The Apple thingy, great for boats?

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jan 27, 2010

The tidal wave of interesting iPhone boating apps rolls on!  The screen at left above (click for bigger) shows a beta version of Memory Map's upcoming charting app and I can tell you that it already handles NOAA raster charts and topo maps with speed and smoothness I didn't think possible on plain 3G hardware.  At middle is the brand new Ships Ahoy!, a $3 AR (augmented reality) relative to Ship Finder and the other AIS viewers that lets you just point an iPhone 3Gs (you need the compass) toward a vessel or two to get their names and details (if the area is covered by a network receiver).  And finally there's Navionics' neat new Ski:US, which admittedly has nothing to do with boats but does speak to this big marine company's big commitment to mobile apps.  It happens to have my local Camden Snow Bowl among the so-far-limited ski area coverage, and it works great.  In that screen shot I'm playing back the tracks (in yellow) I cut right after last week's big snow dump, in particular the --- MPH moment I lost board control in a huge drift.  All these possibilities, and lord knows what else, will expand if Apple introduces a 4.0 version of the iPhone operating system this afternoon.  But of course the bigger questions swirl around the Apple tablet, or whatever they decide to call it...

Some pundit joked that a tablet hasn't caused such a stir since Moses brought one down from the mountain, and I too am at the stage of enjoying the mockery -- like this puppet Mossberg review -- as much as the breathless wall-to-wall coverage.  But, geez, isn't it very likely that this thing will have tremendous potential on boats?  Heck, I already use the iPhone a fair bit for reading, checking email, moderating Panbo quotes, and even watching video podcasts and the like.  And nowhere is it more valuable for functions like that than when I'm off cruising on Gizmo.  Which is also where a 10" screen would be almost entirely a plus, and where a need for regular charging wouldn't be much hassle.
   Now some apps, like Ski:US, are much more appropriate for a handheld device, but won't the charting programs like Memory-Map, iNavX, Navionics Mobile, Navimatics, etc. blossom on bigger screens?  Along with online and/or browser related activities like AIS viewers, ActiveCaptain, weather radar, boating magazines etc. etc.?  Plus won't all this activity -- I think the gross sales of iPhone apps in their first year exceeded the entire marine electronics industry! -- quicken the competition from Google, Microsoft, HP, Dell, etc. etc.?  Below, for instance, is a screen from a beta version of EarthNC running on a Droid apps phone (note that earthnc/ already works pretty well on the iPhone).
   At any rate, I challenged EarthNC to show us some mockups of what their app might look like on a Google Android tablet, and I extend that challenge to anyone developing marine apps for the new tablet platforms.  At minimum I can post them here on Panbo, and they might just appear in a Yachting column I'm about to write about tablet possibilities.  Meanwhile, I'm just about to take in the Apple press conference, probably via live blogs at Gizmodo or Endgadget.  I'll put my impressions in the comments section, and hope you will too.



The Apple press conference has begun. Endgadget seems the quickest, but Gizmodo is funnier. Can't find a live audio or TV feed (anyone?). I've never done this before...

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 1:05 PM | Reply

Posted by: Marius Coomans at January 27, 2010 2:10 PM | Reply

Thanks, Marius! There are details to be revealed yet, but the iPad definitely looks like it's going to be great on boats. In fact, all those marine apps are going to work right off the bat, and it sounds like it won't take much coding to get them to take full advantage of the 9.7" screen.

The best news, though, is pricing. A 16 gig iPad is $500 with WiFi, $629 with a 3G modem added (add another $100 for 32 gigs, and again for 64). And all the 3G iPads will be unlocked, and hence theoretically usuable with any GSM data network, and the data cost from AT&T will be $15 for 250mb, $30/mo unlimited, with NO contract, cancel at will. That's big for seasonal cruisers.

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 2:47 PM | Reply

Strange that it has a compass but no GPS...

Posted by: Marius Coomans at January 27, 2010 2:50 PM | Reply

Are you sure, Marius? I haven't seen it mentioned yet, one way or the other, but did see some great Google Maps and Street View images.

In a sense it could be good thing if it doesn't have a GPS because then Apple will more likely to enable Bluetooth GPS input. Which is something they've yet to do for the iPod Touch, which is one of the ways Apple can be infuriating.

