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April 23, 2019
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Tim Cook wants you to put down your iPhone

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Tim Cook thinks people should get off their iPhones and decrease their engagement with apps. The Apple CEO, speaking at the TIME 100 Summit today, was discussing the addictive nature of our mobile devices and Apple’s role in the matter when he made these comments. He said the company hadn’t intended for people to be constantly using their iPhones, and noted he himself has silenced his push notifications in recent months.

“Apple never wanted to maximize user time. We’ve never been about that,” Cook explained.

It’s certainly an interesting claim, given that Apple designed a platform that allowed app developers to constantly ping their users with the most inane notifications — from getting a new follower on a social app to a sale in a shopping app to a new level added to a game and so much more.

The very idea behind the notification platform, opt-in as it may be, is that developers should actively — and in real-time — try to capture users’ attention and redirect them back to their apps.

This is not how such an alert mechanism had to be designed.

An app notification platform could have instead been crafted to allow app developers to notify users in batches, at designed intervals within users’ control. For example, users could have specified that every day at noon they’d like to check in on the latest from their apps.

Or, in building out the iOS App Store, Apple could have implemented a “news feed” of sorts — somewhere users could opt to check in on all the latest news from their installed apps in a dedicated channel.

Or perhaps Apple could have structured a notification platform that would have allowed users to pick between different classes of notifications. Urgent messages — like alerts about a security breach — could have been a top-level tier; while general information could have been sent as a different type of notification. Users could have selected which types of alerts they wanted, depending on how important the app was to them.

These are just a few of many possible iterations. A company like Apple could have easily come up with even more ideas.

But the fact of the matter is that Apple’s notification platform was built with the idea of increasing engagement in mind. It’s disingenuous to say it was not.

At the very least, Apple could admit that it was a different era back then, and didn’t realize the potential damage to our collective psyche that a continually buzzing iPhone would cause. It could point out how it’s now working to fix this problem by putting users back in control, and how it plans to do more in the future.

Instead, it created a situation where users had to turn to the only defense left to them: switching off push notifications entirely. Today, when users install new apps they often say “No” to push notifications. And with Apple’s new tools to control notifications, users are now actively triaging which apps can get in touch.

In fact, that’s what Tim Cook says he did, too.

“If you guys aren’t doing this — if you have an iPhone and you’re not doing it, I would encourage you to really do this —  monitor these [push notifications],” the CEO suggested to the audience.

“What it what has done for me personally is I’ve gone in and gutted the number of notifications,” Cook said. “Because I asked myself: do I really need to be getting thousands of notifications a day? It’s not something that is adding value to my life, or is making me a better person. And so I went in and chopped that.”

Yep. Even Apple’s CEO is done with all the spam and noise from iPhone apps.

The comment, of course, was supposed to be a veiled reference to the addictive nature of some apps — social media apps in particular, and especially Facebook. Today, Apple throws barbs at Facebook any time it can, now that the company has fallen out of public favor due to its ongoing data privacy violations and constant scandals.

But a more truthful telling of the iPhone’s past would recall that Facebook’s app — and all its many notifications — was originally a big selling point for Apple’s mobile device.

When the App Store first launched in 2008, Facebook proudly sat in the top row in a featured position. It was heavily promoted to users because it was a prime example of the iPhone’s utility: here was this popular social network you could now get to right from your phone. Amazing! 

The fact that Facebook — and every other app — later leveraged the iOS push notification platform to better its own business without regard to how that would impact users, isn’t entirely app developers’ collective fault. The notification platform itself had left the door wide open for that sort of psychological abuse to occur, simply because of its lack of user-configured, user-friendly controls.

Above: The App Store at launch, via The NYT

A decade after the App Store launched, Apple finally started to dial back on the free-for-all on user attention.

It announced its suite of digital wellness tools at WWDC 2018, which included Screen Time (a dashboard for tracking and limiting usage); increased parental controls; and finally a way to silence the barrage of notifications, without having to dig around in iOS Settings.

