By Ben Ellison
|Part 2: All these specialized marine computers suffer from high prices.|
The new 972 is designed to further bridge the gap between the familiar and the modern. Paper-like raster charts are still very much supported, but the user can also try Nobeltec’s highly evolved vector charts, including the ability to blend in photo maps so useful in the Bahamas and other clear waters (where available). The 972 also shows 3-D bottom contours, once thought frivolous but now a common PC tool on high-end commercial and sportfishing boats. “It just makes looking for fishy structure so much more intuitive,” says Rickets. In fact, the imagery and even some of the soft-key interface on the 972 are reminiscent of Nobeltec software, indicative of the “close relationship” the companies have had starting with the original 961. The 972 also has a look and button layout—not to mention radar and sounder options—darn similar to Northstar’s own embedded 6000i multifunction display, emblematic of how these different architectures are smudging together.
As noted, the 972 could incorporate other marine software functions, and while the company had no comment on the subject at presstime, there may be competitive pressure to do so. The Waypoint dedicated PC system, for instance, can optionally include XM satellite marine weather. The i3 offers WSI’s The Weather Channel Marine plus a touch-screen version of SkyMate satellite e-mail and monitoring. I got to test this last summer, thumbing the virtual keyboard on the i3’s screen like a giant Blackberry, and think a lot of boaters will appreciate this novel capability. Now i3 is getting another unique option that puts fish, even ones targeted yesterday, into a 3-D contour image, which will surely be drawing interest at boat shows.
Meanwhile, all these specialized marine computers suffer from high prices; apparently the low cost of their mass-market PC components is trivial compared to the custom engineering and hardware involved. Thus some bang-for-the-buck users will continue to take their chances on (and enjoy the flexibility of) regular PCs or less-ambitious marine models, like the Nauticomp that simply puts Dell innards into a rugged case. And while the relationship between Northstar and Nobeltec was truly “outside the box” in 1999, that era is over. Furuno’s new affiliation with MaxSea is sure to bring both embedded and PC benefits. Raymarine’s new network design promises smooth, powerful PC/hardware relations. Finally, both C-Map and Navionics are about to introduce new chartplotter capabilities that duplicate—at least to some extent—the very features that attracted some navigators to PCs. The 972 enters a complicated market but is still heir to a line so innovative it confused even some pros.
This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.