iPhone mania, a marine app slide show

iPhone_marine_apps_cPanbo.JPGSo there’s a new iPhone, the 3G S, and some of its new features — like a built-in compass, voice commands/feedback, and a much faster processor — will no doubt benefit marine navigation applications.  But I’ve been trying the major existing apps (thanks to a loaner 3G from Navionics), and can tell you that they’re pretty seductive as is.  None is perfect by any means but the three above — Navionics’ Mobile Gold, GPSNavX’s iNavX, and Navimatics’ Charts & Tides — each has some interesting features.  And I’ve assembled a super duper screen shot slide show to illustrate…

In fact, I got a bit carried away with the screen shots, and also figured out a new way to put them up on Panbo, as you can see below.  The slide show is live here.  I’m sure I missed lots of details in these programs, but hopefully commenters can fill in.  I’d also like feed back on the image gallery, please; does this work better than the straight Picassa albums I’ve used recently (like the one at the bottom of this Lowrance HDS entry)?

iPhone Picassa album cPanbo.jpg

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

31 Responses

  1. I love my Iphone.I use INAVX
    Having a chart plotter in cockpit or my dinghy is fun.
    I have had a computer based plotter in the cabin by my Nav station. Though this summer I have left my laptop at home having all the same functionality with the iphone and using much less amp hours.

  2. Cory Booth says:

    Don’t forget the FREE widget from GeoWake.com.
    Complete with ATONs and the ability to flip from regular maps to charts.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Cory, the GeoWake iPhone app is pretty neat, at least potentially (still a bit buggy I found this morning). Folks can check it out here, iPhone or PC:
    Michael, Are you using your iPhone for actual navigation, or more as a backup and to research harbors, check weather, etc.? My sense is that most folks will use it for the latter functions, which is one reason I’m keen to see ActiveCaptain’s promised iPhone app.

  4. richardstephens says:

    Ben, I’m curious: how do you feel these apps compare with Pocket Navigator?

  5. DaveG says:

    The IPhone is a lot of fun. I use both the Navionics Charts (great price on ITunes) and INavX. My concern is that given the short battery life of an IPhone (less that 18 hours, especialy if using GPS), it really isn’t of much use as a backup to my Chart Plotter. I would hope that Joe Public doesn’t think of it as a primary source.

  6. john says:

    I heard that navionics has an AIS option. How is there coverage? Does it work ok?

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Richard, In terms of actual point-to-point navigation, I don’t think any of the iPhone apps is as good as Pocket Navigator, yet. iNavX is the most serious nav app, but doesn’t yet support routes. (On the other hand, it does support NMEA 0183 instrumentation via WiFi and GRIB weather downloads.) And it, and all the others, are being developed rapidly.
    But the big deal is how easy — and in some cases, inexpensive — it is for an iPhone owner to get started with one of these apps, and how many iPhone owners there are.
    Plus I’m not sure that actual navigation will be the major marine use for iPhones and other Smart phones. For most boats, they are too small and/or too fragile for primary navigation. But the potential for cruising research, sharing locations/photos, voyage blogging…sky’s the limit.

  8. John Ford says:

    Actually Ben, iNavx does support routes I used it for several days as we sailed up to New York on my friends boat.

  9. John Ford says:

    Oops, I’m sorry.. I Should have known better then to question you. For some reason I confused it with my other handheld. Geez.

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    It’s iNavX, not Navionics Mobile, that can show AIS targets, using a WiFi connection to your boat’s nav computer. I haven’t tried the AIS but did manage to set up a WiFi-to-iNavX connection using Franson GPSGate as the server. Pretty neat.
    Incidentally, Richard Stephens has an easy-to-use nav solution for Windows Mobile phones, called QuickCharts:
    I haven’t snagged a phone to try it with yet, but suspect that it’s a nice nav program.

  11. Collin says:

    Ben, I think the image gallery works nicely and is an effective way to include additional info with each image. FYI, I don’t think the image in the slideshow, in which you describe the pairing of iNavX and Aye Tides (img_0051.jpg), is actually Aye Tides.
    For those considering a tide/current program for the iPhone, bear in mind that several of the available apps require a cell signal to retrieve the data. As a Maine sailor, I wouldn’t want to have to rely on a descent cell signal if the app was my sole source of tidal information on board. Ayes Tides may cost a bit more, but one of its big advantages is that all the tide/current data actually resides on the iPhone itself.