Now Tim Cook wants to have us believe that Apple had never wanted to cause any of this addiction and distraction — despite having created the very platform that made it all possible in the first place, which in turn, helped sell devices.

Isn’t it telling that the exec has had to silence his own iPhone using these new tools? Isn’t that something of an admission of culpability here?

“Every time you pick up your phone, it means you’re taking your eyes off whoever you’re dealing with are talking with, right?,” Cook continued. “And if you’re if you’re looking at your phone more than you’re looking at somebody else’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing,” he said.  “We want to educate people on what they’re doing. This thing will improve through time, just like everything else that we do. We’ll innovate there as we do in other areas.”

“But basically, we don’t want people using their phones all the time. This has never been an objective for us,” said Cook.

Except, of course, for those 10 years when it was.

News Source = techcrunch.com

3 fixes for Netflix’s “What to watch?” problem

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Wasting time every night debating with yourself or your partner about what to watch on Netflix is a drag. It burns people’s time and good will, robs great creators of attention, and leaves Netflix vulnerable to competitors who can solve discovery. A ReelGood study estimated that the average user spends 18 minutes per day deciding.

To date, Netflix’s solution has been its state-of-the-art artificial intelligence that offers personalized recommendations. But that algorithm is ignorant of how we’re feeling in the moment, what we’ve already seen elsewhere, and if we’re factoring in what someone else with us wants to watch too.

Netflix is considering a Shuffle button. [Image Credit: AndroidPolice]

This week Netflix introduced one basic new approach to discovery: a shuffle button. Click on a show you like such as The Office, and it will queue up a random episode. But that only works if you already know what you want to watch, it’s not a movie, and it’s not a linear series you have to watch in order.

Here are three much more exciting, applicable, and lucrative ways for Netflix (or Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the major streaming services) to get us to stop browsing and start chilling:

Netflix Channels

For the history of broadcast television, people surfed their way to what to watch. They turned on the tube, flipped through a few favorite channels, and jumped in even if a show or movie had already started. They didn’t have to decide between infinite options, and they didn’t have to commit to starting from the beginning. We all have that guilty pleasure we’ll watch until the end whenever we stumble upon it.

Netflix could harness that laziness and repurpose the concept of channels so you could surf its on-demand catalog the same way. Imagine if Netflix created channels dedicated to cartoons, action, comedy, or history. It could curate non-stop streams of cherry-picked content, mixing classic episodes and films, new releases related to current events, thematically relevant seasonal video, and Netflix’s own Original titles it wants to promote.

For example, the comedy channel could run modern classic films like 40-Year Old Virgin and Van Wilder during the day, top episodes of Arrested Development and Parks And Recreation in the afternoon, a featured recent release film like The Lobster in primetime, and then off-kilter cult hits like Monty Python or its own show Big Mouth in the late night slots. Users who finish one video could get turned on to the next, and those who might not start a personal favorite film from the beginning might happily jump in at the climax.

Short-Film Bundles

There’s a rapidly expanding demographic of post-couple pre-children people desperately seeking after-work entertainment. They’re too old or settled to go out every night, but aren’t so busy with kids that they lack downtime.

But one big shortcoming of Netflix is that it can be tough to get a satisfying dose of entertainment in a limited amount of time before you have to go to bed. A 30-minute TV show is too short. A lot of TV nowadays is serialized so it’s incomprehensible or too cliffhanger-y to watch a single episode, but sometimes you can’t stay up to binge. And movies are too long so you end up exhausted if you manage to finish in one sitting.

Netflix could fill this gap by bundling three or so short films together into thematic collections that are approximately 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Netflix could commission Originals and mix them with the plethora of untapped existing shorts that have never had a mainstream distribution channel. They’re often too long or prestigious to live on the web, but too short for TV, and it’s annoying to have to go hunting for a new one every 15 minutes. The whole point here is to reduce browsing. Netflix could create collections related to different seasons, holidays, or world news moments, and rebundle the separate shorts on the fly to fit viewership trends or try different curational angles.

