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Obscure avionics interfaces - does it really matter?

10 Posts

Yesterday, at Athens, I had a play with a "centre stack" out of, presumably, something like a C130.

There was an FMS (text only of course) and a simple EHSI type display.

The 1980s EHSI was fairly obvious (straight out of the 2011 GTS study material for the JAA/EASA IR ) but the FMS was opaque as hell.

After a few minutes I began to work out how to possibly enter a waypoint. Eventually one of the pilots showed me. (One of the things which stumped me was it had only Greek airports ).

The interesting point is that while the user interface was non-obvious, it was trivial and very fast to use once somebody showed it to you. Also the fact that it took several times more keystrokes than it would take on a GTN750, that didn't matter at all. The existence of a nice keypad made it very fast.

I wonder if "we" pilots, with (supposedly) five figures of spare cash burning a hole in our pocket, attach too much value to the latest boxes with "easy" interfaces.

Actually I think that firms like Collins had it pretty well sorted a couple of decades ago. The whole bizjet crowd flies with stuff like this. And they all fly IFR.

The really key thing they have, however, is a keypad. In GA avionics, that doesn't exist below the level of the most expensive eye candy, or it exists as a touch screen on the latest boxes, which will cost five figures to install.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

That is the whole Microsoft fallacy.

Things are marketed as "user-friendly" while they are only "easy to enter". IOW: out of the box, click-clack-click and up pops the eye-candy. And then they call it professional equipment.

Really professional stuff is, as you say, very fast to use for any frequent user. A professional, so to speak. A steeper learning curve is no objection, for professionals.

And yes, no better way to enter data than a keyboard with real keys with a real click - heard AND felt!

(as an extreme but not really relevant example: I just installed Ubuntu 13.04 on a PC with no mouse attached yet. Had to give up halfway through, attach mouse, start over. GRRRMMMBBBLLL!! Even with the mouse, it wouldn't let me set UTC as my timezone, though later on dpkg-reconfigure accepted it without the slightest grumble)

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

This is why the Garmin 480 (the old CNX80) is hugely liked by its owners while non-owners tend to call it obscure...

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

The really key thing they have, however, is a keypad...

I agree, that makes a real big difference. I have the option of dialing in COM and NAV frequencies with the usual turn knobs or type them in via the "Tune" function of the FMS (with navaids, one can type the identifier instead of the frequency as well). Guess which method I prefer...

Incidentally, my first GPS, the Garmin 100 had a keypad. Not very many keys unfortunately (just like on a phone, every number key had three letters as well) but still better than dial knobs.

EDDS - Stuttgart

I agree that a keypad makes all the difference on the G1000.

EGTK Oxford

The GNS is so obscure that I keep forgetting how to do certain things, especially when not flying for a while. The Garmin user interface is horrible. Which genius had the idea that pressing the knob you use to select something means "abandon"?

The idea that something that is user friendly cannot be professional is nonsense. Everybody likes user friendliness. I remember how BlackBerry, Nokia and co laughed about the end user touchscreen iPhone gimmick that real pros will never use and now they're finished.

The idea that something that is user friendly cannot be professional is nonsense.

If you read that from my words I must have formulated them very unfortunately - apologies! It is indeed not impossible to design a product - either hardware or software or a combination - that is BOTH easy to get started with AND easy and quick to use on the long term. A hammer is a good example.

But the more complex the product, the harder this combination becomes to design. And many suppliers don't really care about real user-friendliness, i.e. the ability to be used quickly and efficiently, achieving 90% of tasks without ever consulting a manual. That is up to them - what I hate is that they make their stuff "newbie-friendly" and market it as "user-friendly", while it actually isn't.

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

I just installed Ubuntu 13.04 on a PC with no mouse attached yet

Ubuntu is an African word which translates to "can't configure Debian" :-) :-)

I think a lot of avionics manufacturers could do with looking at Shneiderman's 8 Golden Rules of user interface design. Probably the manufacturers of this pro kit had and decided that "strive for consistency" was a better design priority than a pretty GUI.

Andreas IOM

I think high-end interfaces are driven by the need for specific functionality and it is assumed that the pilot will have the time and currency to be competent on it.

And low-end interfaces (basically all GA stuff) are driven by a desire for "modern" Ipad-like behaviour where ease of use for the deep functionality is not important since not many pilots use those parts, and those that do get used to it.

For example I am sure every Ipad user freshly introduced to a KLN94 would absolutely hate it, would equally hate a GNS430, and would hate a GTN650 a lot less. But all of these are productive, and the amount of time I spent on the knobs on the KLN94 is so utterly negligible except for the waypoint entry that I would never spend a single penny upgrading it provided I have the MFD.

It is interesting to read the big US forums, versus the European scene. Over there, people have virtually zero regulatory-crap pressure so they upgrade because they have money burning a hole in their pocket, or they want nice new functionality. In some cases they replace a shagged HSI / slaved compass system with an Aspen because the cost increment isn't that big. Over here, most 5-digit upgrades are being driven by the pocket-burning factor and by the complete crap of PRNAV. One would like to think LPV is a driver too, and that would make great sense, but I cannot see it being operationally relevant to anyone except a very few pilots flying to some very specific airports all the time.

If I could get a keypad plus LPV plus autopilot-coupled advisory glideslope (don't recall the proper name but it comes with LPV boxes, and you fly a continuous descent FAF-MAP) I would upgrade immediately.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I just installed Ubuntu 13.04 on a PC with no mouse attached yet

Ubuntu is an African word which translates to "can't configure Debian" :-) :-)

That's mean, Alioth, and as old as time too, by now. But best of all is that I am writing this from a Debian machine... };-)

BTW who is this fellow Shneidermann? And where can I consult (free of pay, of course) his golden rules? Not this person, perhaps: ?

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium
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