We cannot ignore the iPad argument (but we can discuss)

Right then, I don’t recall ever personally writing off the Apple iPad as a fad that won’t impact in-flight entertainment (having simply posted a blog about why it probably won’t do so in the near-term, ahem).

BUT, equally I don’t think the argument posed by Shashank Nigam of Simpliflying – about how the much-touted tablet may revolutionize the airline industry – should be ignored.

So let’s read and discuss.

A key quote from Nigam:

I’m not talking about every passenger carrying on-board an iPad. That’s probably not possible. At least not very soon, and not across nations. What I’m suggesting is that it might be a good idea for airlines that do not have personal in-flight entertainment systems installed, to consider buying iPads to rent them out to the passengers.

(Photo above from Smays’ photo stream on Flickr)

18 Responses to We cannot ignore the iPad argument (but we can discuss)

  1. Max Flight April 6, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    My grand prediction: Airline supplied IFE is replaced by personal IFE generated through the devices owned by passengers. The airlines provide inflight Internet, and some personal IFE is fed by that, but a lot of the entertainment will come from content pre-loaded by passengers on their devices.

    And it’s not just iPads. Watch it all really take off when Android-powered content consumption devices come on the market.

    Don’t think flat personal computers. Think content consumption devices with “applications” that have only barely been envisioned.

  2. Zsolt April 6, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    I fully agree with Shashank. The iPad is perfect for airlines. They don’t have to install DVD players and cables for content distribution. Most passengers will bring their PSPs, Nintendos, iPods, iPhones, and iPads for in-flight entertainment. The airline just has to supply power and wifi.

    There will be a few passengers who either forget to bring a device, or don’t have one to bring. Some of those may choose to rent an IFE device on-board.

    Now why is the iPad ideal for this purpose? It’s the software. Apple designs and builds software that people want to use. I imagine an iPad equipped as an IFE device would have 20-30 different high quality and already popular games installed, and 10-15 full length movies with different language tracks available installed on each device. There is no need to distribute the content on board the aircraft. Because of the wifi connectivity, games can be supplied that let passengers play against each other, as in some current IFE systems..

    As for the iPad’s durability. It’s got a machined aluminum back shell, light and strong. With a rubber case that protects the back, this will be very durable indeed.

    The weight is 1.5 lbs due to the hefty batteries. This might be a bit on the heavy side, but most people will use it braced on their lap, or propped on the tray.

  3. Dallas Web Design April 7, 2010 at 1:57 am #

    this sounds like a good idea. however, it sounds unrealistic. airliners right now dont care too much about their passengers ride unless they are first class and more than likely a first class passenger will have an ipad or at least some other form of entertainment. if someone wanted to rent an ipad, they would probably have one already, or at least a laptop.

  4. Dave Starr April 7, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    An excellent discussion The current airline outlook on IFE reminds me of the phone companies some years back when they dropped the ball and refused to recognize what was happening on the Internet. Now the largest long distance carrier in the world is Skype while traditional Telco executives are still scratching their heads wondering what happened.

    Airline execs still think of IFE as massive, heavyweight installations stealing space and weight and adding maintenance headaches. All they need is a cart full of iPads to rent out at the beginning of the flight.

    Theft? Well I noticed on my last Delta flight they had gone cashless and were selling drinks with a cardreader on the beverage cart, just make the ToS state that if a passenger doesn’t check his/her ipad rental back in at the end of the trip, his/her credit card is charged full retail. In fact they could make a nice profit on the iPads that didn’t get returned. Compared with the abysmal IFE service on my last trans-Pacific flight I would have leaped at the chance to buy something better .. and for pax who carry on their own? Charge a reasonable fee to ‘join the network’ for the flight or for the day or for the week.

    Simple if people would just lose their old hardwired,equipment rack definitions of IFE.

  5. Steven Frischling April 7, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    First off … I am an Apple user. As I sit here with two MacBooks, an iMac and my iPhone I cannot deny I am Apple biased and have been since the mid 1980s.

    …that said … the iPad is not the solution for airline IFEC. The iPad is an excellent device with a lot of potential, but it is lacking some very import aspects for any airline integration.