Often artful and conclusive, they’d provide a sense of culture and closure that a TV episode doesn’t. If you get sleepy you could save the last short, and there’s a feeling of low commitment since you could skip any short that doesn’t grab you.

The Nightly Water Cooler Pick

One thing we’ve lost with the rise of on-demand video are some of those zeitgeist moments where everyone watches the same thing the same night and can then talk about it together the next day. We still get that with live sports, the occasional tent pole premier like Game Of Thrones, or when a series drops for binge-watching like Stranger Things. But Netflix has the ubiquity to manufacture those moments that stimulate conversation and a sense of unity.

Netflix could choose one piece of programming per night per region, perhaps a movie, short arc of TV episodes, or one of the short film bundles I suggested above and stick it prominently on the home page. This Netflix Zeitgeist choice would help override people’s picky preferences that get them stuck browsing by applying peer pressure like, “well, this is what everyone else will be watching.”

Netflix’s curators could pick content matched with an upcoming holiday like a Passover TV episode, show a film that’s reboot is about to debut like Dune or Clueless, pick a classic from an actor that’s just passed away like Luke Perry in the original Buffy movie, or show something tied to a big event like Netflix is currently doing with Beyonce’s Coachella concert film. Netflix could even let brands and or content studios pay to have their content promoted in the Zeitgeist slot.

As streaming service competition heats up and all the apps battle for the best back catalog, it’s not just exclusives but curation and discovery that will set them apart. These ideas could make Netflix the streaming app where you can just turn it on to find something great, be exposed to gorgeous shorts you’d have never known about, or get to participate in a shared societal experience. Entertainment shouldn’t have to be a chore.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Chilly reception for marijuana tycoon game shows games industry’s backwards stance on drugs

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Intense and graphic violence is something we’ve come to simply expect from games, but sexual and other adult themes are still largely taboo — including, as publisher Devolver Digital is learning, drugs. Even if the game in question is a relatively serious tycoon-type look at the current (and legal!) business of selling weed.

Devolver is no stranger to controversy; it has published and helped develop dozens of games and many of them have featured the kind of graphic violence that sets off those who still see the medium as a corruptive, fundamentally debased one. And to be fair, the likes of Hotline Miami aren’t going to change any minds.

But for the company’s first original commissioned IP, it had the idea of assembling a game in the popular “tycoon” genre, but focused on the emerging and popular sector of growing marijuana.

Obviously this is somewhat controversial, but the plant is legal in many states and countries already and on its way in plenty of others. This isn’t the time or place for a full evaluation of the scheduling system and the war on drugs, but it suffices to say that it is a complex and interesting business ecosystem that’s teetering on the edge of widespread acceptance. That makes it a bit edgy, but also fresh and relevant — perfect, Devolver thought, to build a game around. So they made Weedcraft, Inc.

Unfortunately, the company’s co-founder Mike Wilson told me the other day, they underestimated how square the gaming industry is.

“This is definitely the hardest game I’ve had to market, and that’s saying something,” Wilson told me. “It has been a fucking nightmare. The fact that we’re still so afraid of a topic like weed instead of the murder simulators you can market any time, anywhere, it’s shocking.”

Console game stores were reluctant to even carry it, and warned Devolver that it would never be featured, which is a death sentence for a game’s discoverability. They couldn’t get ads approved on Facebook or Instagram, and the person who submitted them even had his account suspended. And just this week, streamers trying out the game on YouTube had their videos demonetized.

The only stores that didn’t buck were Steam, which is largely content-agnostic, and GOG, a popular DRM-free storefront.

Why, though? This isn’t a game about smoking blunts or cutting dime bags with oregano to sell to middle school kids.

Well, it is a little pro-legalization.

