• Mobile Flight Simulation

    Mobile Flight Simulation

    By Dan Linton

    Introduction

    Twenty years ago I was sitting in a restaurant with a guy that had just sold his newspaper for 200 million dollars. He was giving me advice on selling my own company which was a dial up bulletin board system (BBS) that had 80,000 members, 200 phone lines and voted the #1 BBS in the world two years straight. He said that for years owners of companies have missed the next big trend because they were too focused on the one that made them successful. They believed so strongly in what they knew, they thought anything else was a joke and wouldn't ever become anything. End result was they hung on too long and rode their companies into the ground. They fought the new trends as they lost out to better technology. That meeting made me stay open minded to new technology and trends of any kind no matter how silly or ridiculous I thought they were. My team went on to create our award winning WebBBS which successfully embraced the Internet and web browsers that were putting the top BBS systems in the world out of business while it helped us earn a lot of success in the face of a changing technology. Later it lead to a very successful sale of the company. It was that WebBBS that Nels and I used to start FlightSim.Com.

    Microsoft Flight Simulator
    Remember when Flight Simulator looked like this? Everything has to start somewhere...

    The other day I heard someone laugh about Flight Simulation on mobile devices. They went on to say, what a joke, those are nothing more than a game and will never replace the PC versions. I think they should have stayed quiet and let people think they were an idiot rather than open their mouth and remove all doubt. But were they right or really being an idiot? Either way I'm old enough to remember playing Bruce Artwick's first flight simulator on the Apple ][. That old wire frame grid moving under my imaginary plane with the pixelated instrument panel. I also remember in my excitement showing my friends and having them say something like "that's the best they can do? Nothing will ever become of that!" Look where flight simulation on computers has come since then. I don't think mobile devices are going away anytime soon, and contrary to what some doom-sayers in our community say, neither is flight simulation.

    Mobile Device

    It would be suicide for me to try and classify a mobile device. If I say, devices like Apple iPhone and Android based phones and tablets then someone is going to hit me with, what about notebooks and laptops because those are mobile too? If I redefine it to devices that don't run Windows and Unix then I'll choke on OS X thinking oh yeah, iPhone and Mac grrrr. Besides someone will inform me that Android runs on Unix and Surface Pro tablets (and others) run Windows. At this point I'm going to kept quiet rather than remove all doubt that I'm an idiot for trying to define it.

    For the sake of the article and time, I decided to think in terms of Apple iPhones/iPads and Google Android based phones/tablets. I justed wanted to learn what was going on out there with mobile devices and flight simulation if anything.


    X-Plane

    Market

    I had to start somewhere so from a 2014 report by Kantar World Panel, despite all the iPhone 6 hype, Android owns 61.9% of the U.S. market and Apple owns 32.5%. Across Europe (UK, France, Germany, Spain & Italy), Android remains the number one OS with 73.3% share, Apple with 16.6% and and Windows at 8.1%. It gets worse for Apple in China where Android owns 82.7% market share. I own one of each so I'm not picking sides just stating facts. I like Apple devices, but to get an idea of what's going on in flight simulation on mobile devices I decided to click on over to the Google Play Store and see if anybody cared about Flight Simulation.


    7 Comments
    1. bjornkeizers's Avatar
      bjornkeizers -
      Nice writeup. I started 'mobile flight summing' in the age of the Pocket PC. In 2001, I got one of those cool Compaq Ipaq 3630's, which is somewhere between a Palm Pilot and what we'd call a smartphone now.

      In addition to running cool stuff like Quake and Doom ports, it also had the grandfather of Leo's RC Simulator that's on this list. Leo then called it simply: Leo's Flight Simulator

      http://www.leobueno.net

      Check out those vintage screenshots there... but man, that was the coolest thing ever to have back then. I played with it a ton when travelling or at school when I couldn't futz around with regular Flight Simulator.

      What I'm excited about now isn't just the purpose built Android and IOS simulators, but tablets are also getting better and better at running real applications. Maybe in a version or two, we can run the FSX Steam Edition on a touch screen tablet. That would be pretty neat too.
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      Once upon a time, when a free "demo" version of X-Plane was available for the iPhone, I had it and played around with it for a short time. It was a novelty on the small screen, to be sure, but the apparent lack of a real control interface kept it in the short-term amusement category for me. One had to control the airplane by manipulating the phone itself, letting the accelerometers pick up the inputs, which made it somewhat like the Nintendo WII game, and not at all like flying an airplane of any kind.

      I would be interested to know if any of these apps allow for control from some sort of yoke or joystick; and, for that matter, if any of the portables (other than a laptop, which is still a PC or MAC in terms of what it can do and what inputs it can accept) can even accept hardware input devices like that.