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 2:55 PM | Reply

Reboot...the iPad has "assisted GPS", same as the iPhone I think:

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 2:57 PM | Reply

Ah...good...the skeptics are out with some good points:

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 4:30 PM | Reply

I'm not sure about the tablet right now. Was expecting more. It's hard to tell until you get one in your hands I guess.

One of the most interesting things to me is the power draw. They quote a 25Whr battery and 10 hrs battery life. Someone tell me if I'm missing something here but by my math that's right at 2Ah charging from a 12v source. Even giving it a 50 percent fudge factor for marketing embellishment and general losses it's only around 3Ah for something like six hours of use?

A wireless gateway to instruments and one of these at the helm could be huge. It'll be interesting to see how the current nav software transitions and what happens to prices. Can't wait to see memory map if it's that much quicker. All of the mac/iphone charting software is painfully slow right now.

I'm hoping for a slim waterproof case from someone.

Posted by: Steven at January 27, 2010 6:03 PM | Reply

Now if only someone would make a highly durable and mountable waterproof case that allows full access to buttons/port... (or for that matter just one for the iphone)

For the price of a deck mounted MFD (~$4k) with less than 1/2 the screen resolution, one could have 4 or 5 of the most expensive ipad, rotated on deck and charged below.

Think about a crew on a watch schedule each with their own for route planning, weather, r&r, logs. all synched and backed up to a below deck mac.

Nearly all the apps are already there with MacENC/iNavX. The 60-90 day deployment window is a fairly large amount of time for developers to prep for a major update. (similar amounts of time were given for the iphone3.0 update)

3 of these (~$1800) would give an estimated 30h of full availability, but in reality, probably many more with sleep/wake speeds being one of Apple's pet-peeves, and areas of expertise.

In the time since n2k was proposed (in the year 2000?), at least 20 software and hardware standards, including 6-8 wireless protocols, at least as many A/V codecs, web standards, SDK's etc. were created that the device above couldn't run on unless they were already globally deployed and completely accessible from large manufacturer to small developer, all in advance of this thing having and relevance or significant functionality at all.

The marine electronics Industry can't even publish standard for 3rd party interfaces..

It will probably be the only thing that would hinder and delay the use i propose above..

go team!

Posted by: mrfugu at January 27, 2010 6:35 PM | Reply

The Drycase vacuum seal case for the iPhone looks functional if inelegant to me (though I haven't tried one), and it certainly seems scalable to an iPad.

I think we have to be very careful, though, about making presumptions regarding hardware interfaces to the iPad. It's very much an appliance, and very much a closed shop. Heck, it doesn't even have a USB port, except via a dongle, and we don't know what that will be allowed to do.

The iPad looks very interesting, and will probably run some marine apps beautifully, but there may also be rigid barriers to some connections that would be great, like NMEA 2000 over wireless USB.

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 7:04 PM | Reply

N2K should be easily available over TCP/IP via MacENC. A low power hardware solution to that would be really nice. Basically, the Actisense or Maretron gateway with an ethernet port instead of USB. Then, the main computer would not need to be running to serve up the N2K data over the network.

Posted by: kenyon at January 27, 2010 8:20 PM | Reply

The $500 ipad sans 3g is likely the best choice for most boaters as the ATT coverage in many ports, e.g. Camden, is so poor. With the Verizon mifi card you get support for 5 devices and although it is $60/mo for 5gb you can downgrade monthly to a less expensive plan when not boating. With just two people onboard we need support for two smartphones and two laptops and that does not mean sequential. That is on a 34 ft boat. I would like to believe ATT will fill out their coastal coverage cuz $30/mo unlimited with streaming HD video everywhere would be nice.

Posted by: Brian at January 27, 2010 8:40 PM | Reply

The plan is to support NMEA-2000 over TCP/IP via MacENC to iNavX just as now is done with NMEA-0183. The Actisense Gateway will be interfaced to the Mac and MacENC will broadcast the NMEA info. And of course iNavX will support the larger iPad touch screen.

Are the NOAA Raster charts used in the Memory Map app straight from the NOAA server into the app? Or are they proprietary format leaving the user at the mercy of Memory Map to update them? Does Memory Map charge $$$ for the free NOAA charts?

