A totally different, even counterintuitive, way that smartphones are getting especially boat-friendly is as the interface to the satellite communications we might like when we cruise or fish beyond cellular range. The trend started with the SPOT Connect (findmespot.com), which does everything the familiar SPOT Messenger did — like tracking, sending canned “I’m OK” messages and making one-button distress calls — but also lets you use an Apple or Android app to send short custom texts or e-mails from anywhere there’s Globalstar coverage. This year such possibilities ramp up seriously with the introduction of the DeLorme inReach (delorme.com), which is built around an Iridium 9602 satellite modem that can do longer two-way messaging from virtually anywhere. The 9602 will soon be included in many devices, maybe even an MFD, and I’m hoping to see a boat-specific security and monitoring system like SPOT’s Hug with an app interface for flexible messaging.
I could go on and on with new ways mobile devices are being integrated with marine electronics, and I’m convinced that we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg until the likes of Garmin and Navico show us what they’ve got cooking in their development labs. But there are some other trends in play, like the rapid development of certain purely marine technologies.
Consider compressed high-intensity radar pulse (CHIRP) fish finding, for instance. Last year I saw convincing demonstrations by both Simrad (simrad-yachting.com) and Garmin (garmin.com) showing how much better spread-spectrum sonar signals can image structure and fish than simple one-note pings can. This year Raymarine will join the CHIRP gang, and Airmar (airmar.com) continues to expand the variety of transducers that can support this vastly improved fish finding. And whereas the technology is built in large part on ever smaller, faster, smarter and less expensive signal processing, there’s reason to hope that it will get more accessible to smaller boats and budgets.
Radar is moving in a similar direction. Simrad and Lowrance (lowrance.com) continue to pioneer solid-state broadband radar, this year introducing a 4G model that purportedly both increases the extraordinary near-range resolution of the original models and decreases their long-range limitations. But the ongoing improvements in traditional magnetron radars — seen particularly in high-definition models from Furuno (furuno.com) and Raymarine — should not be overlooked. And this year Humminbird enters the small radar market with a 21-inch 4 kW radome that’s compatible with many of its existing MFDs and has a clever variable transmit exclusion zone that should make it as safe as broadband in tight-quarters installations.