“This isn’t a pro-legalization game. This is a tycoon game. You don’t do drugs in the game!” said Wilson. “You can play as a totally legal, scrupulous businessperson. We did all this research with like, dispensaries, geneticists, lawyers, we were worried about cultural sensitivity with the subject matter, things like how much more black people get jailed for it. We wanted it to be representative of all the social issues involved. It’s kind of like doing a game about booze in the prohibition era — like, what an interesting industry to study, right?”

It’s not that the companies involved here — Microsoft, Sony, YouTube and so on — are applying some invisible rules. The rules are there; when I contacted YouTube for comment, they pointed me to the list of guidelines for “advertiser-friendly content.” And plain as day there’s the one about drugs: “Video content that promotes or features the sale, use, or abuse of illegal drugs, regulated drugs or substances, or other dangerous products is not suitable for advertising.”

It’s just a bit weird to me still that we have this backwards, puritan approach to this stuff. Think of how much vile garbage is on YouTube and how the most popular games in the world glorify guns and death. But a recreational drug legal in many places and generally well thought of, not to mention a massive and growing business — that’s beyond the pale.

I understand YouTube doesn’t want people doing bong-clearing competitions, and console makers want to appear family-friendly so they don’t lose that teen and tween market. But surely we can be adults about this.

Gaming is maturing to be an interactive storytelling medium that encompasses serious issues, but the industry is holding itself back by its squeamishness about adult themes. And that feeds into the puritanical objections from misguided commentators, who go nuts over romancing an alien in Mass Effect or the ridiculous “Hot Coffee” thing in GTA, but don’t acknowledge the sophisticated storytelling of Return of the Obra Dinn, or subversive commentary of Papers, Please, or the impressive period recreation of an Assassin’s Creed.

Drugs are a complex and controversial topic. I get that some people want to stay hands-off. But when that hands-off stance doesn’t apply to graphic violence, sexism, and other sore spots, it comes off as prudish and hypocritical.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple sells wireless charging AirPods, cancels charger days later

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“Works with AirPower mat”. Apparently not. It looks to me like Apple doesn’t treat customers with the same “high standard” of care it apparently reserves for its hardware quality. Nine days after launching its $199 wireless charging AirPods headphones that touted compatibility with the forthcoming Apple AirPower inductive charger mat, Apple has just scrapped AirPower entirely. It’s an uncharacteristically sloppy move for the “it just works” company. This time it didn’t.

Given how soon after the launch this cancellation came, there is a question about whether Apple  knew AirPower was viable before launching the new AirPods wireless charging case on March 20th. Failing to be transparent about that is an abuse of customer trust. That’s especially damaging for a company constantly asking us to order newly announced products we haven’t touched when there’s always another iteration around the corner. It should really find some way to make it up to people, especially given it has $245 billion in cash on hand.

TechCrunch broke the news of AirPower’s demise. “After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward,” said Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Engineering in an emailed statement today.

That comes as a pretty sour surprise for people who bought the $199 wireless charging AirPods that mention AirPower compatibility or the $79 standalone charging case with a full-on diagram of how to use AirPower drawn on the box.

Apple first announced the AirPower mat in 2017 saying it would arrive the next year along with a wireless charging case for AirPods. 2018 came and went. But when the new AirPods launched March 20th with no mention of AirPower in the press release, suspicions mounted. Now we know that issues with production, reportedly due to overheating, have caused it to be canceled. Apple decided not to ship what could become the next Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard.

The new AirPods with wireless charging case even had a diagram of AirPower on the box. Image via Ryan Jones

There are plenty of other charging mats that work with AirPods, and maybe Apple will release a future iPhone or MacBook that can wirelessly pass power to the pods. But anyone hoping to avoid janky third-party brands and keep it in the Apple family is out of luck for now.

Thankfully, some who bought the new AirPods with wireless charging case are still eligible for a refund. But typically if you get an Apple product personalized with an engraving (I had my phone number laser-etched on my AirPods since I constantly lose them), there are no refunds allowed. And then there are all the people who bought Apple Watches, or iPhone 8 or later models who were anxiously awaiting AirPower. We’ve asked Apple if it will grant any return exceptions.

