We're going to see many more new developments in the months and years ahead, but the phenomenon has already put a smile on many a sailor's face. While Google, Microsoft, Palm, BlackBerry, and others all build apps systems-and all their smartphones already offer useful e-mail and web access-an iPhone loaded with marine apps can be a tremendously versatile boat tool, even a powerful handheld plotter. I speak specifically of iNavX, an app that capitalizes on so many of the phone's particular strengths. We'll start this tour of boat apps there.
Using either an iPhone's cellular data service or its built-in WiFi, iNavX can download the latest free paper-chart-like raster charts directly from NOAA's servers, saving them in the phone's memory lest you sail beyond any wireless connections. It can also use X-Traverse (www.x-traverse.com) to purchase and download a global portfolio of charts and lake maps from many sources, including Navionics. In most cases, X-Traverse lets you use the same cartography on a Mac running MacENC (www.gpsnavx.com) or a Windows PC running FugawiENC (www.fugawi.com), and it can also synchronize waypoints, routes, and tracks between these and most other charting programs. The iNavX app can also fetch and overlay free GRIB weather files wirelessly. But the real kicker is how it can integrate with a boat's real-time wind, depth, GPS, and Automatic Identification System data if it's being served by a WiFi router connected to its instrument system.