  12. August says:

    That’s not AyeTides, that’s some other program. Not sure which, though.
    AyeTides info is here: http://www.ayetides.com/

  13. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    My apologies, August. That’s “Tides” not your “AyeTides”. I can’t fix the image gallery now, but will later.
    I think AyeTides might be the richest tide & current app I’ve seen so far. The display page isn’t quite as sexy as Navionics Mobile, but it does predict sun/moon sets/raises, it switches from table to graph using the iPhone’s motion sensor, and it’s got a nearly global tide/current database. Nicely done, August!
    But of course Navionics is challenging everyone’s price points, offering large regions of charts, tides included, for small money. In the long view, though, all the apps are reasonable. In the early 90’s I worked for a company that sold global tide prediction software to ships for $1,000, and then $500 a year for updates šŸ˜‰

  14. Gram Schweikert says:

    Great post Ben. I have been meaning to post myself about some of this stuff, but have been spending too much time trying to sort out some sort of air conditioning for the boat. I have some interesting tidbits to add. On the way down to Cartagena, we pulled into Mayaguana in the Bahamas for the night. It is a difficult entrance through a break in the reef with lots of coral heads strewn about. On the computers we had imray raster charts from about 10 years ago as well as brand new CMap Max Vectors. On my iPhone I had the Navionics vectors running through iNavX. On the way in I had my iphone in my pocket, while standing on the bow pulpit, but was paying more attention to looking for coral heads. Once anchored, I looked at our track on the three chart sources and noticed that there was one coral head that we had dodged that ONLY showed up in the Navionics chart data on my iPhone, and the track we ended up taking layed almost perfectly over the suggested entrance route drawn on the chart (actually, the suggested route looked better than that how we came in slightly). When we left I again was up on the bow, but this time I had my iphone in my left hand and a radio in my right giving directions to the helm based on both the iphone charting and my eyes on the water. Long story short, the iphone provided the BEST navigation data we had available for that particular harbor. I have since bought the Navionics chart regions through X-traverse for iNavX for both South America and Central America for $15 each and plan to buy the South Pacific and New Zealand in a few months. This is WAY cheaper than purchasing these charts for our computer programs and provides an excellent source for alternative navigational data.
    My other new favorite use for iNavX is as a remote repeater in my Cabin when off watch in transit. Using the Wifi intruments, I can see our heading, boatspeed, depth, water temp, wind speed, etc. as well as any AIS targets and even the CPA/TCPA for those targets. This is great when you have new crew doing deliveries of when the less experienced crew are on watch as you can check on things without getting out of bed. I have also used this on occasion as a quick anchor check at night, but without a way to alarm, it doesn’t replace other anchor alarm systems.
    Basically, the iPhone and iNavX has become a valuable secondary navigational device for me, occasionally becoming the primary navigational device for tricky harbor entrances where a remote screen is valuable.

  15. Ben, thank you for the comprehensive comparison. I wanted to mention a couple of points here on Navimatics Charts&Tides:
    1. Charts&Tides can show your chart “course up”, including when navigating using the “HSI” instrument. Just press the “Track Vessel” leftmost button. [Please note: this works if you do not have “Lock North up” selected of course.
    2. As NOAA increases its ENC coverage, so is Navimatics. We have been offering free updates for almost a year now and will continue to do so.
    3. Our software includes all chart and tide data and there is no cell or Wifi connection required to get any new data.
    4. In our next update (coming with the iPhone OS 3.0), we will include access to weather features (currently only NDBC stations). More weather features will be coming later. [Please note: weather features require an Internet connection as we obviously cannot compute weather solely from data stored on the phone.]
    Thank you,
    Bill Zissimopoulos
    Navimatics Corporation

  16. SanderO says:

    This is interesting stuff. I would like to read a complete “summary” and comparison of features, chart costs etc. There seems to be so many things available it’s hard to make and economic comparison, let alone a features one.
    I find a hi res small hand held plotter is perfectly handy in the cockpit. The notion of see GRIB files, weather, tides, instrument and so forth sounds cool. But of course to have that sort of network (you need fixed mount or PC which supports wireless networks which the iPhone “sees”. So getting that data is another cost issue (if you are not wifi network capable. No?

  17. Ryan says:

    I know this is about IPhone’s – but does anyone make any good software for BlackBerries? It would seem as though no one is really developing these type of applications for a BlackBerry.

  18. GPSNavX says:

    Great screen shots. Thanks Ben.
    The nice thing is all of the iPhone apps are very reasonably priced. So it is not unreasonable that one could have them all and take advantage of each ones features.
    As far as making iNavX a repeater including AIS targets, one only needs to have a laptop interfaced to an AIS receiver and setup an AdHoc network. No router needed. The laptop becomes the network.
    As the developer of nav software for Mac and iPhone, my belief is one should not be locked into one chart format nor be required to update the application to get chart updates.
    The next release of iNavX will offer more chart choices and support the new iPhone 3G[S] compass.
    Last I heard was NOAA had frozen the ENC development (i.e. no additional coverage), but was updating the current chart set. Hopefully this has changed.

  19. Ethan says:

    Don’t forget the popular TideApp, which has been offline for several months due to programming glitches in recent upgrades. As of yesterday 6/11/09 version 2/7/3 is up on the App Store and works!

