Whilst having a cup of tea with IMDC’s Robert Smith at Aircraft Interiors in Hamburg we chatted about the impending  iPad Inflight Revolution and Robert had some thoughts that we liked and asked him to share with our readers. Here is what he told IFExpress:

“On April 3, 2010 Apple released the iPad and effectively created a new type of consumer device. The touchscreen tablet sold 3 million units in its first 80 days on sale, passed 100 million units in 2012 and shipped an estimated 19.5 million devices in Q1 2013.

Apple is now not the only major company in this sector. Sales growth of Android based devices has meant that despite Apple’s growing sales figures, at the end of the first quarter 2013 Apple held 39.6 per cent of the global tablet market, down from 58.1 per cent in the same period 2012. Total tablet sales overall are up 142 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013 (All figures according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker).

Especially relevant for inflight is the growth of smaller, more portable tablet devices such as the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini which itself accounted for 63% of all iPads sold over Q1 2013. Such a significant, seemingly permanent, and highly relevant trend in consumer technology has not gone unnoticed by the inflight passenger technology sector.

Portable media players for inflight use are not a new idea, but these latest consumer tablets represent a step change in both functionality and desirability over anything that has gone before them. As a result we have had a second wave of interest in portables from airlines and a supplier response to make these devices available for passenger usage as a form of inflight entertainment.

There has been plenty of early enthusiasm from a number of airlines wanting to announce that their passengers will be offered tablet devices onboard. Early projects were subject to delays but recently there have been a number of deployments of iPads and Samsung Galaxy tablets for inflight. Is this the start of a trend for inflight which will eventually become as pervasive as it has been for consumer technology?

Answering that question requires analysis of three key areas: hardware, logistics, and content. We evaluate the issues within each area below. Importantly, the impact of each issue can vary greatly according to an airline’s individual circumstance. The result is, as for all inflight technologies, there is no single ‘best’ solution for all airlines.

Hardware Issues
Device Specifications
– It is without doubt that it is the hardware that has attracted attention to these devices. Tablets are thin, with high image quality and responsive touchscreen interfaces. There are differences in the different devices, and different generations of the same device, yet most are impressive when compared to typical alternatives for inflight. Despite continual increases in battery technology, battery life is an issue for inflight deployment in particular. Facilitating charging cycles may require for duplicate stock to be held. This issue is magnified when an aircraft is used on multiple sectors in which case airlines may have to introduce multiple hubs for device re-charging. The number and length of flight sectors may necessitate rotations of tablet stock for certain aircraft more than once per day.

Manufacturer
– Although the hardware itself has been the driver of interest in tablets, the hardware specifications of any particular tablet are far from the most important factor. A small number of products and even smaller number of suppliers make up the majority of consumer tablets. An essential point is that the size of the consumer market will make the inflight sector largely insignificant to manufacturers. As a result they have little or no motivation to cater for airline requirements and devices should be evaluated in terms of the work required to adapt them for an airline’s requirements.

Airline Supplier Support
– Airline suppliers have taken on the challenge of delivering consumer tablets to passengers. From an airline perspective, it is important to identify how a potential supplier will match an airline’s particular environment. Issues to consider include: how much capacity is there in the supplier’s deployment pipeline, ability to perform operational and software updates, content integration with or without a CSP already in place, ability to adjust the GUI to changing requirements, and flexibility in number of content updates.
– Responsiveness is crucial; the supplier must be able to support an airline in maximizing its investment within the short life of the tablet. Speed is essential when these devices are currently being updated with new hardware and software every 6-12 months.

Logistics Issues
Logistics Requirements
– IMDC advocate evaluating the total cost of ownership when evaluating any new inflight technology. An airline considering introducing tablets will almost certainly incur significant logistical costs that need to be included in the business model.
– Logistical costs will include: loading the devices onboard, distributing to passengers, reclaiming units from passengers, cleaning, maintaining, and returning units back to base for recharging the batteries and updating content.
– The impact of these logistical requirements will vary greatly according to airline circumstance but can make the largest contribution to total cost of ownership and justify special attention in the planning and evaluation process.

Costs from Increased Weight
– The weight of all required equipment should be taken into account when evaluating portables. Equipment can include the tablet and all required peripherals such as any cover that protects it, headphones, and charging leads if required. Additionally there might be storage equipment required.
– Fuel costs are not the only potential penalty from additional weight; a cargo offset cost may be relevant to an airline. If additional storage is required on the aircraft, there is likely to be existing equipment that has to be removed, which itself presumably has some value that would need to be factored in.