Posted by: GPSNavX at January 27, 2010 8:53 PM | Reply

GPSNavX, The Memory-Map iPhone app uses its own chart and map file formats (qct, qc3, and mmi), just as its PC program does. In fact, there's a fairly slick facility for downloading cartography in those formats on a PC to the iPhone using a local WiFi connection. You can also download maps and charts from Memory-Map's "Digital Map Shop." I'm quite sure NOAA charts will be free, as they are in the PC program, but no pricing info on the iPhone app has been stated yet. As you probably know, many charting programs convert NOAA BSB files into another format because BSBs are kind of klunky. But the few Memory-Map NOAA charts I checked on my iPhone seem to be quite up to date.

Posted by: Ben at January 27, 2010 9:53 PM | Reply

If the iPad is as readable in sunlight as the iPhone, I'm excited. Image aiming it at another vessel and calling it on DSC!
Or take it a step further and call that incredible brunette on the bow of that Megayacht....

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at January 28, 2010 8:40 AM | Reply

As Ben said, any charts you can use with Memory-Map on the PC can be used with Memory-Map on the iPhone. That includes all BSB charts, NV Verlag, and maps in GeoTiff, PNG or JPG formats, and you can even scan and calibrate your own maps.

The Digital Map Shop provides the convenience of downloading maps and charts when you are away from your PC. It has been running for two years, services many thousands of users, and has a very high availabilty record.

One of the things about iPhone apps, they are so inexpensive (compared to everything else on a boat), that there is no reason not to buy several different applications for the same task. You can easily flip between a Navionics chart and a raster, and take advantage of the best features of any program. I don't think there is the same degree of zealous user loyalty that we see on the more expensive PC packages.

Richard Stephens (Memory-Map, Inc.)

Posted by: richardstephens at January 28, 2010 9:53 AM | Reply

Ben, there's certainly a lot of justified excitement over the new iPad... but it's 2 months out at best! Available right now is Navionics Mobile Ski: US App for iPhone (great screenshot of your trip to Camden Snow Bowl btw). There's even more mountains coming, about 100, that will be available for download in a week or so... just in time for February vacation week. So while your reader's boats and fishing gear are still under wraps, let's get those skis and boards dusted off for a great day on the slopes!

Posted by: Susan at January 28, 2010 11:56 AM | Reply

All that great display surface, yet the product prevents applications from multitasking? It might be a little to to be practical also.

I would wait for an ipad like product based on Google's Android. Then you can keep three or four applications running.

For size, one that is half the size might be ideal, so you can mount some kind of a holster in your cockpit for it to reside on and display information. Maybe even run power too it, so battery life isn't an issue.

The iPad is so just to large, there really isn't a lot of dry, flat, un-cluttered surfaces for a device so large, unless you have space at your helm not already taken up by a chartpotter.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 28, 2010 12:12 PM | Reply

My guess is we will see an iPhone OS version 4 that allows multi-tasking beyond the standard Apple Mail, iPod, Safari Phone apps.

Keep in mind that most if not all your existing iPhone apps will sync and run on the iPad. This includes our iNavX and the Navionics developed Mobile Apps.

Posted by: GPSNavX at January 28, 2010 12:35 PM | Reply

You will not have a GPS if you do not get the 3G model. the GPS is built into the radio stack for the 3G system. And the assisted GPS in my iphone leaves a lot to be desired. I was down in mexico a few months back and I could not get the GPS to lock more then 2 or 3 times the whole time I was down there because their cell towers don't transmit the assist signal that we have here.

Also, this will most likely not have a sunlight readable display. I have a IPS panel on my older thinkpad, and while the quality is much better than the standard TN panels, it still requires a very bright backlight to bee seen in a very bright environment. The only way to do that with IPS panels is to put a partially reflective panel behind the LCD itself infront of the backlight, so in sunny conditions, it refects some of the sunlight back, but it cuts down the contrast and color gammut when using indoors. I was really hoping for a 3qi display from a upstart company called pixelQi. If you have not seen this, do a google search.

