IFE Services serves up opinion on portable IFE market

Can portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) providers survive in an environment where airlines are fitting their aircraft with in-flight connectivity and looking to support passengers’ own devices? Not if their businesses are based solely on the provision of portables, suggests IFE Services managing director Andy McEwan.

“I am a believer that within an IFE strategy of an airline, portable devices can fit into that strategy somehow, but it has got to be the individual’s portable device. [Generally]  I don’t think it’s a device that’s provided by an airline or a third party,” McEwan told RWG in a recent interview.

“From the limited knowledge I have of companies whose core business is the provision of portable devices, I don’t think there are many that actually make money. I think probably most of them lose money and that’s what they do, Monday to Friday, five days aPlay Station Portable.JPG week. So, something doesn’t smell right to me.”

Those are some strong words from a company that, in addition to providing airlines with IFE audio/video content and management, supplies a portable IFE solution based on Sony’s PSP gaming device. And, as you’d expect, McEwan caveats his comment, saying portable IFE devices still play a role in “certain situations”.

Says McEwan:

“So lets say you have a long-haul, low-cost airline – and we’ve signed a client in Asia with that type of characteristic – I can see it working then. You have 200 or 300 people on board an aircraft, there is no IFE, they’re flying 10 hours to London, it’s a portable device, it’s rented out, and there is a solution there. I can see it working in that situation and some of our clients kind of do that today but the ones that are successful at it have very good product management; they typically product manage everything themselves. As soon as you involve a third party, like a catering company who is doing the loading onto the aircraft, charging up the devices, you’re potentially going to have problems.”

Portable IFE (and tray-table embedded IFE) based on Samsung’s latest Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, received a lot of attention at APEX, even though Apple had already successfully won an injunction preventing its sale in Germany at that time (and later Australia). Naturally, I wanted to get McEwan’s take on whether the lawsuits would ultimately hurt the business case.

“…I wouldn’t have thought an airline making a decision about portable devices in the short-term particularly in Europe is going to progress with the Samsung tablets,” he says.

As for iPad-based portable IFE, the well-documented challenges associated with that scheme serve as “the perfect example of how technology moves so slow in the airline industry”, according to McEwan “Let’s take ourselves back to April 2010, Hamburg – Aircraft Interiors. [There was] lots of fanfare and the iPad is a great product. But how many airlines today, 18 months on, are actually using an iPad solution, one or two or three?”

Meanwhile, in the 15 months since McEwan took the position of managing director at IFE Services, the UK company has rapidly grown its client roster, delved into marketing its brand through social media, and positioned itself to participate in industry consolidation. You can read more about IFE Services’ growth strategy at FlightglobalPro.

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