Limitations due to Short Flight Lengths
– Shorter flight lengths severely limits the potential value of tablets to passengers. Traditional high value movie content is naturally not possible unless the passenger has time to select and view it. There are large segments of ‘flight time’ where tablets might well not be available to passengers. Regulations will likely prevent tablets from being allowed to be switched on before take-off, then there might still be time required for distributing tablets, collecting payment, and time for passengers to choose their content for the flight.
– Delivering compelling non-movie content is certainly possible, but typically requires more frequent content loading (daily news), and/or identification and delivery of tailored content (connecting gates, destination information).

Content Issues
Content Security
– The value proposition of tablets for inflight is, as with many inflight technologies, largely based on delivering movie content to passengers. Software, DRM, and hardware configurations offered by tablet suppliers should protect from any risks of piracy and be approved by Hollywood studios. The challenge in gaining studio approval for consumer tablets inflight will depend in part on the airline supplier, and how they can work with the manufacturer of the tablet they provide.

Passenger Take-up According to Amount of Content
– If an airline is considering deploying tablets as a source of revenue then the content selection and content quantity is crucial to the business case. The total quantity of content available, particularly recent Hollywood content, will largely dictate how compelling a tablet offer is to passengers. However, each extra unit of content creates decreasing additional value to the passenger and a balance must be struck that accounts for the marginal cost of adding content.

Advertising Expectations
– Expectations of revenue from advertising should be kept realistic. There are many limitations to the potential of advertising as a source of revenue for any inflight technology. Inflight offers relatively low volumes compared to ground advertising. As a result it is necessary to place the same ads multiple times to ensure sufficient reach. Such repetition can then impact on passenger experience.
– The choice of advertisers is also limited for inflight, particularly on international sectors where global brands are most relevant. Any timing delays for inflight then limit potential advertising again, to general brand awareness campaigns rather than time sensitive promotions.
– Specifically, tablets are still a fairly new medium, and are therefore less proven and less comparable than other inflight media. The end result is that advertisers are (for now) more cautious compared to older and tested medium like inflight magazines.

Provision of Apps
– The consumer success of tablets owes a lot to the range of applications available on them. When considering inflight deployment it is likely that the tablets will not benefit from an internet connection. As a result app selection for tablets inflight is limited to apps that can operate offline. Secondly, an airline must be certain that all necessary rights for inflight deployment are obtained from app developers if they are to be made available to passengers.

The issues identified above provide somewhat of a reality check for the concept of providing consumer tablets for inflight. The extent of these challenges are not so great that they rule out such deployments as a rational choice for all airlines, nor are they so insignificant that we can declare an end to embedded IFE systems.

The significance of each issue is likely to change over time, as will consumer technology and competing inflight technologies. And, as already stated, the impact of each issue will depend heavily on an airline’s individual circumstances. As a result there is no easy answer (of course!).

Forming the right strategy for inflight product will be more likely with a clear understanding of an airline’s circumstances and ambitions, as well as an up to date and impartial understanding of both available inflight technologies, and passenger preferences and behaviors. Doing so is no easy task, but will help to maximize any investment in inflight technology.”

About the Author:

Robert Smith

IMDC is holding an inflight technologies training event for airlines and suppliers in Miami on June 5th and 6th 2013. For more information please contact robert.smith@imdc.net

IMDC assists airlines and their partners in optimizing their investment in cabin and communications technologies since 1999. IMDC’s consultants are experts in Media, Content, Technology, Connectivity and Airline Operations. The company is widely recognized as the leading organization in this sector for Market Research, Executive Training, Product Evaluation, Independent Strategy development and Project Management.

IMDC

Editor’s Note: This week’s IFEC BUZZ features a father-daughter team. Bill Kendrick is known through VT Miltope and Amanda Kendrick, who was visiting Hamburg at AIX, is a Delta cabin crew
member based in Boston… and a real IFE expert!

Next APEX TC meeting focuses on Content

In case you’ve not yet heard, next week’s APEX Technology Committee meeting is focused on Content, but there are a few IFEC Systems issues too. The agenda was being finalized as this edition was distributed, but we’ve asked two of the TC leadership team (Michael Childers and Rich Salter) to give a snapshot of what will be covered. Here’s what they provided:

As you probably know, APEX’ TC has two main meetings each year. APEX is trying to focus its May-timeframe TC meeting on Content and hold them at venues in the Hollywood area, and will focus the November-timeframe meetings on Systems topics and locate them in the Orange County/Irvine area – this way the meeting agendas will be tailored to those in the area who are most able to attend. The next TC meeting is scheduled for May 21-22 (next week) at Technicolor in Burbank, California, convenient to many content providers. The meeting info is posted on the APEX website at www.apex.aero (i.e., registration and hotel info). It’s free to APEX members and a nominal fee for non-members.

