WAEA2009: Panasonic opens access to landmark iPod connectivity tool

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Panasonic Avionics has opted to make its iPod connectivity tool eXport available via licensing agreements to all in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) vendors.

The IFEC giant made the announcement today at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition in Palm Springs, California.

But the manufacturer also exclusively revealed to ATI and Flightglobal at the event that it has licensed the patent-pending design to iPod accessories firm Griffin Technology, which is manufacturing the product and in turn offering it directly to airlines and duty free organizations.

Shipments began yesterday, says director of product line management Marshal Perlman. "Griffin will also make this available to Apple's online store and vending machine kiosks. The possibility exists for them to sell to organizations that own kiosks (that sell iPod accessories) and airport wireless stores."

Says Perlman: "We're following a standard distribution model now."

Nearly 4,500 seats equipped with the eXport solution were shipped in just under one year. The early adopters include Avianca, Singapore Airlines (SIA), Swiss International, and United Airlines.

SIA was the first carrier to offer eXport to its coach passengers.

The eXport solution consists of two main components - an eXport jack that is installed in the seat and an eXPort cable, which connects the iPod to the eXPort jack. This allows audio and video to be sent from a passenger's iPod or iPhone to the IFE system while simultaneously powering and charging the device, and eliminates the need for octopus cable previously used in the industry.

IFEC vendors have expressed interest to Panasonic in using eXport with their own IFE systems. Panasonic is in advanced talks with an undisclosed vendor, says Perlman.

It is not yet clear if Panasonic's main rival Thales has expressed interest in using eXport for its IFE systems, however.

"Having multiple industry standards for iPod integration does not benefit the flying public and we felt it was important to make eXport available to our competition. By licensing this solution, we have taken another step forward to establish eXport as an industry standard feature on aircraft," says Panasonic Avionics CEO Paul Margis.

In the future the eXport technology may have applications to other markets in the travel industry.