Apple's much-hyped spring launch of the iPad tablet in the US prompted some industry observers to surmise that embedded in-flight entertainment (IFE) is doomed to become obsolete, or at the very least, to be relegated to niche operations.
Why should airlines equip their aircraft with heavy, wired IFE hardware when more advanced wireless solutions - such as the iPad - can be distributed to passengers instead, they asked.
A real-world example of this scenario may come to bear sooner than expected. Even before Apple has launched the iPad internationally, BlueBox Avionics has stepped forward to offer the industry's first IFE system to utilize the iPad.
Known for its commercial off the shelf (COTS) portable IFE players, BlueBox's so-called bluebox Ai combines "the power, flexibility and quality" of the iPad with the UK-based company's proprietary security solution. This means that the bluebox Ai "is fully approved for early-window IFE content", says BlueBox, which also touts the device's 10hr battery life, and its ability to come pre-loaded with games from the iTunes store as well as magazines, eBooks, and custom apps for each airline.
The bluebox Ai will be formally launched this week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (stand 6F32).
Not everyone is convinced that the iPad will destroy the business model for embedded IFE, however. One high-level industry source notes: "IFE manufacturers are not going to rest on their success thinking they've got this sussed. Sure, they're proud of what they've achieved and think they have a great product. That said, their product strategists are always focused on innovation. What tends to get lost on the doomsayers of IFE is that there's more to this than what meets the eye (of the user). IFE manufacturers design for experience, reliability, quality, weight, power, consistency, etc. This never stops."
Emerging media consultant Steven Frischling asks: "Would you want to deploy a non-rugged, all-glass screen device that is known to torque and crack on impact to your passengers?"
One carrier is apparently ready to take the leap. BlueBox says an international operator will begin distributing bluebox Ai units this July.