Combined with an apology for the disastrously fragile keyboards on newer MacBooks, an apology over the Mac Pro, an apology for handling the iPhone slowdown messaging wrong, Apple’s recent vaporware services event where it announced Apple TV+ and Arcade despite them being months from launch, and now an AirPower apology and cancellation, the world’s cash-richest company looks like a mess. Apple risks looking as unreliable as Android if it can’t get its act together.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The future of flying

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From 3500 feet up California is a glorious patchwork quilt of green and gold, textured by rippling mountains and shining water. Ahead of us we see the Carquinez Bridge and the Bay; behind us, the fingers of Lake Berryessa curl into the steep hills. Twenty minutes ago I stood barefoot in the soft grass on the bank of one of those narrow coves, many miles from any road. Twenty minutes from now I will be driving to Five Guys for lunch.

“Hey,” I think to myself, “even a flying car couldn’t do this.”

Last year I became a Valley cliché, took up pilot training, and wrote about the experience — and the decrease in pilots worldwide, and the looming pilot shortage — for TechCrunch. ICON Aircraft, the manufacturers of a radically new kind of light airplane, the amphibious ICON A5, saw that and invited me to come to their Vacaville headquarters to experience a few days of their training. (At no cost to me, I should disclose, aside from paying the TSA $110 because I am a suspicious Canadian.) I turned up fearing that since, for tedious reasons, my training has been on hiatus since last July, I’d be so rusty I could barely fly.

It turned out that wasn’t a problem at all. Maybe I wasn’t really rusty at all … or maybe I was, but the A5 is so easy to fly that it didn’t matter.

I ended last year’s piece with “I think flying seems like a very 20th-century activity in the popular imagination.” That obviously isn’t true of ultramodern commercial jets, but it is of general aviation. It’s not at all unusual to learn to fly in a “six pack” airplane whose instruments and controls have basically not changed in 50 years or more. Sometimes they are actually are 50 years old.

Even the more “modern” “glass cockpit” light aircraft have screens with weirdly complex, user-hostile dials-and-knobs controls rather than a simple touchscreen. Even the vintage-2000 Diamond aircraft with which I started my training “features” a starting procedure which involves combining the mixture and the throttle in just the right way; significant left-turning tendencies such that you sometimes have to perform high-speed differential braking just to take off in a straight line; manual fuel-tank management; etc.

Individually these things are not such a big deal. Eventually these things are not such a big deal. But learning to navigate three-dimensional space, and land safely at busy airports — especially while dealing with restricted airspaces and air traffic control — is complicated enough that anything which adds to the initial cognitive load is a big deal.

Worse yet, most individual training is by independent Certified Flight Instructors with very different attitudes, beliefs, and curriculae. Some like to start students doing landings quite early, and some save it for quite a bit later. Some like to demonstrate, some like to instruct. It’s more a master/apprentice experience than an actual school.

Flight schools are obviously more consistent, and, in retrospect, probably a better way to learn, not least because you fly a lot in a short period of time, rather than trying to schedule with a capable but overcommitted CFI and ending up flying only every couple of weeks, which significantly retards your progress. Not that I’m speaking from bitter experience or anything.

Aaaaanyway. Let us not dwell on the unfortunate past. Let us talk about ICON, because both their aircraft and their training feel like a big step forward, right down to their instrument panel. On the A5, that panel is dominated by an Angle Of Attack indicator, which describes how much bite your airplane’s wings are taking out of the air. This is is insanely useful, especially when you are landing, when AOA is critical.

This instrument doesn’t even exist on other light aircraft. In my previous planes, Diamonds and Cessnas, landing was a complicated dance of carefully watching and managing speed, power, and seat-of-the-pants feel, while also mostly looking outside, such that one arrives at the runway at just-the-right-angle, then, a few feet above ground, rounds out at just-the-right-time to the next just-the-right-angle.

