I’ve noted in the past, that the current Australian iPad EFB crop (AvPlan and OzRunways) have woeful annotation and note-taking capabilities.
So this is what I do instead:
Notability is a fantastic note-taking app that I’ve long used for work, and also find it useful in flying – the key features for use with EFBs being:
- You can import PDFs or images to insert in your notes
- It has graceful drawing and highlighting tools, that you can use to annotate the PDFs, or write your own notes
- You can zoom in for detailed annotation
- Easy erasing (it remembers each line as an object, so you can delete the object without having to ‘scribble’-erase it out)
- Easy adding/scrolling of pages (2-finger scroll)
- Automatic sync via Dropbox
It’s the one app that is actually as easy as paper to use, and this goes for aviation as well; I can import a flight plan or ERSA page, and write over it, highlight key information, and write notes in-flight.
The other handy thing over an in-app notepad, is it’s easier to reach. Rather than exiting a detailed screen in the EFB, you can simply four-finger swipe across to switch apps to Noteability. This way, it’s an ever-present flight log and rolling journal that you can switch to whenever you need. It’s also independent from your EFB app, should your EFB suddenly start crashing repeatedly (which I’ve had once). And with the iPad, you can’t drop your pencil under your seat.
It also syncs automatically with Dropbox, so you can archive all notes, datestamped, without having to lift a finger.
I’m writing this following my first ‘proper’ use of AvSoft’s AvPlan. When I say ‘proper’, what I mean is that I stepped back from playing with the cool features, and actually read the manual. This then gave me an understanding of how to actually use it… and then, I actually used it, for a VFR plan from the Sydney area down the coast towards Batemans’ Bay, and back.
Rather than writing a full review, which I’ve done previously, these are simply some notes of omissions and issues that I observed during full use of the app in-flight. I’m going to be asking the publisher about these for clarification, and perhaps discussing this in forums, and it’s far easier for me to write this once here, than many times everywhere. So – AvPlan has many cool features, and many positives, but by nature we’re going to be pretty much just listing issues and bugs here. Please don’t take this the wrong way. Try it for yourself.
Google Map View
This is no-one’s fault but Apple’s, and it took me a second to figure this out; The Google Map view is now, of course, the Apple Maps View, for iOS6 devices only. If using the local iPad mapping API, then with iOS6 this would automatically have reverted to Apple’s ‘dangerous’ maps. Since Google have now launched their own iOS Maps Application, and the APIs for it, hopefully AvPlan will go back to good old trusty Google Maps in the future.
Actual Time of Departure
The ATD is filled in automatically on the plan sidebar as you progress through the flight. However, I came across a couple of issues with this (I initially thought it was a bug, as I note in the screenshot, before I realized):
ATD is filled out automatically, and you might not want it to be
In the screenshot above, I was trying to figure out why, if I set a departure of 26 2200, why was my first leg of 19 minutes ETA’d at 0119, and not 2219? I then realized it was ATD, not ETA, and so AvPlan thought I had already flown this route (whereas I hadn’t left the ground yet).
It seemed, while checking my plan, I had gone into Fly mode, and it had assumed I had flown all these legs, and autopopulated all the legs with ideal ATD’s. I’m still not sure what it did, but I then misread them at ETAs. This may actually be a bug after all – I’m not quite sure.
As my flight started, and progressed, I found I sometimes missed a new leg, or accidentally activated a new one early. In those cases, the ATD was auto-populated, and once done, I couldn’t wipe it – you can only wipe the entire set (NOT something I want to do while still in the flight). It would be handy to be able to clear a selection of times, if you’ve been practicing/accidentally advanced the plan.
If you catch up on your ATAs, they’ll all be wrong
Whilst busy, I found I had missed clicking ‘Next Leg’ a few times, and the plan was behind. So I clicked Next Leg a few times to catch up. What then happened, was that it wrote the current time as the ATDs for those legs – ie. All the same, at the current time. That’s fair enough logic, I guess, even if impossible in a Foxbat to hit 3 waypoints in the same minute.
