensive but reliable platforms such as tablets and mobile phones created an opportunity for developers to write applications with features that no one would have thought possible and that are either unavailable in panel-mounted avionics or are far less expensive, quicker to market and updated much more frequently because no certification is involved.
Today into this milieu steps Apple Watch.
So what do we think it can do for pilots?
First some basics, from what we know so far. The Watch is device-dependent; it does little by itself and must be mated to an iPhone 5 or 6 series. Prices start at $349. Reports claim that battery life will be sufficient for a day of use. A key function of the Watch is notifications, those messages that pop up on your iPhone or iPad lock screen for whatever information you’ve selected. This might include text messages, news and weather alerts, stock prices, or the FlightRadar24 transponder codes 7700 and 7600 that I have in my notifications (showing me aircraft with general emergencies and radio failures). Note that notifications do not work unless you are wearing the Watch against your skin. That means it will be useless if mounted, say, in your field of view on a windshield post.
We already know there are use cases for watch-type devices in aviation. Hilton Software’s WingX Pro7 can send alerts to a Pebble Watch, which haptically pulses on your wrist. (Apple’s version is called the “Taptic Engine.”) These alerts can include, for example, reaching a waypoint or the end of a countdown timer (during a timed approach; no need to look at the clock, just start the missed approach when you feel the “Joy Buzzer” on your wrist). Garmin’s D2 Pilot Watch does the same with countdown timers and a lot more, including doubling as a standalone GPS navigator that can accept flight plans from the Garmin Pilot iPad app.
I’ve no doubt that aviation app developers are already working on ways to incorporate the Watch into their iPad apps, but I haven’t asked them about this subject because I already know the answer: something like, “We’re always working on new developments and will have some interesting releases in the near future.”
Now I’m shifting to full speculation mode, but backed up by Matthew Panzarino’s recent TechCrunch story, which outlined some of what we can expect from the Watch. The most interesting aspect of his story is that Watch users will spend far more time interacting with the Watch and less time taking their iPhone out of their pockets.
What could this mean for pilots?
Notifications are obviously a big part of the Watch’s appeal, but how does that help with flying? The Watch does have the Taptic Engine, so expect app makers to incorporate that with items like a countdown timer. But there are other uses for haptics, too. How about a cabin-altitude warning, if the cabin altitude begins to climb to an unsafe level, or even well before that if the cabin altitude climb rate exceeds a specified rate, indicating that there is likely a pressurization leak. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and later iPad versions have a barometric sensor, so this should be fairly easy. Of course, the Watch could also flash a big warning notification, too.
There are plenty of items pilots need to remember at specific times, such as when to switch fuel tanks (also a Pebble/WingX feature), a reminder to contact a controller at a specified waypoint or location, crossing altitudes and so on. But let’s take this a step further: the app is already a sophisticated navigator. Why not use all that information to deliver pertinent notifications as you fly? Such as popping up the likely next frequency; a reminder that the minimum en route altitude is about to change; a top-of-descent notification; a warning that you’re about to enter special-use airspace; an updated Metar from your destination; a terrain or traffic or wrong-airport-landing alert. The list of notification opportunities is almost endless. Would pilots want to be reminded that their currency has lapsed or medical certificate needs renewing? Sure, why not. The data is probably there in all the apps that live on your tablet and phone.