>>> Garmin BlueChart Mobile >>>
It has now been a week since Garmin's charting app for iPhone and iPad
was released - BlueChart Mobile (BCM). By now, many of you have
downloaded, purchased, and can see why it is such an advancement.
There have already been a couple of full reviews written about the app.
This first one from i-Marine apps goes over all the features of the
product with a variety of screen shots:
Ben Ellison from Panbo wrote another review which showed another set
of screen shots - the weather ones are especially good:
These first reviews give great general information about the product.
What we wanted to do was go a step further and answer some of the most
common questions we've received and seen. In keeping with the zen of
ActiveCaptain, we're not going to pull any punches - we're going to say
what we really think even though it might not please everyone.
(Q) Why is this any more significant a product than any of the other
(A) This product took guts to release. This is the first product from
a major manufacturer that gives you a real chartplotter using an
inexpensive tablet or phone. Yes, we know about Raymarine's apps but
they are streaming apps that just repeat the screen of other Raymarine
hardware. Once you take those apps off the boat, they go black. But BCM
is different. The charts are the real Garmin BlueChart data stored on
the iOS device and will work on the boat, in the dinghy, or in a
Garmin had to consider that releasing a complete charting app could
very well cause people to purchase fewer real chartplotters. But a
market leader doesn't act that way. They provide the best products in
each class of use. In the end, this usually results in actually
increasing the number of hardware devices sold. And we think this
will be Garmin's result. It's gutsy, it's what a market leader does,
and we love it.
(Q) What specifically is better about this app?
(A) There are a few things:
- It's the charts. Garmin didn't release a dumbed-down version of their
charts for iOS. The BlueChart data is the exact same data found on their
highest end $7,000 chartplotter (for a tiny percentage of the BlueChart
data cost). The quality of the data presentation is easy to see. It's
clear that there are more than just software developers writing the code.
There are also graphic artists at work here making the chart display
cleaner, easier to read, and in the end, better.
Most everyone with an iOS device on a boat has the Navionics apps. They've
been the standard for a few years now. So we put together a page showing
the exact same locations on BCM and Navionics. Look at them and decide
which one has more quality - we think it's obvious:
Note that there is a black band at the top and bottom of the Navionics
screen shots. That's because they currently don't really support the
The first comparison is from Saint Simons Sound, Georgia. The second is
from Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas. The third is near Key Largo and
includes BCM shots with ActiveCaptain turned off and on.
- These BCM charts aren't scaled back. They aren't "gold" instead of
"platinum". The BCM charts are better than what you expect. The US region
includes the Bahamas and the charts are Explorer Charts. That's why the
second set of comparisons looks so different. The Navionics charts aren't
just graphically inferior. They're geographically inferior. Examples
- There is full support for all regions that Garmin has worldwide. It's
simple to add all of North America (Canada, Mexico, full Caribbean, and
more), Europe, Australia, and on and on.
- The integration of weather is elegant. There is a variety of free
weather overlay capabilities - wind, wave, period, etc. It's done quite
well. There's also a Premium one-time $4.99 weather option that provides
live, animated weather radar overlay with support for US, Canada, and
Europe. And the reason it's all so good? Garmin owns the weather data
- Route creation - BCM sets a new standard for a wonderful user interface
for creating routes on a touch device. It's brilliant, it's easy, and
it's a part of the standard product.
(Q) Is there an Android version coming?
(A) Garmin's official answer to that is something along the lines of,
"There are no current plans to produce an Android product." You can bet
that they're listening to the feedback and watching sales of BCM for iOS.
But don't count on an Android product in any near or medium term. I don't
believe it'll happen without some major change in the buying habits of
(Q) How come it's not a real navigation product?
(A) We couldn't imagine driving our boat where the primary navigation
system was an iPad or iPhone. As a backup, it's a stellar solution. It's
not going to drive our autopilot or integrate with our radar. It's a
planning tool and a backup. When following a route, your job is to keep
the boat on the route line. There is no bearing-to-waypoint, cross-track
error, or other navigation displays. It's a backup in those uses.
It's possible that Garmin will add those minor parameter calculation values.
Quite honestly, it just doesn't matter and it's been a silly complaint.
(Q) How come it requires iOS 6 / Why won't it run on my iPad 1?
(A) We're partially to blame for that. We tested BCM on the original iPad
and found it to be unacceptable because of crashing. Restricting BCM to iOS 6
removes the ability for an iPad 1 owner to download the app from the iTunes
app store. OK, so how come it crashes?
The original iPad 1 had 500 MB of RAM for running software to use. That RAM
is different from the 16/32/64 GB storage memory of the device. It's used by
the operating system and apps. 500 MB is an incredible amount but it didn't
take long before developers started using all of it. Unfortunately, as that
RAM gets used up, there's no reliable warning. The running app just crashes
back to the app launcher.
Later iPads added significantly more RAM and the crashing goes away. You can
bet that in another 3 years, there will be new apps that won't run on the
latest iPad because they'll require even more RAM.
If you have an iPad 1 like us, it's time to upgrade it to a new model. Get
a cellular one with 32 GB of storage or more. You want the cellular model
even if you never enable the plan because only that model has a built-in
GPS. When you have your shiny new iPad, use the old iPad for video or in
the galley. It's fantastic for recipes, planning, groceries, and other
planning. That's where ours is now.
For what it's worth, our own ActiveCaptain Companion for iOS crashes on
an iPad 1 too. Any advanced navigation app with a lot of functionality is
going to have a hard time running on that original device.
(Q) If I also have an iPhone, do I need to purchase BCM twice?
(A) Absolutely not. Download the app for free and click on Restore Purchases
in the BlueChart Maps page. That'll make everything available on your iPhone too.
But that's not all. If your spouse has an iPhone or iPad, you can load the
single purchased copy on their devices too. Just have them log into your iTunes
account before launching BCM. Once they do that, Restore Purchases will allow
the charts to run for multiple people. That's how we use it ourselves.
(Q) When will feature XYZ be added?
(A) Part of BCM is a feedback section. When you tap on it, you can provide
feedback directly to Garmin engineers. Tell them what you want. They are
listening and recording your requests.
So that's a whole bunch of additional information about why this BCM app
is so fantastic. And notice that we never mentioned that it has ActiveCaptain
support. Needless to say, we like that too.