This two-day meeting will commence each day at 9:00am with a keynote address – the first day’s keynote will be presented by Technicolor and the second day’s by Panasonic. It’s a full agenda, and promises to be a lively one – key sessions include:

  • Content Security by Jim Taylor, Ultraviolet (DECE) and Petr Peterka (Verimatrix).Introduction to the formats, technologies, and usage models underlying UltraViolet™, including the UltraViolet ™ digital locker, common file format (CFF) and common encryption scheme, and how UltraViolet integrates with industry-standard DRMs and streaming technologies. Overview of how UltraViolet™ can support various IFE scenarios. Plus a sneak peek at the upcoming UltraViolet™ Common Streaming Format based on MPEG DASH. In addition, there will be a Content Security Provider’s presentation by Verimatrix on DRM. The
  • H.265 Encoding by Eric Grabb (Rovi). The new High Efficiency Video Encoding (HEVC) dubbed “H.265” as a slang reference, is emerging with the promise of delivering the same data rate and resolution as H.264 but with half the storage requirements. There are differences of opinion over matters such as the application of patent royalties and a realistic schedule for implementation. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask hard questions on the status of HEVC and when it’s coming.
  • Metadata Standardization Working Group Update by Andy Beer (IFP). Content Attribute Metadata in IFE does not currently follow any standards and is created redundantly by every CSP and even airline. Yet, there are standards elsewhere that are being used to standardize and automate metadata provisioning, including the EIDR standard that the TC has discussed before. Andy Beer discusses the issues of metadata provisioning with a number of Content Integrators and CSPs.
  • Product Obsolescence and its impact on Airlines, OEMs, IFE and; Seat Suppliers. How to jointly manage? by Jean-Michel Galmiche and Lori Salazer (Thales). IFE product obsolescence requires on-going Life Cycle management by all parties to reduce the impact. Use of commercial devices (memory, processors, OS) are constantly changing–more often than the Industry Life Cycle for aircraft, seats and even OEM catalog updates. The presenters encourage the industry to collectively work and agree on joint solutions.
  • FAA PED ARC Update. A panel of Ken Brady (Thales), Michael Childers (Lufthansa Systems), Erik Miller (American Airlines), and Rich Salter (Lumexis Corporation) will discuss the status of the FAA rulemaking committee and key issues surrounding whether or not to expand the allowance for use of PEDs inflight.
  • Content is Still King! Exploring Audio. Moderated by: Jonathan Norris – Executive Director, APEX Media Platform. Another in a series of panel discussions led by Jonathan Norris on the importance of content, this time with a focus on audio.
  • Closed Captioning by Michael Childers (Lufthansa Systems) and Jonathan Norris (APEX Media Platform) In 2006, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) announcing its intention to require closed captions on IFE video content. WAEA’s TC engaged DOT at the time and helped to convince them to defer such a requirement until the technology for implementation was more mature, citing economic hardship if airlines were required to implement captions in an MPEG-1/MPEG-2 environment. DOT agreed to defer its ruling. But six years later a new bill has been introduced in the US Senate renewing the requirement for closed captions in IFE. What is the state of the art? Is the solution found in Bitmap or Timed Text? What is being offered now? And isn’t it time for this industry to proactively offer a solution that can be deployed widely?
  • Second Screens by Michael Childers (Lufthansa Systems), Rich Salter (Lumexis Corporation), Bryan Rusenko (Technicolor), and Robert Gekchyan (Magic Ruby). What are IFE suppliers doing to introduce second screen content and integration into their embedded/seat-centric systems?
  • Modifications of the ORBIS MD10 by John Courtright (SIE). John will present the status of the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital aircraft mods. Learn exactly how this wonderful humanitarian project is coming together – and the very demanding systems integration challenge it has presented.
  • Beyond IFE & C – Designer’s View on the Cabin. Branding can affect an airline’s overall brand, image and ultimately, their bottom line. Learn some valuable lessons from the aviation industry as well as others.
  • Social Media – The 5 W’s will be moderated by: Mary Kirby (APEX Media Platform) with panelists: Ben Fuller (digEcor), Morgan Johnston (jetBlue), Steve Nolan (Gogo), Richard Nordstrom (OnAir), Melissa Pauléat (DTI Software) and Panasonic Avionics Corporation. A session featuring members who are active on Twitter and other social media outlets. Members will discuss their reasons for jumping into the fray, the lessons learned (what works, what doesn’t and why), and what they hope to accomplish going forward.

