A big theme this year seems to be Wifi and Bluetooth compatibility as well as integration and accessibilty through the mobile computing venues like I-"anything" and Android applications. Three items in this field really jumped out to me; the Raymarine e7 multifunction navigation display, the Fusion 700 series multimedia entertainment systems, and the Digital Yacht BoatraNet Wireless Server.
Raymarine's newest display is a small MFD at only 7", but there are plans for larger--I was told "much larger"--versions inthe near future. It handles and performs on all the levels we now expect from an MFD, including radar, AIS, camera inputs, fishfinder, etc. Options will include integrated charts or built-in sounder module. touch screen and built-in GPS is standard. But, it also puts out a Wifi signal that you can pick up with any mobile device, enabling you to create a "repeater screen" in the palm of your hand. So imagine you are fishing and the main display is at the helm, but you are back on the aft deck. Using your phone or iPad, you can check what the sounder is showing without having to run back and forth or by another display. You probably already own the second display! There is a free Raymarine App available to enable the reception.
On the down-side, it is not a full functioning repeater. In other words, if you want to switch screens from fishfinder to plotter, you need to go back to the main unit. But, this unit, which is schedule to begin shipping this winter, will have a very nice price point, making it an attractive option for a base unit to be expanded on over the years. Base units should be around $1500.
The Fusion 700 Series Entertainment System will have true NMEA2000 compatibility, allowing you to plug it into the N2K network with an unlimited number of remote controls around the boat. It has four speaker zones which can be named and has built-in amplifiers for 3 of the zones. There is plenty of power here. Plus, if you plug it into a wireless router, you will be able to control the player and the various media on it from any i-product or Android device. And the options are many. Like the 600 series, you can get a DVD version, or one that has a built-in dock for iPhone/iPod. Plus, there will be a USB port allowing you to have media (audio or video) from an additional source.
Because the remotes are all plugged into the NMEA2000 network, they can also show any data from the buss, including navigation, depth, wind, etc. with 2-4 lines of data. You just scroll through the pages.
The Digital Yacht BoatraNet system is an impressive wireless network server for your boat, allowing you to establish a network on your boat that has a large array of tools already built-in. BoatrNet establishes a "hotspot" on your vessel which allows you to access it via any web browser on ANY capable devicelike iPod/Pad/Phone, Android phones and pads, PC or Mac computers.
The server accepts input from NMEA0183 and (coming soon) NMEA2000 networks. It has a USB port for the input of a wide array of formatted files, including music (MP3), documents (PDF), video (MP4), and phots (JPEG). This data is installed to the system via any USB device or data stick. once the data is on the server, it can be accessed by up to 250 of the above mentioned devices at any time. For example, if the kids want to listend to music or watch a video, they can log on and listen on their own device. And multiple devices can access multiple files at any time. They do not need to be all listening to the same channel.
The browser page has an easy to navigate User Interface which has simple icons for the various features. beyond music and video are a suiote of valuable navigation tools and interfaces including instruments, AIS, and a plotter. Built in is a Navionics Silver embedded chartplotter system, allowing you to use basic plotter features on your mobile device. This is a much more solid format than using the straight Navionics app for an iPhone, for example, because the BoatraNet system is accessing the true navigational data from NMEA0183 or 2000 and applying that data to its built-in plotter and charts. It has an advantage over the previously mentioned Raymarine E7 as the BoatraNet is truly interactive through the device, it is not just a repeater screen.
If you add an optional external boosted WiFi antenna, BoatraNet will seamlessly integrate into an internet hotspot, allowing full browsing access from any of the connected mobile devices. It is like having a wireless router network on your boat. this is ideal from folks who spend time at the dock and want to have access to the web but not be stuck on the computer below decks.
The BoatraNet system is an open platform with the developers rapid adding new features and taking input from customers about the features they would like to see. In the near future, expect options that will allow the system to "Tweet" messages that provide data on vessel conditions (when linked to NMEA2000 network) like bilge and battery levels.
More to come....