    The iPad is costly, not to say the digEcor digEplayer L series, being released in May is not costly.

    The iPad has to many cons going against it, such as the iPad offers no support for the airlines, Apple does not offer up access to proprietary software so the iPad cannot be altered to meet the needs of each airline. The iPad is not ruggedized for daily use in the way an airline stand alone IFE product is used. Apple does not provide back end support or repair service contracts that and airline would need to implement the device. The iPad while an excellent media player is not designed to have its media loaded and unloaded in a manner an airline would require to maintain thousand of units. The battery life of the iPad is impressive, but not impressive enough to last many long haul flights with sustained video use.

    Options such as the digEcor digePlayer L series offer touch screen ease of use, established back end support for software & hardware, integrated ancillary revenue options, a rugged unit, sustained battery life for extended use and now offer wifi for accessing online options inflight. The digEcor products are designed to be deployed and updated in large numbers with the customizations options required by each airline.

    The ROI of the iPad just is not that for airlines to invest in as an IFEC solution, while other dedicated products exist without modification and a full support system in place to keep them up and running.

    -Steven Frischling

  6. Jonathan Norris April 7, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    I support Steven’s view that whilst the iPad is an excellent device with alot of potential it does have it’s limitations when it comes to the type of device that would be required to put up with the rigours of airline services. There is also the question of managing the charging and content of a large number of portable devices on and off-aircraft (be they iPads or other portable IFE devices). If the iPads were to be handed out inflight they have to be stowed during TTL and this reduces precious baggage space.

    In addition whilst the iPad is making many technoholics drool (including myself) we shouldn’t forget that a very large percentage of the flying public are not technoholics and don’t carry their lives around with them in a data cloud. Many pax do not travel with smart phones, laptops, notebooks, iPads etc. and therefore will continue to require embedded IFE with it’s wide array of content for many years to come.

    IMHO I believe that iPads or other portable IFE devices have a role to play in some airline operations but that they will not eclipse the embedded IFE systems.

    Jonathan Norris

  7. Steven Frischling April 7, 2010 at 11:12 am #


    It is not even embedded IFE, it is airline supplied IFE.

    Alaska Airlines does not offer embedded IFE, but they offer passengers the options to rent the digEplayer, which is where I am familiar with the product (as well as having flown the former Independence Air). The products being offered by airlines that do not offer embedded IFE can raise substantial ancillary revenue.

    The ancillary revenue does to only need to come from the rental of the unit, but also a wifi fee, which can be discounted with the rented unit, or bundled it for an higher fee. From there, airlines can bolster ancillary revenue through in-flight shopping options that are integrated into the stand alone IFE product.

    One major market I see portable, personal, IFE products is not only the LCC market, but the charter market. Many charters do not have embedded IFE, nor do they have in-seat power. This lack of in-seat power is a killer for most people using a laptop, as the average batter life of a laptop watching a movie is under 90 minutes. This means passengers can’t even finish one movie DVD, much less stay entertained for a full flight between Toronto and Cancun.

    The revenue options available in offering stand-alone IFE devices for airlines is significant…but the iPad is not the best choice for the deployment of these products.

    -Steven Frischling

  8. Jonathan Norris April 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm #


    Thanks for the clarification – and yes I agree that the iPad isn’t the best choice to replace either embedded or portable IFE.

    Whilst the revenue opportunities from portable IFE devices for airlines may be significant this business model doesn’t work for all airline sectors.

    For example I cannot see that the premium and/or national carriers will move away from full-spec embedded IFE systems to portable IFE on their long-haul routes. As a case in hand the portable IFE offering on the BA LCY-JFK route is extremely poor (IMHO) as compared to their other EU-USA routes which offer embedded IFE systems.

    However, as the LCY-JFK route is GSM enabled us technoholics can use our iPhones and Blackberrys to twitter to our heart’s content whilst crossing the Atlantic … or at least as far as US airspace :-)

    Jonathan Norris

  9. Steven Frischling April 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm #


    I agree, the major legacy airlines probably will not depart embedded IFE for portable IFE. British Airways JFK-LCY is a very limited exception to the BA fleet. Northwest Airlines used to hand out portable IFE that mounted to a stand & plugged into an emPower socket on long-haul 757 routes in WorldBusiness class, I experienced this on the BDL-AMS route.