      Without the ability to control the "airplane" using a device that at least resembles in some way the actual means of controlling real airplanes, then what you have is a game and not a simulation in the most complete sense of the word. (Apologies to those who "fly" MSFS and X-Plane using the keyboard or mouse!)
    1. Nels_Anderson's Avatar
      Nels_Anderson -
      It's pretty interesting to see where this is going. Tablets are becoming really quite capable these days and there is a lot of software available. Us "old timers" don't feel so comfortable with them, but I bet those brought up using mobile devices and game controllers don't have much trouble imagining them as an airplane control yoke. I've been playing around with some of these apps myself and with a little suspension of belief I can imagine myself holding a yoke. It's surely not perfect and I find it kind of touchy but with some practice it works.

      But having a real joystick or similar control device would be an advantage. Most of these devices have USB ports so it's possible. It looks like the developer of Infinite Flight is experimenting with adding a joystick to that sim, here's a video I found:

    1. Screwbottle's Avatar
      Screwbottle -
      Hi avallillo

      Like Nels showed in his post, I think it's possible now to get game controllers for smart mobile devices. This is what I have ordered and waiting for delivery, for my Android based Sony Xperia Z1 and I am sure likewise for the Z2, Z3 and their equivalent tablets. I'm taking a chance as I'm purchasing sight unseen or touched. I'm simply going on the advertising, and seeing it in use on my local television as a Sony advert.

      http://www.sonymobile.com/global-en/...l-mount-gcm10/

      Not an exact joystick but a number of axes and buttons present, and I think more for car type games/simulators, but a good chance it will work with air simulation. I am experimenting with Aerosoft's Android simulator called TheFlight (not a typo but correct, no space between the words) at the moment but have not compared it to X-Plane mobile. It's also available for Apple iOS. I like it so far from the demo, and will purchase it once the above controller arrives and tested with it.

      http://asn.aerosoft.com/?p=29555

      This of course will never replace my home cockpit, or my recently upgraded top end tower PC, but it might fill in gaps.

      Cheers
    1. lnuss's Avatar
      lnuss -
      Nice writeup, Dan -- thanks. There's more out there than I thought. But I have a similar experience to that of Avallillo, having used the free X-plane demo for Android, with similar conclusions -- controllability and screen size being the two main drawbacks, compared with a PC sim. Certainly, as time goes on, the "mobile" devices become more capable, internally (they're already many times more powerful than what we used 20+ years ago), but the interface is the big drawback, from my viewpoint.

      Nels, you're probably right about the young'uns being more comfortable with the control mechanisms, but there'll be a need, if it's to be an actual sim, for outboard controls and screens, limiting the "mobile" advantages of portability. However, as games (leave me out, please -- I'm not a gamer), these programs could well go far, for those who are into both gaming and aviation.

      The PC sims, of course, have their limitations as well, and simple joysticks (perhaps with twist rudders) or yokes still leave way too much of the operation to the keyboard, even for such staples as trim, gear, flaps, mixture, etc., which is why sticks such as the X-36/52 and Thrustmaster's HOTAS Warthog make so much sense to me, since you can assign all kinds of things to the various buttons, switches and axes provided, making it closer to a real cockpit where you don't have to leave the aircraft on its own for several seconds to figure out how to get the various controls operated -- just reach for it and it's there. So I don't have to look away from the screen to operate most controls, when using the above mentioned sticks.

      So that's my personal view, from one who's had many years of real flying with many different aircraft, and who also has many years of computer experience, but isn't much into gaming, as such, and who has been simming fairly seriously (not into airlines, much, though) since FS98.
    1. Elvensmith's Avatar
      Elvensmith -
      Biggest drawback (IMHO) of most tablet type games is the frankly downright unethical way of making money by virtually forcing users to pay money (for coins, notes etc.) to make any progress through the basic game. Okay, we've all spent a fortune of flight and rail sim products over the years but at least the software is then yours to own and use ad infinitum, without restriction on what you can or can't do. SWMBO downloaded a couple of free strategy games to her iPad and, apart from constant in game advertising, at least one was wanting upwards of £70 (US$130) just to buy enough tickets to unlock a handful of assets. And presumably they only count towards that particular playthrough, all gone if you start over.

      As I said, unethical and morally questionable - please never let flight (or train) simming go that way.
    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elvensmith View Post
      Biggest drawback (IMHO) of most tablet type games is the frankly downright unethical way of making money by virtually forcing users to pay money (for coins, notes etc.) to make any progress through the basic game. Okay, we've all spent a fortune of flight and rail sim products over the years but at least the software is then yours to own and use ad infinitum, without restriction on what you can or can't do. SWMBO downloaded a couple of free strategy games to her iPad and, apart from constant in game advertising, at least one was wanting upwards of £70 (US$130) just to buy enough tickets to unlock a handful of assets. And presumably they only count towards that particular playthrough, all gone if you start over.

      As I said, unethical and morally questionable - please never let flight (or train) simming go that way.
      Many mobile flight simulation apps offer you a selection of aircraft and locations for free. If you wish to add more content to your virtual world, for example, aircraft and scenery, then these can be purchased for a small fee.

      Tablet computing is immensely popular with the younger generation and 'young blood' is exactly what the world of flight simulation needs. If mobile devices and their related software can garner a fresh interest in flight simulation, then that can only be a positive.
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