Note: Technicolor’s theatre is ideal for screening movie trailers, and they will be screened before break-times throughout the meeting. A big Thank You goes out to Technicolor for hosting this TC meeting. On the evening of May 21, a Networking Reception will be held at Technicolor with light appetizers and drinks being served. Thank you to Panasonic Avionics Corporation for sponsoring the networking reception. Finally, at the conclusion of the meeting on May 22, there will be a drawing for Door Prizes contributed by APEX members – you must be present to win, so plan to stick around for this one!

IMDC Does Management Training

The IMDC Management Training Course 2013 will be held on the 5th & 6th June – at the Sole On The Ocean Hotel, Miami. There will be an evening welcome reception on Tuesday 4th before 2 full days training, with an evening networking event held on the 5th. This established course has educated over 150 executives in the inflight entertainment sector for over ten years and is equally popular with delegates from airlines and their partners. The course serves as an excellent introduction to inflight technologies and also as an update to the latest developments in this fast changing industry. Over the 2 days IMDC will provide multiple presenters who can speak with experience on the diverse subject range of inflight technologies and passenger experience. The sessions are interactive and participation serves to enhance the learning experience for all attendees. Subjects to be covered will include: recent trends in IFE systems and infrastructure, Wireless IFE systems, and Passenger Connectivity. In particular we will look closely at: Latest generation IFE hardware, Passenger Connectivity now and in the future, Wireless IFE to passenger devices, Revenue Potential of Inflight media. Check it out HERE.

Lastly, we know it is early but Aircraft Interiors Americas  sent a reminder of their 2013 meeting October, 1 – 3, Seattle, Washington. Show up, visit the Pike Street Market and buy a salmon!

Hong Kong | December 11, 2012– IMDC, the IFE industry’s leading independent consulting services provider, has held the first ever training course on wireless technologies. Organized in Hong Kong, the event specifically targeted Asian airlines and aimed to provide relevant and detailed information to those currently considering wireless solutions.

Sponsored by IFP, The Passenger Experience Provider™, and IFE solutions expert DTI Solutions, the two-day workshop attracted over 20 delegates from 9 airlines across Asia.

Training Course topics included understanding wireless connectivity trends and exploring the opportunities and challenges of implementing wireless solutions on both narrow and wide-body aircraft.

If you would like to take part in a future wireless training course or if you would like to find out more about wireless solutions, please contact: robert.smith@imdc.net

Washington, DC, 20th January– IMDC, a leading aviation consultancy released its first comprehensive report addressing airline operational communications. The report, entitled “The Perfect Storm,” is the culmination of five months of extensive research and analysis and provides airlines and aviation companies with a complete summary of connectivity options available for aircraft. Additionally, the report documents new connectivity systems being released by Airbus and Boeing.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for IMDC to continue our traditional role in supporting airline strategy and planning,” said Walé Adepoju, CEO of IMDC. “We see aircraft connectivity as a pivotal component in the future of airline operations. As such, we will be supporting a large quantity of research activities in this area over the coming years,” continued Adepoju. IMDC has been helping airlines develop technology strategies for operations and The Perfect Storm is revolutionary in providing a single source of information on all aircraft communication options. The report includes case studies featuring unique applications utilized by Ryanair, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic and others.

The information within the report is key for airlines taking delivery of new aircraft or searching for opportunities to leverage connectivity for their operations. Andrew Kemmetmueller, Managing Consultant for IMDC’s Operations and Connectivity practice, has based the report on a noticeable gap in independent market information for airlines. “Options to connect the aircraft to ground systems have more than doubled in the last seven years,” said Kemmetmueller. “With the speed of development, it is difficult for some companies to research options on their own.”

The report has been requested by over 85 airlines, and has the support of industry partners Airbus, ARINC, Boeing, Panasonic, and Teledyne. A summary from the report will be presented at various industry workshops during the next few months. The main objective of the report is to facilitate discussion among a wider base of industry participants. “Within IMDC we have put in place the resources to support the greater need for cooperation and more transparent information among the various stakeholders,” said Adepoju.

“At IMDC, we can see the perfect storm starting to develop,” concluded Kemmetmueller. “The potent mix of
increased demand, number of available options, and limited internal airline resources has the potential to create havoc in the industry for years to come. However, by understanding what is available and intelligently exploiting the technology, airlines can reduce costs and improve operations considerably.”