    There are however many airlines that can still benefit from portable IFE, as mentioned Alaska Airlines uses portable IFE and I have found it beneficial on trans-con routes.

    For carriers that can benefit the most from portable IFE, Thomas Cook and Monarch come to mind, as do such as Astraeus and Air Atlanta Icelandic for charter operations. The integration and revenue from portable IFE is quite viable for a favorable ROI and increased customer experience.

    -Steven Frischling

  10. David Parker Brown April 7, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    I would like to see three things:

    #1 Wifi. With WiFi, I really don’t need anything else (well my laptop)

    #2 Integration with my own device. Be it iPhone, iPad, Laptop. Let me connect to airborne network to quickly download movies and other IFE content. Even cooler to have inboard twitter/text to ask for food/drink (kinda like Virgin America)

    #3 Independent IFE with the airline. I can access my laptop and other devices anytime. It feels kinda cool and unique to play with something brand new.

    Yea, asking for all three is a lot. Really #2/#1 will work for me. I see in the future #3 going away and more of #1/#2 being the future.

  11. Adam April 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Hey Zsolt,

    You bring up a couple on interesting points. I agree that a portable device pre-loaded with a bunch of movies and games is a much better IFE solution (personalized content selection without the FAA certification costs).

    One of the problems though with the iPad is the lack of good ruggedization. PCWorld performed multiple stress test on the iPad. The most surprising is that after only three drops onto carpeted floor from a sitting position damaged the screen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i5i3ozyPS8). Now imagine dropping it onto the hard floor in an airplane.

    Also, the battery life of the iPad only works for shorter flights. Most airlines want round trip use off of one battery charge. Complicating the equation is the fact that you can’t swap batteries mid flight with an iPad.

  12. Adam April 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Jon and Steven,

    First, thank you for this lively discussion. I love hearing what others have to say about IFE and specifically portable solutions. I think that as a community we produce better solutions.

    You’ve brought up a very interesting argument about embedded systems on legacy carriers. For a number of reasons, I agree that portables don’t work in every situation (it would be naive to think otherwise). For that very reason, we’ve been particular in how we have developed the digEplayer L Series. For example, both the L7 and L10 are easily converted to semi-embedded use. Meaning, by swapping out the case, a portable player can be embedded in the seatback and take advantage of many of the embedded features (e.g. logistically simpler).

    So an airline can start with portables and move to embedded later or even have an embedded that can be undocked during flight.

    More info: http://bit.ly/9PeWaI



  13. Max Flight April 7, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    Interesting comments.

    My position is not that tablet devices like the iPad represent an IFE option for the airlines. Just the opposite. I predict that content delivery devices will become commonplace and almost any airline-provided IFE will be irrelevant. People will bring their own content with them.

    We already bring our own music and audio in mp3 players. I don’t need the airline to give me what they think I want to listen to. I bring my own.

    We already bring our own games on our smartphones or iPhones or similar devices. I don’t need the airline to give me games.

    I bring my own reading material and I bring a little video on portable devices.

    Now imagine devices that are optimized around full length movies, books, magazines, etc. Over time, I think a lot of people are going to own these tablets and they are going to be “customized” with the content they want. You won’t need anybody else’s version of your entertainment.

    This won’t happen overnight, but in a few years we’ll laugh about the days when our entertainment (inflight or not) was defined by someone else.

    Traditional media and entertainment channels are dying. The only IFE role the airlines will end up with is inflight Internet, which we access with our personal devices.

    If airlines try to be the old AOL (shaping content) they’ll end up in the same place, at least with respect to IFE.

