This Hot Topic is all about Smartphones and the eventual complete immersion in, and interface with, the commercial airliner. We recently wrote a story about one IFE vendor (Thompson Aerospace) who has developed a Google-like Pay-Per-Click solution and that got us wondering about the future interactions between passengers and the plane’s wireless and/or wired systems. When we queried a number of IFExpress readers about this impending pax/plane interface we got a lot more data than we expected. For one thing, emerging technologies and industries will surely come to play in the interface revolution. And yes, we did say revolution. For example, there is no reason why the airlines won’t expect in the future to allow you to “turn on” all seat wireless connectivity and/or screened interface with a credit card, password, or whatever. In other words, ancillary revenue and real or perceived valued improvement. As people move away from credit cards into mobile wallet technology, expect the revenue hunters to zero in on your flight. For the seatback crowd, the credit card seems to be the de rigueur way to take money out of your pocket. There is a better way.

The Smartphone has a few more tricks: Carrier Billing, Card Readers, Apps, and Near Field Communication. While these are mostly self explanatory, we contacted Geoff Underwood regarding NFC, arguably our industry leader in that subject and got this response: ” As with most things, you will see adoption of mobile wallet technology and applications onboard as a follow on to when the technology gets adopted on the ground. What’s holding it back on the ground is the usual in-fighting between the various providers who still can’t agree on a standard. It’s getting there, and once they are all in agreement, then it will explode, but it needs a universal standard. It is a great opportunity for the IFE industry to actually get ahead of the game for once.”

Geoff went on, “Historically, we react to changes and trends in the consumer world, but this means we are always running behind, trying to play catch up. Because of our industry’s long development and certification lead times that inevitably means that airlines and their passengers get the technology too late. Over three years ago, IFPL saw the emergence of mobile payment technology and we decided to invest in its development and promotion. We have been encouraging the IFE majors to adopt the technology now – before their customers are even aware that its out there – so that when the industry wakes up to the great opportunities that this technology can offer, the IFE systems will be ready to go.”

Finally he noted: “When people get to understand mobile payments, they will understand how easy it is to pay for things (albeit small value items), and before long they won’t even think about it. When airlines realise how easy it is for their passengers to pay for small value items, such as sodas, sandwiches, movies etc., then they will be beating a path to the IFE suppliers to have the mobile payment capability on their aircraft.” We know IFPL has also been working on the UK branded “Chip and Pin” technology and the forthcoming IFE trade shows will most certainly be a showcase for these types of technologies.”

No doubt the field of Smartphone/Seatback future interactions will be involved in the trade for a viewing connection. If airlines can charge for a stowed bag can ALL IFE be far behind? The problem (and solution) is that the technologies are just arriving. We like to point out Mark Thompson’s (Thompson Aerospace) QR code use and how his system is taking Pay-Per-Click data collection to a new level. While many Smartphone users are just spooling up their Smartphone QR capability, he has implemented a data takeaway solution using them. And while we are on the subject of Future Interactions that might be revenue generators, here is a short list we have assembled: Payment (including passwords and coupon codes, i.e. loyalty deals), Pay for Play, Pay Per Click, Data Takeaway/Download, Entertainment Control, Crew/Pax inform, Wi-Fi Connectivity (Messaging, Surfing, etc.). All mentioned can, and will probably, be involved with some future form of payment, loyalty or data gathering efforts.

There will be a new world of IFEC when aircraft technology catches up with Smartphones, tablets and novices yet to be designed. No doubt the recent relationship between Boeing and Samsung will test and explore everything from crew device interfaces to better pax/airplane connection. The message here is think outside the box… no, make that think outside the plane!