Happy Birthday ForeFlight Mobile!
It’s been exactly a year since ForeFlight Mobile 2.0 appeared in the iTunes App store and made the front page of TechCrunch and MacRumors – surprisingly, the hook was we were the most expensive app available for sale. Not long after launch we bumped into the ForeFlight icon at a nearby Apple Retail Store and learned the display was in stores around the world. The Houston Chronicle profiled ForeFlight as one of the early App Store successes. Since July 11, 2008, ForeFlight Mobile has held a spot in the Top 25 Paid Weather Apps category. Pretty exciting stuff!
The early success inspired the launch of ForeFlight Checklist Pro, ForeFlight Checklist Lite, ForeFlight File, and recently AOPA Airports (in partnership with the AOPA). Thousands of downloads later, we’re confident that we’ve achieved our original objective: build fast, elegant, fun, and usable Preflight Intelligence™ iPhone software for pilots. ForeFlight Mobile provides access to critical information on-the-go, reduces the need to visit ten different websites to gather relevant information, and raises the bar for aviation software usability.
Our promise to our customers is that we will continue to provide great customer support; innovate, and push the envelope by taking advantage of advancements in Apple hardware and software; and through our new partnerships improve the quality, breadth, depth, and geographic coverage of the information in ForeFlight Mobile.
Here’s to year two <clink>!
One of the most rewarding aspects of the past year is the stream of positive App Store reviews, emails of praise and encouragement, and achieving an overall five star rating for ForeFlight Mobile. There is truly nothing more motivating than receiving a six paragraph email from a helicopter pilot describing how he uses ForeFlight when air lifting a sick patient off a hospital roof in San Antonio.
The team first came together around the idea of doing something innovative that we – and others – would enjoy using. We were in it for the journey: the thrill of developing for a new platform, building great software, making customers happy, and riding to shore a wave of unprecedented enthusiasm for the ground-breaking iPhone technology. We believe that everything worth pursuing follows when you build the right product. We are extremely proud of the apps we’ve shipped, and can’t wait to show you what we have planned for the future!
We are proud with how quickly ForeFlight Mobile has become such an important part of daily flight routine. Last month alone, the average user spent 16 minutes per session (one use) and used ForeFlight at least twice per day (two “sessions” per day). On average, a ForeFlight user will spend 16 hours a month using the application.
In June alone, ForeFlight servers handled more than 4.0 million requests for information from our iPhone apps and delivered nearly 1.5 terabytes of airport database data via the in-app database download manager. These results make it clear to us that ForeFlight is playing an important and growing role in aviation, and we’re responding accordingly by strengthening relationships with important partners and investing in infrastructure.
- VIP guests at Apple’s 2008 World Wide Developer Conference, sitting in front of Walt Mossberg and likely obstructing his view.
- July 10, 2008: First tweet on our Twitter account
- July 11, 2008: Launch of iTunes App Store and ForeFlight Mobile 2.0 (Codename ‘Aspen’)
- July 11, 2008: ForeFlight ‘most expensive app in app store‘ according to Tech Crunch
- July 12, 2008: ForeFlight powers Tron Guy.
- October 13, 2008: ForeFlight Checklist 1.0 released
- December 21, 2008: ForeFlight 2.1 released, with native storage of 27,000 airports.
- January 27, 2009: ForeFlight 2.2 released, allowing more pilot customization and email file notifications
- January 30, 2009: ForeFlight File 1.0 released
- April 23, 2009: ForeFlight 2.3 released with Favorites and on-board storage of procedures and diagrams
- May 17, 2009: Launch of AOPA Airports in partnership with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
- June 29, 2009: Surpass 20,000 downloads of AOPA Airports
- June 30, 2009: ForeFlight servers handle more than 4.0 million requests in the month of June from customer iPhones and delivers 1.5 terabytes of airport database data
- July 1, 2009 Named “Product of the Year” in the Cellphone Weather category by Aviation Consumer
- July 11, 2009: ForeFlight celebrates one year in iTunes App Store, eats cake with ForeFlight icon icing.
