First Word: 08/09

A Technology-Defying Black Hole

Youve probably read about Moores law, the much-quoted axiom that the number of components that can be placed inexpensively in an integrated circuit grows exponentially. It roughly doubles every two years. Along with these advances come faster processing speeds, more and cheaper memory and displays with greater pixel count. Washing ashore in this great tidal wave of technology is the Kindle DX, which we review on page 22 of this issue.

Kindle Reader

The Kindle is Amazons highly touted e-reader that distinguishes itself from other e-readers only to the extent that Amazon is flogging it to death. The very idea of the e-reader is to put the consumer at the cusp of deciding whether to be simply a reader of things or a user of physical books, newspapers or magazines. Inevitably, this technology will be used in ways it was never intended to be. Right on schedule, its being pressed into service as an electronic approach plate reader. At this task-compared to paper-it is compromised. My conclusion is that it works surprisingly well, but thats not the same as “works well.”

This is because in the vast universe of things published on paper, the approach plate exists as the equivalent of a black hole that sucks in everything around it, including light. Pilots are generally appalled at the number of dead trees it takes to illustrate approaches most of us will never fly, they decry the lack of an electronic solution and yet when these are presented in marketable form, buyers run away in droves. I predict this will happen with the Kindle DX, too. It will find some takers and may even expand to the point of reasonable market share, but I don’t think its the killer app for approach plates.

The reason is that all the electronic solutions thus far are merely facsimiles of the paper presentation, which is itself the best compromise toward presenting what you really want: basic data such as courses, minimums, frequencies and so on. What will finally drive a stake through the paper approach plate is the glass cockpit which, as it becomes more capable, will simply present all the data automatically and in graphic form integrated with the MFD display. Thats why panel-mount approach chart systems havent been slam dunk hits, either. Like the Kindle and e-readers, theyre slaves to the design of the paper chart. Its like dressing in a tux to have a burger at Bobs Big Boy.

Human frailties and inertia remain the biggest obstacles to integrating e-reader technology into the cockpit in a way that will finally eliminate the need-or should that be desire?-for paper charts. My perspective on this comes from our own attempts at coaxing readers away from paper and into electronic delivery. Periodically, I get e-mails excoriating us for clinging to paper when the world has clearly shifted to electronic delivery. Most of these e-mails argue that if we would just make the magazine available in PDF format, we could save the cost of printing, offer a cheaper product and thus march boldly into the future.

Well, we tried that about six years ago. There was so little interest in paid electronic delivery that it became blindingly obvious that despite what some readers say, they still prefer paper. Consumers often say one thing and do another.

I suspect the corollary for Jeppesen and for NACO is that the portion of buyers who really want and will pay for a properly designed electronically delivered chart is so small as to obviate the economics of developing it. That may be on the verge of changing, but it hasnt changed yet.

And that is why despite the blistering pace of Moores law, a marvelous little gem of technology like the Kindle DX isn’t quite adaptable enough to become the be-all, end-all plate reader.

-Paul Bertorelli

Paul Bertorelli is Aviation Consumer’s Editor at Large. In addition to his valued contributions to Aviation Consumer, his in-depth video productions on sister publication AVweb cover a wide variety of topics that greatly contribute to safety, operation and aircraft ownership. When Paul isn’t writing or filming, he’s out flying his J3 Cub.