  20. adjuvantjfoster says:

    I do not, yet ( l keep buying lottery tickets to hasten the day) own an iPhone.
    The phone I do have with me while racing quite often spends so much of the battery on searching for cell service when I am somewhat out of range for a time, that my phone is often dead just about the time, late in the day, when I really want to use it.
    Is there some setting on the iPhone software, on the 3.0 upgrade for for earlier iPhones, or maybe just on the newer iPhone that would allow me to work around that problem?
    The Off button is the only thing that comes to mind, but that would also shut down my being able to use this as a navigation tool.
    Any insight? If not might this be a feature request based on the popularity of the apps mentioned in the Panbo blog?

  21. iBoatUBoat says:

    One item I find to be a major (un)selling point for me: iNavX appears to need an internet connection. I haven’t tried it, but from looking at the size of the $49.99 download it’s only 1.6MB. Two issues with this:
    1) if I do use it as a backup to my wonderful GPSNavX system I’ll either need to be close enough to land to pick up a tower or hope that my GPSNavX computer isn’t crippled.
    2) I’d like to use this in my dinghy. Ever tried to find your boat in a harbor mine-field like Block Island at closing time? I know I don’t have cell reception in Great Salt Pond — it’s one of the reasons we head there on the weekends.
    I guess you could say I have a third issue: $50 is allot to throw at an app when this is the only review I’ve found of it.
    PS – As I mentioned — I absolutely LOVE GPSNavX and for that reason alone I may try iNavX because the developer is just so damn helpful and the application is so good.

  22. iBoatUBoat says:

    Good question adjuvantjfoster:
    That’s another thing to consider, but it seems like all of the developers claim that these aps are intended for “reference purposes” only. The phone’s Airplane Mode disables the GPS as well as the cellular service. You could enter into the General settings and disable 3G since that eats a big chunk, but you iPhone will still search for a tower. OR you could keep your current cellphone and buy an iPod Touch and install one of the above applications, using caution to insure that it doesn’t require a cell connection.

  23. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    * iNavX only needs an Internet connection to load new charts. If you download the Block Island chart once when you have a cell or WiFi connection, it will be on your phone for good. iNavX downloads NOAA raster charts one at a time, but seems to grab other chart types, like Navionics Gold vectors, in state size chunks.
    * Except for dinghies and similar, isn’t it easy to have an iPhone charge cable on a boat? Also the new 3G S supposedly has much better battery life.
    * Note that the iPod Touch does not have a built in GPS. But it looks like the new 3.0 software will allow it to see a Bluetooth GPS. iNavX works fine on the Touch, as long as you’ve downloaded the charts you need when you have a WiFi connection.
    * At the moment Navionics Gold only cost $5 for large chart regions. It will plot your position in Block Island Harbor but doesn’t yet do bearing/distance to waypoint. Coming soon I’d guess.
    * If iPhone hardware is as sensitive as other cell phones I’ve had, it will only take one splash of saltwater to make all of the above null and void šŸ˜‰

  24. Liz says:

    I can tell you from painful experience that you are correct that iPhones are sensitive to splashes…My solution for my replacement iPhone is a DryPak pouch. The phone is useable inside the pouch, i.e. the touch screen functions both with taps and swipes.

  25. Bazz says:

    I have iNavx and I love it. I have sailed around San Fran. Bay several times using iNavx. I was lucky enough to buy a waterproof Otter Box for the 1G iphone and with a little help from a Dremel tool it now takes the 3G. The big problem with the iPhone is that the battery life sucks when using GPS. I am wondering if the 3GS will be any better. You can of course make a great combo nav setup by using MacENC on a laptop and wireless connection to iNavX.

  26. Xavier Dreze says:

    You have to like the support of iNavx too. I emailed them last Thursday suggesting adding a anchor alarm (alarm beeps if the boat moves more than a certain distance). With the wifi, it would let you check on your boat if you are on another boat for a drink or at the beach restaurant.
    2 minutes later I got a email back saying it was a great suggestion. Yesterday (less then a week later) I got an email saying it will be in the next update coming in July.

  27. Hey check out my AIS Ship Finder app!
    It works a treat!

  28. kp says:

    Has anyone tried all three and come up with a consummate winner? I’m a huge GPSNavX fan and have been so for years, but I’d like to know how iNavX stacks up against the $5 Navionics.

  29. Nav User says:

    TO: Lee Armstrong
    Why should we really care about your app? I know you’re just looking for free advertising, but isn’t there a better way to plug your well over priced junk?

  30. Mike Element says:

    I am really disappointed I am going to have buy a new Ipod Touch because the multitasking option isn’t going to work on my current one. Other then that the OS looks pretty sweet. Nice post *Thumbs up*

  31. GPSNavX says:

    X-Traverse have enabled Navy COAMPS High Resolution Wind GRIB forecasts which cover the North America coast line. Simply select “COAMPS” in the “GRIB Parameters” for “Wind Model”. Otherwise the globally available “GFS” model is used.
    More Info ..

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