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Apple’s iPad takes flight

Date
Airlines are cottoning on the iPad as an alternative to their own in-seat systems.

Airlines are cottoning on the iPad as an alternative to their own in-seat systems.

Anybody who's set foot on a plane in the past two years would find it hard to argue against the iPad as a new wave for in-flight entertainment.

Apple's sexy touchscreen tablet is also becoming increasingly noticeable in airport lounges  and even the long lines for customs and luggage collection, especially at international airports where there's free wifi.

When you're stuck in a seat for upwards of eight hours at a time, what better bit of kit than the iPad or a similarly multi-faceted tablet? 

(After all, who wouldn't want to quickly check in at Foursquare to become Mayor of Baggage Carousel #3 at LAX?).

In time, the iPad could be second only to the Sony Walkman in its role of personalising in-flight entertainment.

After all, before the Walkman we had books and magazines. And in the post-Walkman world portable CD and MP3 players simply digitised the experience, while tray-table DVD players never reached anywhere near the penetration of their music-minded counterparts.

When you're stuck in a seat for upwards of eight hours at a time, what better bit of kit than the iPad or a similarly multi-faceted tablet?

Being able to cue up your own choice of downloaded movies and TV shows, flicking through a digital magazine or disappearing for hours into a game: those are welcome alternatives to being locked into the aircraft's own video system.

In fact, looking back across scores of flights in recent years, I can't remember the last time I watched anything on an in-seat screen.

That's not as much about the airlines' choice of content as the low-quality screens with washed-out images and woeful sound.

I download almost all my in-flight viewing onto my iPad, so when I'm not using those airborne hours to catch up on work I'm catching up on assorted TV shows.

(Actually, I can remember my last in-flight movie: it was Casino Royale, specifically the Qantas-British Airways version which edited out Richard Branson's cameo appearance and the tails of some Virgin Atlantic aircraft.)

Airlines are also cottoning on the iPad as an alternative to their own in-seat systems.

Jetstar has already replaced its clunky video players, which were as big as the Bible and almost as old, with iPads preloaded with movies, music and games.

Qantas is going a step further with a system which wirelessly beams video and music to iPads from a mini-computer located near the cockpit.

Dubbed 'Q Streaming', it's being trialled on a single Boeing 767 that's criss-crossing the country until the end of this month.

Each passenger on the plane gets an iPad to play with. The tablets are locked into a special Q Streaming app which connects to one of five wifi access points dotting the interior of the cabin.

Using this on a recent Sydney-Brisbane flight I was impressed by not only the smooth performance of video playback but the app's clean design and effortless usability.

Juggling the iPad and your in-flight meal on the tray table is a challenge, however, and even a standard paid of iPhone or iPod earbuds delivers crisper and punchier sound than the Qantas-supplied headphones.

From the middle of this month Qantas will open Q Streaming to passengers' own iPads and laptops. An app for Android tablets and smartphones is also in the works.

Q Streaming is the first system of its kind in the world, but it won't be the last: Virgin Australia will debut a similar wireless iPad solution later this year.

Singapore-based start-up Scoot will forego conventional in-seat screens entirely when it launches in June, preferring the low cost and flexibility of iPads.

Are in-seat video screens on the way out, and are tablets like the iPad a better way to fly? Or do you still pack a paperback or a magazine when you travel?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

Twitter: @AusBT

 

10 comments so far

  • "who wouldn't want to quickly check in at Foursquare to become Mayor of Baggage Carousel #3 at LAX?"

    Plenty of people, I expect. Starting with me.

    Commenter
    Dave
    Date and time
    February 07, 2012, 12:43PM
    • It's a great idea in theory but my biggest concern would be finding space on the meal tray for an iPad (or any tablet) when it's time for a meal or even a cuppa. If they can come up with seats with a built-in iPad dock up the top then that'd be brilliant.

      As for what I travel with, it's always an iPad. I try to leave my MacBook Pro at home if I can, unfortunately when I travel for more than a one-day there-and-back trip I have to take the laptop as carry-on because I can't risk it being delayed if my checked luggage goes AWOL, so having both the iPad and the MacBook Pro sort of defeats the purpose in terms of weight, bulk and having two things to unpack at each security checkpoint.

      Commenter
      Son of Ryan Bingham
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 1:07PM
      • Personally, I never use airline in-flight entertainment systems for anything in excess of flight info. I find a combination of a good book, laptop and pre-packed meal more than adequate entertainment for even the longest domestic flights - even better when combined with a window seat during take-off and landing. All this without providing a cent to the Apple app store censorship scheme. (MS are getting to the point where they're no better though with Windows 8 and Windows Phone.)

        Commenter
        Me
        Date and time
        February 07, 2012, 1:17PM
        • Yeah finally rid of the rubbish on in-flight entertainment. Won't be sad when its gone. The worst experience was doing Syd to J'Berg for 13 odd hours with the in flight system broken down. Boring.
          The A380s have a recharge port in the seat arm rests which means you can survive a long haul flight.
          As for mealtime, well an ipad should fit in the seat pocket I would imagine or else the floor under the seat in front also can hold your wares.
          I've been watching movies on the laptop for years due to the in flight system being rubbish sound and rubbish movies. But had a funny experience on a US flight. Cranked up a movie and turns out the opening scene is a fairly explicit bedroom rompy scene. So turned that one off rather quickly. But sure the person sitting next to me got a peek and was convinced I was watching some dodgy porno!

          Commenter
          awesome
          Date and time
          February 07, 2012, 2:45PM
          • I love my iPad. I have not travelled anywhere without one for the past year. But replacing the in-flight entertainment with these is the worst idea ever: I was unfortunate enough to be lumbered with one, as a substitute for inflight entertainment, on a Jetstar flight last month. As useful as the iPad is, they are also cumbersome to hold for hours and give you arm ache. The alternative is to lock yourself into your seat with the tray table open so as to carry the iPad...and then there's the issue when your food arrives on a long haul flight - where do you put it all.....grrrrrr!!!!.

            iPads are a must for travel (just not for travelling on an airline!!)

            dW

            PS - your fancy headphones won't fit into the added-on jacks on the Jetstar versions.....you're forced to use (pay) for theirs....!!

            Commenter
            dW
            Date and time
            February 07, 2012, 3:03PM
            • No, keep the screens at the back of seats. I don't want to struggle with holding a tablet for hours when I could instead be laying back in my seat on a long haul flight, possibly even napping during the boring bits, with my hands tucked warmly under a rug.

              Commenter
              SS
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              February 07, 2012, 3:28PM
              • Be nice when Qantas actually gets seat back entertainment systems in its planes...None of the 737's used on routes in and to and from Western Australia have them. Its back to the 70's with overhead screens too small to see shared between four rows of seats.

                Commenter
                Allan3692
                Date and time
                February 07, 2012, 4:14PM
                • Great idea, but only if the seat backs are equipped with a ipad mount. that way those of us that choose to bring our own entertainment can use it too and not have juggle it with food, or get sore arms. Make the mounts adjustable to allow holding of all sorts of tablets, which will also future proof it for changes in ipad design over time.

                  Commenter
                  Steve
                  Date and time
                  February 07, 2012, 4:57PM
                  • I like it, but I agree with the comments that the iPad / meal balancing act while waiting for the stewards to take away the trays is unpleasant, especially in economy.
                    If there is an adjustable seat-back mount for a slate and a charger, I think this is a winner.

                    Commenter
                    Here2go
                    Date and time
                    February 07, 2012, 5:00PM
                    • who needs to eat and watch thier ipad at the same time?

                      Commenter
                      Bluey
                      Date and time
                      February 07, 2012, 8:12PM

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