Posted by: Lauren at January 28, 2010 12:35 PM | Reply

If you are willing to Jailbreak your iPhone, you can now use a real bluetooth GPS using the roqybt program ( I just started testing it and it works great with my solar powered i-blue GPS Ben tested here a few years ago. Much better than the built in GPS that barely works at all when you don't have cell service (it has been atrocious in Ecuador, even with a local sim card, sometimes taking 2 hrs to get a fix).

I will post more on my blog or here once I get ahead of my satcom testing article.

Posted by: Gram Schweikert at January 28, 2010 1:54 PM | Reply

Lauren is correct that you need the 3g version to get gps. For me the $500. iPad will be great for below deck web and email use but I would not use it for nav above deck as just with the iphone water will likely kill it with no warranty coverage. At least you can 'save' your iphone in a pocket. Which raises the question -why does Apple not provide a lanyard connection for their pocket products? More replacement revenue?

Posted by: Brian at January 28, 2010 3:58 PM | Reply

Gram, I have the Magellan Car Kit for my iPhone that has a GPS and speaker built into it. GPS response is much better and it also powers the iPhone. Need to test it in the boat. The iPhone would not fit with my Otterbox case but fits with the silicone covers. The holder rotates 90* for landscape view. Maybe someone will make a large size version for the biggie "iPhone but missing some features" device.

Posted by: MaineFog at January 28, 2010 5:52 PM | Reply

More detail on the Memory-Map app: The price will be $33 and downloading NOAA charts will be free (see the PC program to learn all the cartography choices that will be supported, both direct and via the PC program). It will save tracks and show imported GPX routes, but you won't be able to edit or follow a route in the first edition.

Posted by: Ben at January 29, 2010 10:02 AM | Reply

GPS + VZW 3G & 4G seems available....

Seems to me that Cradlepoint's CTR-500 travel router with appropriate 3G (or 4G) modem, gives the Apps vendors what they need. Cigarette lighter 12 VDC eliminates limited battery time issues, and, Apps can read GPS from Cradlepoint (see this The Sierra USB 598 w/GPS, and, Verizon's Novotel's USB 760 both offer internal GPS.

With the CTR-500's ( ability to attach/connect two modems, and failover to either as one goes out of range or otherwise quits, this may be the best available means to ease into 4G as Verizon brings up LTE in 30 cities this year. Because LTE delivers orders of magnitude more bandwidth, it's logical that modems will appear as early as any hardware because large screens are more likely consumers of that bandwidth, and pricing is expected to be usage sensitive (i.e. a $35/month option should be available for minimal appetites like Nav/Piloting Apps). And, given VZW's delivery of LTE in the 700Mhz region, range should be more like the TV channels we grew up with rather than the cell we're used to dropping.

Does Apple foresee all of this and presently refrain from discussing it so as not to throw AT&T (and their 70% cut of subscriber revenue) under the bus? That's my estimate.

Posted by: Don Parker at January 29, 2010 10:15 AM | Reply

The Apple Ipad is really cool. I have already talked with my wife about my next birthday present. I commute a good deal (mostly plane and train) and so this would be a fantastic unit for catching up on reading as well as e-mail and without a doubt, also those videos from this past year which i meant to view.

Posted by: Rory Kalisek at January 29, 2010 10:22 AM | Reply

Further re: ipad nav on deck - it occurs that of course a suitable watertight case will be developed and Navionics and others will do full screen versions. Given that the $130 premium for 3g/gps does not require an ATT contract I can see it all happening. A perfect case would include a 'snap on / snap off' provision for easy bulkhead mount/dismount. I bet Ben can interest someone in building this.
Note also the virtualization potential with the A4 processor. Who knows, maybe win7 and coastal explore et al on the ipad are next........

Posted by: Brian at January 29, 2010 10:46 AM | Reply

What do you figure the half-life of these things are in salt water/air ??

Posted by: Ted at January 29, 2010 3:59 PM | Reply

I don't know Ted, but I did use an iPhone on my boat all last season without a problem. Plus I know that Drycase is working on a waterproof iPad case. But I don't know how bright its screen will be in sunlight, and am certainly not suggesting it will be right for everyone or every boat.

The iPad seems to be primarily a content delivery appliance, possibly a "magical" one. How well it might work for something as peripheral to its design as marine navigation remains to be seen.