  14. Vinay Bhaskara April 7, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I actually think that what Nigam says makes sense.. American already gives its premium passengers portable IFE on their 767-200ER services from JFK to LAX/SFO. That can easily be subbed with the Ipad, and on shorter flights those could be rented out, on longer flights complimentary. Coupled with WiFi, they could make IFE much simpler for airlines and passengers alike. I actually talked with Max Flight about the issue for The Aviation Weblog, it is one of the questions, that will be posted when we finish talking

  15. Addison Schonland April 8, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Regardless of where the technology is going, look at the airlines. What do they do? They move people well. The rest is (or should be) outsourced. Meals are outsourced. So why not IFE? The key here is that airlines do best when they enable a flow of revenue that provides revenue share for them. Think duty free sales.

    Content changes so quickly; embedded IFE cannot keep up. MRO folks will tell you embedded IFE is a huge headache. It might be better for airlines to think about enabling customers to use their own devices. As Jon points out, today this is perhaps not a big a group. But certainly many people under 45 already have some sort of digital device offering content. In future it will grow and it is growing every day. Apple, Blackberry and Droid sales are evidence of this.

    Airlines can make money selling in-seat power and internet access. Especially on 5+ hour flights. They can also simplify their business which, ultimately lowers costs, and that is what airlines want just as much as more revenue. The key here will be what can airlines sell that people will pay for?

    Embedded IFE is typically free but hardly worth that price for the marginal content offered. Spotty screens, frequent reboots and awful sound and content is standard. I would suggest, based on my own experience, that embedded IFE may be the finest advertising for personal digital devices I have seen. IFE suppliers are in a race where they are naturally held back by a combination of government (FAA), poor airline budgets and even poorer airline content decisions. They are in a very tough business with a technology environment that evolves rapidly.

    There is no flight longer than the one you are on where your personal seatback screen is on the blink. The IFE firms are stuck with FAA approval of their hardware, so they are always behind technology wise. The FAA does not ask what you are carrying on board, so you can bring anything that works for you. Your own technology always works and has the stuff you want to listen to or watch – every time.

    So while you can make a good argument for embedded IFE today, in my view, looking forward personal portable devices look far more attractive as a market.

  16. Speedbird_NCL April 8, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    Enjoyed reading posts on this topic and agree with most view points in favour of a more flexible solution to IFE ….. here is my personal contribution.

    Firstly I’m sure airlines would much prefer not to have any IFE at all, its an expensive item, second only to the aircraft engines to install, run and maintain, not to mention the expensive specialist training for cabin crew/engineering.

    An airline reality is that they are in competition for an enhanced customer experience, as a result all major airlines have IFE/IFEC solutions on board to help deliver this experience and ultimately will be judged by their customers.

    Max Flight’s comments on the availability/variety of media content and not the devices that deliver it, is actually a valid and important point.
    Current IFE vendor’s solutions and business models are primarily focused on ‘locking in’ major airlines into long term embedded IFE solutions and not so much on a flexible customer experience.

    Its worth mentioning that the technology supplied by the embedded IFE vendors solutions is not unique by any means, as nearly all major airlines will have similar ground based systems, carrying out much more complicated functionality to keep the airline ticking over. Airlines understand the costs of installing, running and maintaining these systems and I’m sure they would agree the costs of today’s embedded IFE solutions are way to high for the overall functionality provided.

    What would be the average customers expectations now and into the future, well it’s a safe bet that they would like to have similar unlimited access to content (back to Max’s point) on board the aircraft as experienced at the gate before they boarded.
    YouTube, Skype, iTunes, Spotify, Last.fm, etc. unlimited access to content in the air, probably not in the short term, bandwidth restrictions will limit the customer experience, but inevitably this will change.

    Agree also that the continuation of pre loading of bulk content like movies/mp3’s will always be required onboard and the possibility of opening up various commercial options for airlines, by having ‘customer choice’ on onboard. Airlines adopting a service provider approach to entertainment i.e. Media, internet, eMail, Books etc. as a service is a real and viable option with iPad type devices. I accept the argument with regard to a heavy-duty environment and the survival of the device, but with further supplier development this could become a cost effective option relative to the embedded IFE seatback hardware.

    Airlines cannot afford to ignore the evolution PSPs, Nintendos, Laptops, iPods, iPhones and iPads, are they keeping an eye on the possibilities, my guess is they are, very closely!!

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