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smartCARS 3 Beta and Some History
Edit (22MAY23): smartCARS 3 is now available for sale in open beta! To learn more, visit the product page.
smartCARS has been at the core of TFDi Design's product lineup since 2012. As of a few weeks ago, smartCARS version 3 is officially in beta. This is a big moment for us and I want to take a few minutes to share some history and details about it.
smartCARS 1 was our first commercial application and although we have certainly outgrown it, we're proud of where we come from. It started, initially, as a bespoke application for colleagues we knew at the time. We changed how things were done (allowed multiple bids, added a real live-chat, etc.) and really tried to build a better user experience than what was available at the time.
Below is the extremely old smartCARS 1 release video.
We soon realized that smartCARS had the potential to be much more than a one-off contract. It seems we were right, because smartCARS became relatively popular in the virtual airline world not too long after.
Enter smartCARS 2
smartCARS worked well for its intened purpose but it was obvious that we had a lot of headroom to expand. We wanted to allow more customization, add more detail to the logs, and give pilots a more rewarding experience. And so, we set out on smartCARS 2. We supercharged the code and user interface and created the next iteration of what was quickly becoming a staple of the virtual airline software world.
The release trailer for smartCARS 2 is below.
Fun fact: the music in the smartCARS 2 release trailer is actually a remix of one of my own songs.
Further to the additions to the base application, we introduced smartCARS Premium. This is a pilot-based subscription that adds further features to user experience. This allowed us to create more specific and advanced features heavily geared toward the pilot, instead of the VA, as the pilot could also now be a customer. Premium included cloud flight backups that could survive even a complete PC shutoff, a mobile app that let you bring the flight with you, and some additional features (like dark mode) that weren't industry standard yet (at the time).
The Quiet Years
After smartCARS 2, we started focusing heavily on development of the TFDi Design 717. This took us quite some time, as did the application we followed it up with, PACX. With that said, we were still cooking up ideas for smartCARS.
We collected user reports, our own ideas, and frequently discussed ways we could take smartCARS to the next level. As it soared to heights way beyond what we originally expected with over 1,000 licenses issued, we knew we had to follow up smartCARS 2 with something impressive. As we continued collecting ideas, one thing was clear: we had the core concept right but it was time to let others add to it as well.
As a company, we have also focused heavily on efficiency and modularity. These concepts worked together as we designed a system that would allow others to add meaningful, important functionality at their discretion.
Despite all of this interest and thought, it would somehow be many years until we broke ground on smartCARS 3.
In 2020, we started on what would eventually become the smartCARS 3 that recently entered beta. We had some new team members to bring in new ideas, a fresh mindset for having had such a break, and a whole new world of technology to explore.
We picked a web-based system (Electron) that would let us write simpler, platform-agnostic code. We developed frameworks and SDKs to allow plugins to add entirely new pages and features, or critical but invisible background functionaliy, to smartCARS. The unique thing about smartCARS 3 is that we wrote the flight tracking, chat, logbook, and flight center code using our own plugin API.
This is significant because that means our plugin API really works. It will actually let community developers add meaningful content, whether specific and private to their VA, or something for the community to use.
We took a great deal of care to improve the experience massively. A few highlights of these changes are:
- Single installation across all VAs without losing the customization (meaning you no longer had to install multiple copies of smartCARS for multiple VAs)
- Resizable, massively improved user interface
- Complete customization and extensibility via plugins and web APIs
- simBrief integration
- Overhauled map with ATC and online network support
- Massively improved and scriptable flight tracking (each VA can customize exactly what is logged and how)
- Overhauled chat experience that is more conducive to a friendly community message-board style conversation
- Improved PIREP viewer with real over-the-ground route plotting
- And too many minor but noticeable improvements to list
Some images showing this are below.
The idea for us is to make smartCARS 3 a platform, not simply another version of the program. We want to let others build and expand on the features they need without having to reinvent the wheel. We want to bring a compelling mobile experience and unbeatable Premium features (more on that another day) that'll serve the community for years to come.
smartCARS is near and dear to many of our hearts and we couldn't be prouder of where it's headed. Thank you for reading and thank you to the community for your feedback and support over the years. The wait is almost over; the smartCARS journey will continue.
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As I typically do each year, I'd like to take a moment to recap what 2022 was to us and what we're planning in 2023.
In a sentence, 2022 was a head-down year. We did a lot of internal optimization, a lot of development, and a lot of strategic and team planning. We also did something we've never done; a presale. Although a bit controversial (we did expect that it might be), we remain humbled by the overwhelming support we received. This support confirms two things we already believed; that we are in front of a great community that we're proud to work with and that the TFDi Design MD-11 will be our largest product to date.
This upcoming year is going to be a massive year for us and our community. We have smartCARS 3 rapidly approaching beta testing, the TFDi Design MD-11 is progressing nicely and overcoming obstacles quickly, and we have recruited a great team of voices for the upcoming PACX update. No matter what brings you to us, we will have something exciting for you this year. This means it is more important for us to stay present and communicative than ever before.
This segues nicely into one of our focuses for 2023: continued and improved community presence. Our customer support satisfaction feedback last year says we did good helping and we're going to aim to make that great this year. We're working with our community and brand teams to find new, meaningful ways to share content with the world. We're working on optimizing internal policies and practices to make it easier for our developers to share their progress with you. All of these things mean we are continuing to find ways to foster the most open and interactive environment we can with our customers, fans, followers, and critics alike.
From a technical standpoint, we are preparing to grow. We are working on infrastructure with higher reliability, better performance, a huge scalability. We're building on top of our modular and efficient approach to development to add expandability and scalability to our every day design language. Our technical leaders are discussing emerging technologies that will improve security and enable better system-wide performance. This means our community is going to see some of the most robust, customizable, and reliable software they have ever seen from us going forward.
Thank you for reading and I know I speak for our entire team when I say thank you for your support. We are so excited to be entering into what is shaping up to be a huge year and we cannot wait to share the progress as it unfolds. As always, please do not hesitate to join our Discord, open a ticket, or comment or message us on social media. We look forward to seeing you all in the skies in 2023.