I was fortunate enough to be one of the judges for the Best Single Achievement in IFE AVION Award which was awarded at last week’s WAEA/APEX event. We had to evaluate five strong candidates who each deserve praise. However, Etihad Airways emerged as the victor by near unanimous vote. I was disappointed, though, that no explanation was given at the awards ceremony as to why they won.
Etihad’s Entry - Custom GUI
At a glance, Etihad’s entry, a graphical user interface (GUI) redesign, seems simple enough. Actually, when Etihad’s representative first introduced the topic, I thought, “This isn’t anything special. Other entries are better.” I was singing a different tune though by the end.
Let me review three important features of Etihad’s new GUI, one of which formed the basis for why Etihad was the clear winner.
- Highly Customizable - Typically, making a change to the GUI on an embedded system requires involving either Panasonic or Thales and can take months. Surprisingly, the system usually requires a full software release in order to make the change. Etihad, however, can easily make changes such as backgrounds images, thumbnails, menu items, etc. Further, the system is smart enough to remove menu options when no content is available within that category. For example, on short haul flights where movies are not available, the system simply removes the menu option and fills the space with the other options. That way, a passenger is never annoyed by navigating to a category where the options are unavailable.
- Ubiquitous Across Three Systems - Eithad has two different Thales systems and one Panasonic system installed across its fleet. In order to ease GUI changes, Etihad was able to work with both companies in order to implement one solution that worked on all three systems. I’ll explain shortly why this is so valuable.
- Full Arabic Support - Since Etihad’s passenger base is based in the United Arab Emirates, the GUI must support both English and Arabic. With just a click of a button, the menu can be toggled between the languages. What was fascinating was the fact that the screen itself would re-organize itself to accomodate the fact that Arabic is read right to left.
Why Etihad’s Accomplishment is So Important
As I mentioned before, a GUI update may not seem out of the ordinary. However, this story is actually a kin to The Taming of the Shrew. Etihad not only created a solution for easy future updates but enlisted the cooperation of both Thales and Panasonic. No one on the judging panel was aware of any other example of an airline getting Thales and Panasonic to not only change their software in a significant way but to do in coordination with each other.
This one GUI may spell a turning of the tides in the IFE industry, at least among these two giants. With a foot in the door now, airlines will hopefully be able to expect better and easier cooperation from Thales and Panasonic. I think the fact that the Android operating system and app stores are being created demonstrates that tides have shifted and IFE providers are looking for innovative ways to employ more airline friendly solutions.
Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I believe that as an IFE industry (both airlines and providers), we must focus on stepping away from how we’ve traditionally done things and find new, better ways to cooperate, take advantage of the many technologies available terrestrially, and implement solutions that optimize for logistics, weight, cost, repair-ability, and passenger experience. My hat is off to Etihad Airways for taking a bold first step.
For a second opinion, the Cranky Flier, one of my fellow judges, offers his thoughts. Also, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.