In the A5, you just set your power, make sure the AOA gauge is pointing the right way, and then glide happily down, occasionally glancing down at that single instrument, before bringing it up a notch for the round-out. Sure, you still might have to make adjustments for wind or height or whatever. But it’s a lot easier. Again, the cognitive load is so much less.

Military aircraft have AOA indicators, because, well, they’re so very useful, but no other general aviation airplane comes with one. You can buy them aftermarket, but that’s not the same. Why don’t other common general-aviation aircraft have them? Once again: because most general aviation has been stuck in the bad old days.

That extends to a slew of other things, too. The A5 is built for simplicity. No mixture to mess with; no manually controlled propeller RPM to adjust mid-flight; no magnetos to check in the run-up. In fact, if you cover the AoA gauge, altimeter, and attitude indicator, the controls look a lot like a car’s. This is by design.

You don’t even need high-octane aviation fuel; it actually runs better on standard 91-octane gasoline. (Although you can use either, or both.) The two-person cockpit, designed by BMW designers, is remarkably comfortable, and the view from its canopy is unparalleled, since its 100-horsepower engine and propeller are behind you rather than on its nose.

Perhaps best of all, it is fully amphibious. Its carbon fiber hull resembles a Jet Ski with wings, and on the water it can basically behave like one too (although that’s frowned on in excess, because the spray can wear at the propeller, and if you get crazy with it you risk dipping a wing into the water.) Takeoffs and even landings on sizable bodies of water in good conditions are ridiculously easy, courtesy of that AOA gauge.

You can even lower the landing gear, wheel it down/up a ramp to/from the water, and fly it for years without ever having to land it on a runway. What’s more, the wings fold back, which takes one person 10 minutes, so that the entire airplane can easily be stored in a nine-foot-wide trailer and driven to and from the water.

That really changes one’s perspective on flying. Instead of being limited to point-to-point flights between a fixed set of runways, anywhere on any reasonably large body of water can be your destination, weather permitting, and you can gas up at any marina. (It would be especially great in Canada, which is riven by countless lakes; the A5 is still classified as an experimental airplane there, but hopefully that will change soon, because e.g. Northern Ontario is practically made for it.)

On one flight this week we landed in a broad channel of water, navigated down a little winding side cove, beached — well, “grassed” — the plane on the shore, walked around a bit, then got back in, pushed off, restarted the engine, taxied out to the open water, and flew back to Vacaville … all very casually, keeping one eye on the wind and terrain to ensure it would be easy to get in and out of course, but really no big deal.

Let’s talk about stalls, because stalls are dangerous, and tend to happen when your plane is most vulnerable, i.e. taking off or departing. They are especially dangerous (PDF) when they progress into a spin. The most aerodynamically remarkable thing about the A5 is its stall resistance. It is the first production aircraft certified as spin resistant by the FAA, courtesy of a wing which is essentially divided into two sections, one of which stalls before the other, meaning the outer wing retains authority even when the inner wing is stalling.

Honestly, having flown it, I’m not sure how you would get it into a spin even if you wanted to. I put it into a power-on stall and held it there for full 15 seconds, banking from side to side, while the warning horn blared at me … and it gained altitude. In a power-off stall it lost height, but only at circa 10 feet per second, and was still amenable to banking. An “accelerated stall,” i.e. one while banking sharply at high speeds, is a maneuver sufficiently sketchy that student pilots have it demonstrated to them but do not usually attempt it themselves. I did one in the A5 and, just like the other stalls, it was anticlimactic in the extreme.

Oh, and if you were to get into serious trouble aloft, it also comes with a Complete Aircraft Parachute — although, to be honest, that seems to exist more to reassure your passenger than because you might use it in any conceivable circumstance, other than suddenly being struck blind or suffering an in-flight stroke.

ICON’s military background (its founders and early employees were largely Marine Corps pilots) has informed its training philosophy, too. They stress humility and being quick to volunteer your mistakes. Their training materials are much more accessible than the dense standard FAA tomes, and just the existence of a consistent curriculum across trainers is a big step forward. Their training focuses on a “sport pilot” license, which is restricted compared to “private pilot” — you can only fly light aircraft (nothing bigger than the A5), by day, in good visibility, below cloud cover — but it also requires less training, and is a very viable step towards the latter.