The problem was that I then couldn’t edit those ATAs to correct them for times I had observed; they were stuck.
Overall, whereas with a paper plan, you would keep your planning sheet as a current and archive record of the flight, with AvPlan I found my record was nothing like fact, due in equal measure to my own lax record keeping (which then couldn’t be created), and also the consequence of any crash or bug. There are also the manual fixes, and the aircraft track, but it would be good to be able to manually edit the flight plan log.
Problems with other fields in the flight plan
My frustration was not only with the ATD’s being autofilled for me:
- Tapping on the Yellow ALT / LSALT windows could be tricky. Sometimes I wanted to modify them in-flight, and in those cases, it was excellent to be able to do so directly. And sometimes I was just tapping the leg, and by tapping accidentally on the yellow box, I wiped my previous ALT / LSALT. And then guess what – it’s gone! It should be possible to undo an accidental change, at least (and not by the ‘shake to undo’ iPad action – imagine that in a crowded cockpit 😉 ). So after mis-tapping on my destination leg to check the ERSA, I’ve suddenly gone to trying to remember the LSALT, and re-enter it into the plan
- It didn’t seem possible to update fuel observations in-flight. You can update the FOB at the start of a sector, in the Weight and Balance section, but not while flying. It does actually show you the auto-calculated FOB, but you can’t edit it, if you see from your gauges that you used more/less than expected. Again, something easily done with a paper plan.
State was not maintained after a crash
During the 4 hour flight, I had to restart AvPlan 3 times, for various reasons. (Generally it was pretty stable – one reason was my iPad itself died, one was when the heading bug locked the screen, and one was what I thought was a bug (and wasn’t, and thought a restart might help). When I restarted, I was surprised to find:
- The active plan was not automatically reloaded. On restart, I had to again find the Flight Plan from the list in the sidebar, then find the current leg, hold-select it, and Activate that Leg. This was an unwanted distraction – AvPlan should detect that it was quit during navigation, and ask if I want to resume at the last plan/leg. Heck, all my car satnav apps do this!
- I also saw some ETA weirdness. On re-activating a leg, it took my ATD as the time that I re-activated it, after reloading the app. Of course, I was actually somewhere in the middle – in fact, only 5 miles from the next waypoint – but since AvPlan didn’t let me ‘resume navigation’, it took the last waypoint from ‘now’, and then gave me an ETA to the next waypoint of 20 minutes… despite it only being 5 miles away.
Icons are nonstandard
OK – so which of these icons are the ‘Edit plan’ icon?
It turns out, it’s the left one. Now – for me, in most iOS apps – particularly Mail, this is the ‘Move to Folder’ icon. In fact, the Apple style guide describes this icon as below:
So – tapping this icon to see the red ‘delete’ and stippled ‘move’ icons appear, is a surprise.
However – it was also a surprise to discover that in the Apple guidelines, these is no Edit icon. I always thought it was a pencil symbol – I’ve seen this around – but looking at my favourite apps, such as Spotify, I do see that in fact, they use the word ‘Edit’ in a button. This wouldn’t be pretty in an icon bar, but to be fair, at least it wouldn’t be as confusing as using a ‘Move’ icon.
Now – this icon to me, is or used to be, ‘Centre on my location’ in a few apps. However, here, it’s used for ‘Show Map settings’. Again…. Unintuitive!
You can’t hide the aircraft location
You could argue this defies the point of an aviation Nav app, but, well, I sometimes quite like the challenge of navigating myself. In this case, I use AvPlan as an electronic chart, but want to draw the fixes on myself. Unfortunately, it seems the Current Aircraft Position is always displayed – you can turn off the track, and the predicted track, but not the actual a/c position itself! It’s a shame, as it would allow me to hone my skills (and avoid getting lazy in GPS use).
Yes, there is a Show Position menu option on the Map Menu, but again… it’s confusingly named. It actually doesn’t show your position (really! None of the fields displayed is anything to do with current location) – it’s more a ‘Current leg’ or ‘HUD’ view.
