3 Must watch in-flight entertainment trends for 2012

The in-flight entertainment and connectivity market was boiling and looking for change throughout 2010 and then erupted during 2011. Several evolutions in technology finally emerged after years of discussion and development.

For example, the iPad launched with Hollywood studio approval. Samsung and American introduced the Galaxy Tab in-flight. Connectivity companies started testing streaming content. Seat-centric systems gained notoriety and orders. Wireless systems grabbed headlines. And IFE vendors better integrated consumer trends such as social media.

To be honest, I think we are still on the cusp of those evolutions. I don’t expect to see many big advancements in 2012. Rather, I think suppliers and airlines will work together to further bring last year’s innovations to the marketplace and then enhance those offerings.

I do, however, strongly suggest watching three trends in particular to see what happens.

Hot or Not Signs

Connectivity IPOs

Notice that I didn’t just say connectivity? Internet in the sky is only one part of the equation. Money to bring you Internet in the sky is just as important. Recently rebranded provider Gogo announced a $100 million IPO. Howard Lefkowitz at competitor Row44 commented:

We see this [Gogo’s IPO filing] as good news, further confirmation that the investment community sees long-term value in this industry. As for Row 44, we don’t’ discuss our business plans but you can expect some big news from us in the New Year. (Pulled from the APEX Editor’s Blog)”

Boeing tried in-flight Internet years ago and failed. If the investment community gets behind connectivity IPOs, then that shows a belief in the current business models and the viability of the technology. Having said that, understand that I still have some reservations about the current business models and would love to sit in on one of the IPO investor meetings (Michael Small - feel free to give me a call).

Either way, Wi-Fi installs keep rolling out and the bandwidth keeps getting better. And with new funding, old debt can be repaid and development accelerated.

HTML5 & Web Standards

I bet you didn’t expect to see web development trends on my list. So why are they?

Thanks to the late Steve Jobs, smart phones and tablets have driven consumer technology for the last few years. The number of flyers connecting via a phone or tablet is overtaking the number of laptop users.

Until recently, apps provided the best mobile experience. In fact, the number of apps available is ridiculous. Everyone has an app. My dog walker has an app. The problem, though, is that apps are not ubiquitous. You have to create a different app for Android, iOS, Palm, etc and then the apps don’t always work on every device.

Enter HTML5.

With new web standards, you can create responsive designs with impressive effects. Basically, using HTML5, CSS3, APIs and some Javascript, you can create an immersive and engaging experience that works across platforms and devices. Big, small, whatever. The design adusts to the screen size of your device (some examples) and you can create Flash like experiences without installing Flash.

Nifty huh? Well, not really until you think about what that means for your passengers.

Connectivity is and must be the means to an end, not the end itself. Gogo reports that only 4% of passengers on planes with Internet since 2008 have used the service. Airlines that figure out how to use the Internet, instead of just providing it, will set themselves apart from the pack (by 2013 more than half of aircraft in the U.S. will be equipped with Internet, so you are not unique).

A few ideas of what you could do:

  • Gaming (both multi-player and single player)
  • Gamification (definite outside the box thinking)
  • Destination information with a lot of interactivity
  • Stream movies, music, etc.
  • Buy-on-board and upgrades
  • Shopping (see current trends in mobile shopping)
  • Social media (not just access to Facebook but your brand and Facebook)
  • Promotions (which you can change instantly since it’s in the cloud and not local to the IFE system)
  • Customer service
  • Cloud services
  • And probably 20 other things I haven’t even conceived of

And again, the best part is that you can optimize for various screen sizes and capabilities. The end goal should be to create portals or destinations online where passengers want to spend time and money so that they don’t go everywhere else on the web looking for entertainment.

I have yet to meet anyone who is really trying to take advantage of what is possible.

One last thought. The two hurdles that must be overcome to create a truly seamless experience are the speed of the Internet to the aircraft and the Wi-Fi coverage and bandwidth inside of the plane. That probably goes without saying.

(Full comparison of mobile sites vs. mobile apps)


I’m not talking just about android phones and tablets, but I mean Android based IFE systems. Google hit a home run with Android (even though Oracle may take a bite out of Google for allegedly using unlicensed Java).

Walking around the annual APEX meeting last Fall in Seattle you could easily find a slew of providers using Android as the OS of choice. Frankly, it makes sense. Android is well supported, there’s a huge development community, a large app market, a built-in DRM, etc. And it’s customizable. You can skin it to your liking.

Final Thought

I’ve said this before and I still think it’s true. Hardware becomes commoditized. The experience that you create within the software will give you a competitive edge. So find a provider that will help you create a differentiated experience. But you probably already know that.

About Adam Williams

With six years of IFE experience, Adam is currently a freelance writer for several industry publications and marketing consultant for vendors. He can be found online at BrandFailure.com and @SpeakWithAdam.

, , ,