We probably should have titled this piece, “What connected passenger experience do travelers want” but we will let the folks at AirCloud tell you in a minute. Without a doubt, as the world of technology changes, grows and accelerates, airline passengers will eventually reap the benefit of advances in hardware, connectivity, software, applications and content. So will the airlines. The iPad® and other smart devices comes to mind instantly when we contemplate the words ‘mobile’ and ‘IFE’ together, but these words mean so much more. For airlines it means less costly IFE systems, weight and fuel savings along with new product lines to monetize. For hardware manufactures it means less static systems and more dynamic hardware deployments. For software, app and content providers it means flexibility and development of more useful consumer applications. All these features make for a better IFE experience for travelers from all walks of life using their own devices, instead (or in conjunction with) airline-supplied devices. Enter AirCloud™, the team whose mobile background aims to make your in-flight mobile/hand-held device usage an experience that virtually replicates one on the ground, who has a focus on airline monetization of that experience, and a plan that updates in-flight content automatically from the “cloud”… AirCloud™ that is!

IFExpress met up with the energetic team in their Northwest offices in Bellevue, WA. We sought to clear up a few ‘clouds’ and cornered AirCloud’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brad David; CEO, Gary Schmidt; and Sr. Operations Manager, Jeremy Rankin (L-R: pictured above). We asked them about the crossover between ground-based and airborne mobile device connectivity:

GARY: “The key to delivering goods and services via digital media has always boiled down to bandwidth. Since the advent of the Internet the question has been how much throughput can you fit in the pipe? After all, the key to good decision making is data. Wi-Fi has certainly helped the acceleration of mobile technology flourishing throughout the world supplementing wireless operator pipes and allowing for meaningful consumer experiences. On the ground or in the air, meaningful customer experience is certainly helped by greater bandwidth, but it is also driven by the content and doing this is exactly what our company has been all about for the last eight years in the mobile space. We aim to do the same thing in the air! While we are a start-up in the eyes of the IFE world AirCloud is a company with a stellar reputation in the mobile content space having worked with every tier-one wireless operator in North America, not to mention hundreds of content companies. Approaching the world of IFE from a mobile content standpoint is what we do at AirCloud™.”

AirCloud’s first planned encounter with inflight connectivity is with business jets. We asked Gary about this project:

GARY: “I cannot tell you much at this point, but we will be working with a tier one business jet IFE provider, which is an ideal platform for demonstrating our ability to talk to virtually all types of carry-on mobile devices. As we understand it, this is prime stepping-stone to move in to the commercial air carrier space. To support this effort we can call on the 80+ content relationships we made while working in the mobile space – that translates to well over 300,000 content pieces and hundreds of household name brands.”

IFExpress went on to ask if the limitations of inflight connectivity (bandwidth/air-to-ground pipe) would force a change on their ground-based model?

BRAD: “Wireless operators and other third party destination sites like Apple’s App Store and Google’s Marketplace sell millions of pieces of content and applications each month. Others like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora use the subscription model to broker content to the masses. From a terrestrial standpoint Internet streaming of content is the new norm as opposed to downloading huge files that eat up bandwidth and valuable consumer time. In the air it is a much different story however as bandwidth is extremely limited and a terrestrial Internet streaming model for airline passengers is simply not viable today. Currently a limited offering of pre-loaded content is uploaded to the existing static IFE system or to the individual tablets or players. This limits the content selection for passengers using these systems. It also makes monetizing of other goods and services like duty free shopping and advertising revenues difficult to deploy and track.”

“It is essential to use Internet bandwidth while on airplanes wisely and to dissect the different types of information being passed through the pipe in real-time. Real-time e-mail, social networking, ad serving, reservations, transactions, and live web searching are the key applications that need to utilize the internet bandwidth coming and going from an airplane, not media content. Media files should be stored locally along with other third party services like shopping malls, destination guides and footage, and other relevant services containing large files.”

“This is where the ‘cloud’ comes in, and that brings us to the introduction of the AirCloud Entertainment™ service, which we will be deploying in the private jet space later in the year. AirCloud is a server-based Wi-Fi connected service that is easily accessed from consumers on any mobile device or PC they bring on board. Smartphones, tablets and PC’s simply connect to the AirCloud Network via the Wi-Fi system running on the plane and download the myAirCloud™ Application (available for any tablet or smartphone in the marketplace regardless of make, manufacturer or screen size) or simply enable the web portal. A myriad of complementary movies, music, games, apps and other services are instantly available.”

We wanted more so we asked Brad how passengers would access and utilize myAirCloud™.

BRAD: “The passenger has the opportunity to sign up for the myAirCloud™ service onboard and open up a world of premium content and services unprecedented in inflight before. Our movie selection will have thousands of movies to choose from. We will cover classics to DVD release movies, keeping pace with what consumers expect at home from their cable providers like Comcast or Cox. We serve thousands of songs, magazines, children’s, books, games and applications. Our stand-alone platform does not require Internet connectivity in order to bring a rich and meaningful experience to each passenger although integration with aircraft ISP’s is very simple and will further expand the overall IFE experience if the GA operator/airline so chooses. It is important to note that virtually all passengers’ devices require a different driver to present the information correctly and proportionally on each individual screen. It is this expertise that we also bring to the table along with our proprietary app carousel technology that makes it easier for the user to navigate through the portal.”

We understand that AirCloud’s technology allows ground-based control of the content offering by individual operators. We asked Brad for a bit more information on this subject.

BRAD: “The two key components of this answer are: 1) The ground-based AirCloud™ server, which hosts a voluminous amount of content via our robust content management system (CMS) known as AirCloud CONTROL™. 2) The Internet, which connects to each aircraft (network). The concept is ground-based control of the portion of the myAirCloud™ server that is accessible via the Internet to change/update as required by authorized personnel. The service offering is then presented to the aircraft (via the Internet) and it is the optimization of what is sent to the aircraft that makes the AirCloud™ a smart server. Let me be clear – we are talking software here, and smart software at that! AirCloud™ is not a hardware manufacturer, but our goal is to team with hardware manufacturers, and content providers as well… even airlines. Another message here is that AirCloud™ is platform agnostic! I cannot say much about this as it is a very proprietary tool; however, later this year we will have much more to say about AirCloud™ and we would be happy to discuss it further with interested parties.”

“To give you a better perspective of the market, one in five mobile users worldwide has a smart device and that number increases daily. In the US there are 92M Smartphones in use and tablets account for over 11% of the global pc market. It’s a natural evolution of IFE that airlines would deploy AirCloud-like services and simply let passengers bring their preferred equipment on-board. Airlines and content owners will share in the revenue model as a new ecosystem is developed around many services not just tablet/device rentals with a very small selection of content.“

Please check out the AirCloud service by e-mailing service@getaircloud.com or brad@getaircloud.com.