Oh, and while we’re at it – the plan looks great in landscape as a sidebar, but doesn’t really work in Portrait!
I found a few other less obvious issues around usability and intuitiveness, such as:
- On a round-trip where return legs are overlaid on outbound legs, the active leg may not change colour. Ie. If you’re flying the outbound leg, which is colour-coded Orange, you actually won’t see this colour, because this leg is hidden underneath the red-coloured return leg, which was obviously drawn afterwards and therefore is laid on top. See the first leg active, below.
- You can swipe left on a leg information screen to see the ERSA, etc for that airport! This is how iPad apps should work, and really usable (it even remembers your position if you step out of the screen)… but really-well hidden! I had to read the manual to discover this – a little hint (perhaps an arrow off the right side), would help. How the new Google Maps app hints at the different map options, is a good example.
- However – you cannot pinch-to-zoom on an ERSA. Which means, particularly in landscape mode, possibly holding a rather small-text display up to your eyes while in the circuit around an aerodrome; definitely NOT ideal! I like the ability to pinch-to-zoom on my PDFs, and it’s a hard habit to get out of!
- You’ll occasioanlly find spots of hidden text as well – such as the PRD info panes like the one below. I believe NO… is the first two letters of NOTAM, but it’s not possible to select or expand that text out to check.
As I mentioned before – it’s frustrating to see what AvPlan thinks if your current fuel so tantalizingly close… but being unable to edit it….
The same is true for the default Aircraft settings
Of course – where you can edit it, is in the Weights and Balance for that plan (as FOB).
Restricted Areas / PRDs
I never did quite figure out how to use this reliably. I’m used to entering the area codes in NAIPS, and it showing me a status for that area. I love the way AvPlan automatically picks up the D/R areas from the plan, but… shouldn’t it then be able to check the status?
After refreshing several times, I eventually did something – I think it was tapping the arrow to view the area on a map (again, excellent!), then double-tapping the area to show the status… which then also appeared on this screen. But why it didn’t simply list all the area statuses at the outset on this screen?… I don’t know.
I also don’t know why it reported two areas as active, when NAIPS reported them as inactive. True… they are active unless deactivated by NOTAM, and the NOTAM said nothing… but how come the NAIPS website knew, and AvPlan didn’t?
A similar issue applies to TAFs – I was staring at the TAF for one of the terminals that was four hours old. I assume that I could update it somewhere – I tried refreshing winds, for example – but remained stubbornly the same. A refresh button next to the TAF would be very welcome.
Plan Management / Copying
Again – a bit of weirdness here. In most apps, you can select and copy the plan/playlist/file/whatever. However, in AvPlan, you’re supposed to create a new, empty plan, and then go into your old plan, and duplicate the waypoints/etc into your empty plan.
OK… so I tried this. The problem was that if I created an empty plan, AvPlan seemed to get confused on its name and status. This plan named as ‘Moruya test’, came up as From X to Y below – apparently filed with NAIPS! This then made me nervous about copying the rest of the other plan into it.
The Sketch Pad – and Map Annotations
Seriously? Both OzRunways and AvPlan have this, and I have no idea why?!?!?
It’s bitmap. It’s a ‘spray can’ pen rather than solid (Why??? So I can draw clouds???). You can’t edit, or add a page, or anything else – just write and delete.
What we REALLY need is Map Annotations! The ability to zoom in, and draw on a map – as you would on a real paper map, with pencil or wipeable marker – is invaluable. Whether you’re making fixes, writing enroute reminders, highlighting danger areas, or even sketching a diversion – the ability to draw on a layer, and turn that layer on/off (and save/print it), would be fantastic.
I currently find Notability excellent for my in-flight notes – see my following post.
Again, this is a fantastic feature, being able to automatically incorporate all relevant ERSAs, etc into a Backup plan. For me, this offered a great opportunity to have a more flexible backup plan, since I use Notability for making general notes, and it accepts PDF imports from other apps like AvPlan.