It will by now be more than apparent to you that I loved this airplane, and also really liked ICON’s training. Having established that, though, let’s talk about some downsides and concerns.

First, it would be disingenuous to write about ICON without mentioning the cloud of tragedy which still hangs over the company. Two years ago ICON’s lead engineer and another employee were killed in a crash on Lake Berryessa. According to the NTSB, the crash was due to pilot error, apparently when mistaking a dead-end canyon for one which led into the main body of the lake while flying at low altitude over water.

Later that year they released new low-altitude guidelines … and three weeks later, one of their first customers, former Major League Baseball superstar Roy Halladay, crashed his A5 into the Gulf of Mexico while flying at low altitude, and died. That too was declared pilot error; Halladay apparently had “high concentrations of morphine and amphetamine” along with Ambien in his system at the time.

On the one hand, even expert pilots (the chief engineer in question had flown F-16s in the Air Force) can make mistakes, and obviously one should never, ever, ever do drugs and fly. On the other, one can’t help but wonder if the fact that the A5 is so easy to fly in and out of water — landing it on a lake in good conditions is objectively easier than, say, docking a powerboat in a slip on a windy day, and takeoffs are easier yet — breeds a dangerous complacency when over water. Obviously the way to combat this is with training, and I can attest that ICON’s training today has a heavy focus on humility and caution, especially at low altitude … and yet, that kind of complacency will remain a risk factor.

Second, there’s no question that none of this comes cheap. Airplanes are expensive in general but the A5’s list price of $389,000 is noticeably more than that of, say, a new Cessna 172, the world’s most popular starter / training aircraft … which carries twice as many passengers and almost twice as much weight. The A5 is very much a light aircraft; my CFI and I’s combined 410 pounds meant we could only fill the tank halfway to stay within weight/balance restrictions, although it’s also miserly enough with fuel that that wasn’t any problem. It’s a great little airplane, but there’s no question that you’re paying more money for a smaller plane.

Their intent is to lead off as the Ferrari of light aviation, and eventually build something more like — well, not a Honda, but maybe a Maserati, in terms of relative price. They burned through some goodwill by initially claiming the list price would be $189,000. Right now they’re ramping up their production facilities in Tijuana (where all the carbon fiber components are made) and Vacaville (where those components are assembled along with everything else.)

One can imagine the price diminishing as production quantities achieve economies of scale … but it’s still never going to be anything like the price of, say, a used Cessna 172, which can easily drop down into five figures.

The A5, and its easier/improved flying experience, and ICON’s more consistent training, and the simpler sport-pilot license associated with it, all do combine to make flying substantially more accessible … to the rich. It certainly won’t help the pilot shortage, though. Anyone who can afford an A5 doesn’t need to start flying professionally.

The big question is, will its advances — simpler & touchscreen cockpits, a built-in AOA gauge, spin-resistant wings, consistent training, etc. — filter down to the more affordable end of the industry, and/or into more affordable ICON aircraft? I optimistically think it will. Not anytime in the next few years, no. But much faster than we’ll get, say, affordable hex-rotor VTOL flying cars.

When people imagine flying they imagine it as a magical, dreamlike experience, and it frequently is — but at the same time, learning to fly can sometimes be more Type II fun than Type I. (I suspect that this, more than the admittedly high cost, is why a lot of student pilots peter out and never finish their certification.) Whatever the price point, the ICON people deserve kudos for building an aircraft which makes flying reliably far more the latter than the former. If that experience can scale semi-affordably — admittedly two huge ifs — then instead of facing a pilot shortage we’ll have a happy, excited, adventure-seeking glut of pilots out there, soaring from runway to runway and from lake to lake. May you try it yourself and enjoy it as much as I do.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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