Posted by: Ben at January 29, 2010 4:08 PM | Reply

A neat use of the thing would be as a smart remote control. If the nav station vendors supplied a web-type interface that was touch screen friendly, you could use this unit to control and view your nav devices. It would be neat to be able to control all of the ships devices from the helm chair.

Posted by: George R at January 29, 2010 11:33 PM | Reply

This things has a glossy screen (yuck!). It will be useless outdoors unless it's pitch black out.

I was expecting a much more open device from Apple. The "iPad" is nothing more than a big clumsy iPhone with a processor update. Another slave to the app-store. Oh well, I'm sure there's enough suckers out there that will eat the marketing right up!

Posted by: Beaver at January 30, 2010 11:08 PM | Reply

You were expecting an open device from Apple?
For good or ill, that has never been their business model. The Apple II was their most "open" platform and they have become an increasingly closed shop ever since.

Apple sells hardware and have no incentive to help anybody else sell competing hardware. They also do not have a lot of incentive for long lived devices -- note the wired in batteries and the power cord fiasco with the iPhone V2. You are supposed to upgrade every 16 months with all new equipment exclusively from Apple.

By the way, does the IPad have a user replacable battery?

Apple's marketing has created a beautiful image, but it doesn't always match to the reality.

Posted by: George R at January 31, 2010 2:15 PM | Reply

It's kind of a joke, but Engadget is now offering an alternative site stripped of all Apple coverage. The enormous success of iTunes, the iPhone, and the apps model especially must be confusing to open source zealots. On the one hand it's a rigidly dictatorial environment, but on the other it offers small developers an opportunity to get niche software to a large consumer base which enjoys the benefits. Which is one of the goals of open source, I think. You just gotta laugh when someone like Beaver writes off 140,000 apps and 3 billion downloads to marketing hype.

Posted by: Ben at January 31, 2010 6:00 PM | Reply

Like it or not, Apple leads and the rest of the industry follows. I'm NOT an Apple fanatic but you've got to have enormous respect for what they've done.

I was super-critical of the iPhone when it first came out. There were some basic things that made their use difficult on a boat in my opinion. Over time, Apple corrected about 65% of "my issues" and jailbreaking corrected another 20%. Today it's hard to argue that the iPhone isn't the best platform for use on a boat, period.

It's funny to see some of the same issues come up about the iPad. Removeable battery? Remember how that was the big thing about the iPhone 3 years ago? Is it ever even mentioned any more?

Multitasking. Yeah, this is the one thing that Apple has to allow. At a minimum, there needs to third-party software running that can wake up a notification system. Everything points to the next OS version supporting that. For 95% of the things I use my phone for, multitasking isn't needed especially when it's so quick to launch most apps (chartplotter apps need to work on quicker startup as a criticism).

AT&T? We cruise with both AT&T and Verizon on the east coast. Carrier selection among these two is such a non-issue unless you're sitting in one of the few bad spots for either carrier. We've had Verizon issues in some places too - and we measure the throughput at each location. In my offshore experience, AT&T seems to provide much more signal to 6+ nm off the coast.

I'm looking forward to using and developing for the iPad. I think it represents a new user-interface and price-point that is very appropriate for boating. It's quite easy to throw stones at the announcement. I wonder how many of them will really stick a year from now and how many other manufacturers will try to copy the direction that Apple has given.

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at February 1, 2010 8:41 AM | Reply

'Glossy' screens are not necessarily unusable on deck as evidenced by my experience with my Qosmio laptop on flybridge. The key measurement is brightness [nits] and I have seen no ipad spec on that yet. If it is 500+ [unlikely] I think it will be usable on deck - otherwise down below only. Brian

Posted by: Brian at February 2, 2010 2:52 PM | Reply

Regardless of whether I buy the Apple product, their design initiative moves the entire industry.

I conducted a rather exhaustive search for boat compatible computing solutions a couple of years ago and one of the features that stands out is battery life. There are lots of tablet computers coming out this year, but they soak a substantial amount of juice for a sailboat. Having a display this large than can last that long will make a big difference in usability.

The other hard to find feature is -true- direct sun readability. Many claim it, but few non-marine devices really achieve it. I'll be interested in eye witness reports on this.

Posted by: Andy at February 2, 2010 4:06 PM | Reply

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