The opportunity was offered – but not realized… because unfortunately, AvPlan defaults all the supplementary (Weather, ERSA FAC, etc) to Landscape – which means it’s in the wrong orientation, and very small, in Notability.
I have to emphasise – these are all niggles. AvPlan (and OzRunways) are fantastic tools with a host of amazing features that I couldn’t be without. Principally, the ability to draw up a flight plan in under 10 minutes, then go and preflight the aircraft, while my co-pilot slaved away at the NAIPS website, charts, protractor, E6B, and ruler for almost 2 hours to come up with more or less the same plan. Since we were doing both, we arrived at the airfield at 9.30am, and a few changes of plan on the airfield meant we spent 2 hours on the ground re-planning. That was the downgrade from a leisurely trip into town for lunch, to a snatched bread roll from the kitchen to offset low blood sugar, at Moruya.
Don’t rely on the EFB – fallback to iPhone
We flew with 3 levels of redundancy; I used AvPlan as a joint primary navigation method, while my co-pilot used paper charts as above, and we planned independently. My first fallback was the printed AvPlan plan in Notability. The second fallback, should the iPad have problems, was AvPlan on my iPhone 4s. The last level of fallback (should we lose both iPad, iPhone, and the paper charts), were some larger-area charts I had.
I was using the iPad for over 2 hours, when suddenly, the screen went black, and it gave a warning: “Temperature!”. In the glorious flying weather, resting on my lap in the sun, it had overheated!! It automatically shut down, and I was relegated to my iPhone as backup (whilst my co-pilot’s maps stayed operating perfectly well in the bright sunlight).
While AvPlan can sync plans to the iPhone if you use a cloud account, this does NOT mean you can just continue on. I found that:
- The plan wasn’t synced to my iPhone (you have to tap it manually)
- The current leg wasn’t updated
- I couldn’t see my GPS position on the app
Hence, I just used it as a dumb chart, and practiced going through lost procedures to see whether I could navigate using the phone. I got there pretty quick – although the inability to select local charts automatically was a pain. I could add fixes by tapping, and keep going to my next destination.
I’ve yet to establish a reliable process for using EFB’s, but I think it would be:
- Plan in the app
- Email a copy to myself at the club before departure to print on Real Paper
- (Ideally) export a copy to Notability for Annotations / Markup
- Use the app in-flight, but keep tracking notes and fixes on your paper
- Carry backup charts
For sorting and managing my photos, and trying Sugarsync, Dropbox, and just about everything else, I’ve decided to give Apple’s native apps a go
Photo Stream was a pain until we got to version 6, but now, it suddenly seems usable. With iOS6 Photo Stream, you can:
- Automatically add all photos taken to Photo Stream
- If you share a Photo Stream account with your partner, have all your photos immediately available to each other
- If you use/share the same account with iPads, then have those photos immediately available for editing in native iOS apps in the iPad – eg. iPhoto.
- Be able to create new Photo Stream albums/folders – for example, for an event
- Be able to delete the original from the Camera Roll AND the main Photo Stream album, and still have the copy in the event folder (eg. “1224 Christmas Eve” collection)
- Run iCloud Control Panel to automatically sync all Photo Stream photos to a PC
- Syncs full EXIF data, plus comments
So – sounds perfect, no? At any time, we can go into the shared Photo Stream folder, sort the photos out into ‘event’ or ‘day’ folders, tune them, edit them, and have them sync to a desktop for archiving. And we can also knock up shared folders with a selection of photos to send to friends, family, etc.
It’s ALL perfect – EXCEPT Apple does not sync photos in full resolution. They downsize them to 1536×2048 pixels (ie. 3Mpixel, from whatever resolution your iPhone camera is).
Well – all is not lost. Although they only share photos across iOS devices, they state that the sync to the desktop is the original full-resolution photo.
So that’s OK, right?
Well… No! again!
Although they say this – they actually don’t!!! I’ve just tested this with iCloud Control Panel in Windows 7, and guess what – all the photos are downsized. If I have deleted the originals from the camera roll, then my full res photos are gone; bye bye!