Mobile Software Comes of Age, Friction and Freedom
After a year of being in the App Store and two years as iPhone users, we’ve come to believe this new mobile era – call it Mobile 2.0 to reuse an already overused metaphor – is evolving much like the PC and the Internet eras before it. In those periods, new technology was introduced, innovative entrepreneurs wrote applications that met individual needs, reduced friction, created freedom and changed consumer expectations. Innovative companies thrived.
The evolution of the personal computer introduced a whole industry of software companies and artisan developers focused on building applications for the new devices. Software developers and companies thrived. People came to expect that PC software could help them do just about anything and they didn’t need to share computing resources with others. PCs created more freedom, less friction and more productivity.
A similar evolution occurred in the late 90s with the growth of the Internet: a whole industry of Internet focused software companies and artisan developers emerged, thrived, and became very successful building applications that people could access through a web browser. Their applications reduced friction and created freedom. We now expect – and in many instances have come to prefer – software that runs in a web browser and is accessible from any computer at home, at work, or on the road.
The same thing is happening in the mobile software space. We travel around and sleep within six feet of high-powered, highly capable mobile computers (iPhones, BlackBerries, etc.) and we are being taught “there’s an app for that“. One year ago there were no apps for monitoring patient information, apps for entertaining toddlers, managing the supply chain, or even apps for entertaining yourself.
Even pilots are being taught to expect that they can get just about any aviation related information from well-designed, purpose-built mobile apps. We don’t see that trend abating any time soon. We push a lot of information to pilots now, and they are asking for more sources and tools every day.
Mobile apps are a complement to established aviation resources like NOAA’s Aviation Weather website, AirNav, FlightAware, AOPA Airport Directory Online, RunwayFinder, SkyVector, the FAA’s Graphic TFR resource, and many others. We don’t see foresee a decrease in traffic to those resources; rather, we see an increase in the total amount of time dedicated to to those sites and to apps like ForeFlight. With more advanced hardware and data access in our pockets, information is available to us on the elevator, parked on the ramp, sitting in the dentist chair, and some customers report even in church (the latter is probably not advisable).
Mobile 2.0 apps are reducing friction and creating freedom just like PC and Internet apps have and are doing today. In our opinion, companies aligned with this trend stand to benefit.
What’s Next for Aviation
There’s lots of innovation left to be done in the aviation software space, including the mobile space we are focused on. Improvements to the FAA interfaces and systems that distribute pilot information are in desperate need of an overhaul. Data formats are antiquated and the systems sometimes unreliable. Example: we recently started serving FAA NACO terminal procedures diagrams off our own servers because they have better uptime than NACO’s. The FAA’s service that distributes NOTAMs over the web was down for 8 hours yesterday. Enough pilots use ForeFlight that any interruption of service is noticed immediately.
Flight plan filing and briefings are still largely done through antiquated terminal-style interfaces. Airport information updates take weeks to find their way in to FAA data feeds. New technologies – like four-dimensional weather forecasting and the ability to computationally determine cloud layers along a route of flight – are on the cusp, can improve safety, and need to get out there.
The flight planning computers at the local FBO aren’t likely to die any time soon, but they will have a hard time keeping up as mobile devices and mobile software evolve to do a better job presenting relevant information, reducing friction, and improving freedom. We’re excited to be pushing the envelope here.
Thanks to all of our customers, partners and valiant beta testers that have worked with us over the past year. We’re looking forward to another great year. Special thanks to:
- Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (Chris O., Jennifer P., Tom H.)
- Colin Summers
- Doug Moreland of ReadyProcs
- Erik Hake and Ron Klutts
- Frank Robinson
- Jason Miller (the other Jason Miller)
- The A Pilot’s Story Team
- Rob Honeycutt
- Rod Rakic and MyTransponder.com
- Universal Aviation and Weather
- The Weather Underground
- Apple Developer Relations
- ForeFlight spouses!