In-flight and in-car tablets are on the rise

Find out why Patrick Gray thinks that tablets will eventually replace entertainment systems in the transportation industry.

I recently read a quote from an airline executive, essentially saying that the days of airline-provided in-flight entertainment devices were over. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, the exec surmised that most passengers had high-quality video, music, and games in their pocket that were far more personalized than anything the airline could ever provide. The average tablet might contain dozens of HD movies and tens of thousands of songs, markedly more than even the best in-flight systems.

The predicted death of in-flight entertainment seemed even more prescient during a recent flight I took from the United States to Dubai via Frankfurt. Even the majority of passengers in business class, the location of the best in-flight entertainment and largest screens, promptly pulled out their tablets for movies and games upon departure, while the airline-provided system sat idle.

For airlines in particular, getting out of the entertainment expense looks particularly attractive. Current systems — that are expected to last decades before major overhauls — are out of date shortly after installation on airplanes. These systems are also a maintenance hassle and literally a weighty proposition in a business where excess weight equals excess fuel, which equals extra recurring cost.

Some airlines are even experimenting with systems where airline- or passenger-provided tablets can connect to a system in the airplane that hosts a variety of newly release movies. These systems offer the benefit of current films while getting out of the business of maintaining hundreds of screens on each plane.

Automakers also appear to be getting in on the action. Shortly after the iPad was released, several automakers and accessory manufacturers offered solutions for mounting iPads so that they're visible to rear seat passengers, replacing the video screens that are popular with family vehicles. These mounts are little more than attachment points with charging functionality built in, but tablets can ultimately replace the car's entertainment, mapping, and computing functions.

Even the most advanced in-car navigation and entertainment systems offer less functionality than most tablets and are "frozen" in time in terms of upgrades, until the vehicle itself is upgraded. The benefits to a consumer of being able to replace a commodity tablet in their vehicle as technology changes are obvious, and manufacturers are able to get out of the entertainment hardware/software business by offering a lower-cost interface.

Essentially, the transportation industry seems to be exiting a facet of its business that it entered somewhat unwillingly. I can't imagine the average airline enjoys maintaining hundreds of out-of-date video terminals on each and every airplane any more than the average automaker enjoys trying to compete with the likes of Apple and Google on hardware and software design. These companies seem to be finding ways to leverage the power of a connected screen, loaded with content that seems to be in everyone's pocket. Is your business considering the same?


Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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