If I get to test all the new gear I hope to this season, the day will come when I can sit at a full-bore waterproof, sunlight-viewable plotter/radar/sounder on Gizmo’s flying bridge and use its combination touchscreen, button and knob interface to browse the Web and manage e-mail via harbor Wi-Fi and/or play streamed or silicon-stored audio and video. Meanwhile, the iPad that I generally prefer for those latter functions when lolling in my salon may well become my most versatile tool for monitoring the boat’s systems, planning routes, minding my anchor — while on or off the boat — and gosh knows what else. And ditto for my Android apps phone, which may also serve as a handy interface to a newfangled satellite messaging, tracking and distress gadget!
The techno-jargon for these phenomena is convergence, and we’re all experiencing it ashore as our TVs start streaming YouTube and our cars somehow connect to call centers that know where we are. As usual, the trend has come to the boating world a little later than elsewhere, the choices and installations are more complicated, and most of them are going to cost you. Let’s take a look at some specific products that illustrate the concept.
The Web-browsing chart plotter referenced in the opening sentence is Standard Horizon’s 10- and 7-inch CPN series introduced at the Miami International Boat Show in February and scheduled to ship in May (www.standardhorizon.com). Besides being the company’s most advanced multifunction display to date, the CPN1010i has built-in Wi-Fi so that, when you’re in port, you can use its bright touchscreen to, say, check the weather or browse local restaurant reviews, and if your e-mail needs require more than the touch keyboard, you can even use a wireless keyboard and mouse, since the CPN design includes Bluetooth. It also includes small stereo speakers, and an alternate audio-out port, and the ability to play music and videos.
While it’s great that a dedicated marine-navigation device can also perform iPad-like functions in a cockpit or on a flying bridge — where, in fact, an iPad won’t serve very well — the CPN innovation also illustrates how convergence can get more than two out of one plus one. For instance, some CPN features, like NMEA 2000 support, won’t be functional when first shipped, which is not unusual for such a radical design, but what’s unheard of is how the machine can use its Wi-Fi to make this and future updates virtually painless. Given that potential, how hard would it for a CPN to download updates to its C-Map charts (www.jeppesen.com) along with weather data overlays, or serve as a monitoring link when you’re ashore? Standard Horizon isn’t talking about such features quite yet, but these are the dreams of all the marine electronics developers it beat to market with an Internet-connected MFD.