INTERIORS: Android becomes cornerstone of future IFEC

Los Angeles
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Google's Android mobile operating system will form the basis of the next generation in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) platforms to be offered by Panasonic Avionics and Thales, in a move that throws open the doors to new software applications for airlines.

Thales will get the Android bandwagon rolling with the launch of a new touch passenger media unit (TouchPMU) that is designed to act as a stand-alone media access device as well as a controller for its TopSeries i8000 IFEC system and its new, as-yet-unnamed fourth generation (4G) IFEC system, which will be launched on Qatar Airways' Boeing 787s before the end of 2011.

"The TouchPMU will be able to host endless applications. Its mature, open source, web-based platform makes it easy to integrate functionality and leverage existing gaming and application resources," says Alan Pellegrini, head of Thales In-flight Entertainment.

Qatar's initial 787s will feature the i8000 platform, but Thales is working to introduce the 4G platform - with Android operating system - on the airline's later 787 deliveries, in the 2013 timeframe. The system will formally be made available to the market during the second half of 2012.

Panasonic, meanwhile, is looking to beat Thales to market by offering a new Android-based IFEC platform before the end of 2011. The firm is already showcasing how Android apps can run over the latest versions of its eX2 and smart monitor systems.

Both manufacturers' move to Android will drive a paradigm shift in the IFEC industry.

"The reason for going down this road [and using Android] is the same reason we were in Linux instead of Windows. This stuff is open and relatively easy to get to and do your own drivers," says Panasonic Avionics CEO Paul Margis.

He notes that Panasonic wants to leverage the fact that Google "has done a huge amount of work [to ensure] that the apps you load protect the device [and] the apps can't break each other. So Google has done a lot of work underneath the hood so that any possible combo of apps should in theory work. And if one app doesn't work, it won't bring the whole system down."