METAR/TAF: a Garmin Connect IQ Widget for D2™ Bravo

I built a widget.

The D2™ Bravo is Garmin’s second generation”pilot watch,” built on top of the fenix 3 hardware/platform with slightly less functionality of the fenix 3 but with the added bonus of some functionality for pilots (or aviation enthusiasts). The flagship function of the D2 Bravo is the Fly app, which records your flights as an “activity”, displays your route so far on a rudimentary map (but with no base map) and shows you distance and direction to the nearest airports as you fly along. The Start and Back buttons on the D2 Bravo are basically mapped to this functionality, giving you screens for “Direct To” an airport and nearest airports respectively. But you also get a great widget with the D2 Bravo: the METAR widget.

Unfortunately, the METAR widget has some drawbacks for anyone outside of the United States, such as in Canada where you will likely have your watch set up for metric units. You may not have an issue if this is a secondary watch that you use for flying only but if, like me, this is your main timepiece and you use metric day-to-day (for running, hiking and other activities the watch tracks) then using the built-in METAR widget from Garmin causes some grief.

A big problem with software for a global market is localization. In Canada we don’t tend to experience this much given that our software-producing giant neighbour to the south speaks the same main language that we do. So when a product only uses English it’s no big deal. And Garmin has done a great job with languages; my D2 Bravo supports 18 different languages via optionally installed language files. But for a watch with a GPS receiver, compass, barometric altimeter and a thermometer we also have the issue of units of measurement. And while the watch supports metric or imperial units, and allows for configuration of each sensor individually, the watch applies those settings to the aviation functionality of the watch. That seems great, except that with aviation it’s a mixed bag for how things are measured, further complicated by variations by country. In North America, temperature is in celsius, altitude is in feet, wind speed is in knots, barometric pressure is in inches of mercury, distances are in nautical miles and visibility is in statute miles. In Australia and most other metric countries outside of Canada the units for temperature,wind speed and altitude are the same but visibility is in meters and barometric pressure is in millibar. It might seem strange for a metric country such as Canada to still be using imperial units but it’s easier to be consistent with our USA neighbours.

So, back to the problem. The D2 Bravo is my primary watch in that I wear it every day, including for all activities such as running, biking or hiking. And as a Canadian, living in Canada I have my watch configured for metric units. Unfortunately, that means that the aviation functionality uses my metric units for everything. And while it might seem silly to be complaining, reporting the  visibility as ‘4 km‘ when you should be displaying ‘2½ SM‘ is completely foreign to me. And even if you were expecting a metric visibility, it should be displayed as 4000m not the equivalent in kilometres.

After reporting this issue to Garmin, the next release changed the wind speed displayed in the METAR widget from km/h to knots but left everything else the same. The ceiling today is at 1524 metres; ask any pilot if they have any idea what that is in feet, the units that cloud elevation is always reported in (except Russia and China) and you’ll get the same answer: “no idea”. And I don’t have any idea either.

fe90a0c9-a6d5-4f8b-924d-a09386f3eaf4It’s weird how the brain works but it just can’t think in metric when it’s learned aviation in everything but. As a result it was frustrating trying to use the built-in widget and it contributed to making the built-in widget unusable. Perhaps not for everyone, but for it was unusable for me. So I put my technology background to use and, as I said above, built my own widget (based heavily on Garmin’s built-in widget) and made it available for other users. I added in some features I wanted, such as displaying the four nearest aerodromes on the main page, and to maximize appeal for the changes I felt were needed, I added options for anything different from the built-in widget.

If you have a Garmin watch capable of running Connect IQ apps you can download the widget at the Connect IQ Store:

And if you’re interested in more details about the functionality of the widget including the changelog, you can read more on the page dedicated to METAR/TAF that I’ve created.