You lie, Apple! <sob>
Looking suspiciously small – all photos downsized to 2048×1536
So – that’s a wrap. Apple iCloud and Photo Stream is not a suitable place for managing your photos, because:
- All photos synced and stored on your PC will be downsized
- Any photos you share and open from one iPhone to another will be downsized
- Any photos you open and edit on your iPad, will be downsized
- Basically, anything you do with Photo Stream will lose the original quality of the photo
- (But for social sharing, it is easy, integrated, seamless, and includes EXIF data)
I’ve since delved a little deeper, and found that, in fact, the original Photo Stream
is at full resolution – in both the synced folder, and the Windows Explorer Plugin.
However – the Shared folders (as seen in the main post) are not – they are still downsized.
So although you can sync a pure, unorganized stream at full res to a PC, you cannot organise them into Photo Stream folders without losing resolution – which still loses most of the photo management functions that I need.
So – this leaves Dropbox as victorious , still the only cloud storage service that allows:
- Organisation of photos into folders
- Seamless sync of full-resolution photos to a desktop for storage
- Full retention of EXIF data
Sugarsync strips the EXIF data, and iCloud resizes them
OK – the jury’s out on Sugarsync.
The last few weeks, my wife and I have been taking loads of photos on our iPhones. Now – we could use Apple Photostream, but I want to be able to process my photos… as in, take them, enhance them, file them, and dump them on my PC for sharing and eventual storage – removing them from my ‘inbox’ once they’re safely filed away. Apple are OK for the first two, but organizing in folders? Removing them from you camera roll? Why would you want do that?! (Um, for a start, so I don’t have 10,000 photos in a single folder?)
So – we’ve always used Sugarsync – because only one of us needs to pay for 30GB of data, and then we can both upload photos to that; with Dropbox, in order to share a folder, you both have have that space available (eg. 30GB0 individually. Rip off. In an effort to find an offline photo-management and syncing tool on my iPhone/iPad, I ended up using… not Photobox.. Not Photo Manager Pro… but Goodreader. Because it can sync files to cloud storage. And none of those photo manager apps can.
But – one big disadvantage with Sugarsync, appears to be with their API for photo transfers.
Both these photos have been taken with an iPhone, and then synced through the native Sugarsync / Dropbox app. Take a look at the photo properties (via Picasa on my PC):
Etc. etc.. the Dropbox info ran off the bottom of the page.
OK, they’re different photos… but see the difference? Dropbox retains all the EXIF data, including tags, GPS coordinates, etc. Sugarsync loses them.
Now – that might not be so tragic – the photo itself is there. But if I DO ever find a really cool photo slideshow app, that shows location, can filter by tags, etc. etc – then any files I transferred with Sugarsync, will be unusable with these.
Now – this does not apply for photos that are synced via Sugarsync on PC. But it does seem to apply for photos synced by the Sugarsync app, and photos synced by Goodreader – which makes me wonder whether the EXIF data is lost when iOS sends the photo to the Sugarsync/Goodreader iPhone app, or whether it’s when the app syncs with Sugarsync. I did a test which implied that Goodreader retains the data, and so the EXIF loss appears to be when syncing with Sugarsync. Either way – whatever the cause, the fact is, Dropbox works for me, and Sugarsync doesn’t.
This is a really quick review of LIDesigns.com.au. We recently used them to print a Birth Announcement for our new baby.
The service was pretty good – Melissa was very helpful on the phone and email, very responsive, and when she said we’d get the parcel, we got it that day. We opened the professionally packaged parcel with eagerness. The photos were great
Yep. Despite LIDesigns advertising Christmas cards, Thank you cards, cards, cards, cards… none of them are cards. If you open the FAQ, and scroll 2/3 down, you’ll read that indeed, everything is on HP photo paper, with the HP logo and a serial number on the back.
But if you want an actual card? To write on pristine white card or paper, and close it, and post it. Well, wrong site.
So – as I say, awesome site, very professional designs, and great service. Just not cards.