Last week was the annual APEX Conference and Exhibition. And on more than one occasion, I was asked to talk about consumer-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions versus purpose-built PMPS (like the digEplayer L7). Recently, more suppliers have come out offering re-purposed tablet devices - namely the iPad and not the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
First, let me say that I love the iPad and I own a Samsung Galaxy phone. I believe that they are great products for consumer use. But when we start talking about airline purchasing them and using them as an IFE solution, I start to have some apprehensions. So let me address my concerns head on.
Here’s the question
Will COTS repurposed tablets based on Android OS and iOS operating systems displace purpose-built PMPs in IFE?
Here’s my answer
For the foreseeable future, definitely not. The decision between a COTS solution and a purpose-built PMP has really become one of brand association versus practicality. Some airlines want to align or associate their brand with that of Apple’s or Samsung’s. Which I certainly understand. And the Android operating system does offer several advantages (e.g. huge developer network). However, COTS devices are not built with airline and passenger use in mind. They require repurposing, ruggedization, battery packs, etc. Charging an iPad means taking it out of service. However, a purpose-built device, such as the digEplayer L7, is designed to accomodate the existing operations, needs, and logistics of airlines. The L7 works out of the box. A COTS device does not. COTS also require interfacing with a third party manufacturer that may or may not have interest in working with the airline industry. For example, Apple’s iTunes store is not known for playing well with others. So you have to “jail break” the device to make it work, voiding warranties and support. But again, for some airlines, that’s okay because they want the brand association. For other airlines, the focus is on logistical and operational simplicity. So no, COTS will not universally displace purpose-built PMPs in IFE.
Am I a biased source?
Now, I’m guessing that some of you will simply write my response off as me fighting the competition. Am I biased? Of course I am. Or I wouldn’t be working here. I believe in the value proposition that we offer. Also, we continually evaluate new technologies, including COTS solutions. If at some point, we feel that the value is right for the airline, then we will pursue a COTS course. Ultimately, it’s about offering something of value to our customers that we believe is a long term solution.