• Interview with Chris Serio / X-Plane Mobile

    Interview with Chris Serio with input from Ben Supnik

    Conducted By Dominic Smith

    FlightSim.Com visits a whole new aspect of flight simulation in an interview with Chris Serio, product manager of X-Plane 10 Mobile at Laminar Research. X-Plane has been available on mobile devices since version 9 and we've set out to understand what makes these devices so attractive to flight simulation.

    Chris, what first got you interested in aviation, flight simulation and development?

    I grew up less than a mile from a GA airport. My dad used to take me to airshows and to the airport diner as a kid. When I got older, I took advantage of the EAA's Young Eagles program and got my first flight. From then on I was hooked. I worked three jobs through high school on nights and weekends to get my private and instrument ratings. I always used MSFS and X-Plane during my training to practice as much as I could to save money on lessons. My interests in software development quickly followed as I was always wanting to tweak things about the simulators to make them better and more realistic. I did a lot of development with Ben Supnik on VATSIM add-ons. Many of them are still in use there today.

    Laminar Research was among the first, if not the first to release a serious flight simulator on a mobile device. What motivated Laminar Research to take on such a challenge and investment?

    Austin's never been one to just "play it safe". It seemed like an interesting challenge to get the entire simulator to run in only 25MB of RAM on a small mobile phone. He and Ben spent some time working with Apple and a lot of coffee-crazed nights and accomplished it and V9 Mobile was born. At first, it was a novelty. People were as amazed as we were that you could fly an aircraft with real physics on a phone, but then as devices got faster, it started to really open the door to some amazing things and the product continued to grow in scope and popularity.

       

    Do you plan to release future X-Plane versions on Android devices as well as iPhone and what are the challenges of developing for each?

    Yes we're hard at work on the Android version of X-Plane Mobile V10 which will match the iPhone version as much as possible. I have it running on a few devices already but there are literally (let me check...) 8,027 different devices that we'd like to support...which is always the biggest challenge. With iOS, we have to support 15. It's easy to purchase 15 devices and test them thoroughly however it's not feasible to buy 8,027. So we have to deal with more issues that pop up that are very device-specific. The good thing about Android's openness is that any time that I have a question, I can just look at the source. When we hit troubles on iOS, we have to do a lot of guessing and testing to prove our theories. Each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses. We've always preferred iOS as our primary platform because we find it easier for us to develop on. However both platforms are extremely important to us. Android is more capable now than ever before which will allow more parity between iOS and Android than we could have had in the past.

    Ben Supnik mentioned to us that the iPhone is a closed platform that doesn't allow for direct third party input leaving no plugin system on mobile devices. How do in-app purchases of add-on aircraft work today? Do you plan to have add-on scenery, ATC or other features included as possible options as well?

    In-app purchases are going very well though we do get occasional flack because in V9, Austin included tons and tons of planes for free. This was a reasonable thing to do because V9 aircraft were very simple. There were no 3D cockpits and the devices at the time were not capable of much so the planes did not need to be very detailed. Low authoring costs for us, meant low costs to the customers. In V10 however, we're literally creating desktop quality aircraft. Some of our newer planes like the CRJ200 and the B777-200ER are pushing close to one million vertices! Each aircraft takes hundreds and hundreds of hours to create. That's why we decided to make aircraft purchasable and make the simulator a free platform. This way, you buy what you want for the price of a small cup of coffee at Starbucks. These are aircraft that would easily sell for $30 or more on the desktop platform.

    I can't really comment much on future plans for features but I will say that it's our intention to make the platform grow in breadth and detail. We will keep adding features that customers want and those will make their way to both iOS and Android.


    2 Comments
    1. MD90MadDog's Avatar
      MD90MadDog -
      Intresting interview, gonna try to give it another shot.
    1. ricardo_NY1's Avatar
      ricardo_NY1 -
      Informative interview. As a user of X-Plane, I don't feel a mobile version is the way forward for the X-Plane platform and I would never purchase it. As a customer willing to support the X-Plane platform, I'd like to see the team invest resources into things that prevent X-Plane from being adopted by the majority of the flight simulation community, like ATC, a more mature AI system, etc. I can do without these, but the team is losing 90% + of the market without these items. The "Resources" logic is a no brainer..........I'm not sure how much revenue X-Plane mobile would generate, but fix at least two of the main three issues (Seasons is 3rd) that people have with X-Plane and you would get at least 1/2 of that 90% market and the developers would follow.

      I will say that Laminar is a multimillion dollar company, so I'll trust their judgement.
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