Unless you have been living under a rock the last couple months, we note (like every news source in existence) that the FAA and FCC are about to review the FAR’s and airline mindset for the use of Personal Electric Devices, beginning with a request for comments this past August. From the FAA documentation: “Current FAA regulations generally prohibit the use of all PEDs during flight, with the exception of portable voice recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers, and electric shavers.” Remembering that the FAA left the final call for usage up to the airlines: “These regulations also provide an exception for any other PED that the aircraft operator has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication systems on the aircraft. To better effectuate the safety purposes of these regulations, this notice requests comments about key areas of policy and guidance that are used by aircraft operators when making these determinations.”(FAA to Rexamine PEDS onboard)

We sought to get a little smarter and contacted John Courtright, SIE Program & Marketing honcho to brush-up our understanding about the process. Interested about the impact of Smartphones & Wi-Fi everywhere, we were curious about where cabin connectivity is heading. John has participated in aligned committees and told IFExpress, “Ultimately, there will be no technology constraints to making the aircraft cabin an airborne wireless marketplace,” which is most probably insider-speak for “don’t worry, be happy” about your next flight. John went on, “The FAA is doing a very good job investigating the issues related to passenger devices and avionics susceptibility and, I believe, will come to a balanced policy, through the TPED Rule Making Committee, which ensures flight safety and promotes the wireless connectivity business that will undoubtedly grow exponentially.”

We should also note that John worked closer to this subject a few years back in a certification related work experience and we remembered a factual presentation he gave at a conference on the subject of PED Regulatory Considerations wherein he delineated some of the studied and reported sources of PED interference that are partly at the heart of the matter. While it was a few years back, it gave a good picture of some of the EMI/RFI issues. It is worth a read (presentation).

In November, the FAA set up an ARC (Aviation Rulemaking Committee) to, in part, address the 850 comments they received on the subject. At the APEX TC last month, the subject was covered by the man on the spot, Tim Shaver, FAA Avionics Branch Manager in an excellent presentation on the subject. Note that the FAA’s goal is to understand “the challenges facing safely expanding the use of PED’s” and “provide clear, actionable recommendations to effect necessary changes”. That pretty much says it all and we probably won’t see the results till late next year.

We should note that last week the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski issued a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acting chairman Michael Huerta calling on the FAA to “enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices” during flights. With the FCC onboard, it looks like the remaining issues like electrical interference, passenger attention, and a host of others lie in the airlines and FAA hands.

Lastly, we had to provide a link to one of the current wail and moan stories from a techno-intelligencia news publication about the deplorable connectivity conditions onboard US airlines today, but the best part are the letters to the editor. Don’t miss the discourse.

“Is that a connected device in your pocket, or…”

Welcome to the special commentary edition of SymontySEZ, “SymontyCES.”

In a far away time (last Sunday) in a mystical dessert city (Las Vegas) did the kings of consumer technology (aside from Apple) gather to decide your technical future.

This year was once again like all others CES conferences of modern times (since the almost demise of the show in 1998) in it’s ability to predict what gets us excited but by no means what we will purchase.

In the 1990’s I attended COMDEX and over a period of a few years the death spiral of technospeak-based design, combined with the “normal” user profile of the modern com-puter consumer, forced the world’s largest gathering of geeks into history. Not that CES is not relevant nor important to the techno-trends of the consumer, it is. However, CES is a noisy place where specifics should be glossed over to find the “trend” and this year’s trends were connected and portable.

Why IFE should care about CES.
So why is CES important to the commercial aviation universe? The show is important as consumer trends will dictate the expectations of the passenger, and overwhelmingly this year was “everything is connected, and portable”. Increasingly over the last 20 years we have seen a geometric increase in the proliferation of personal electronic devices on board, and supporting those has been the Holy Grail for some time.

Take 51 tablets and call me in the morning.
There were no big surprises: buckets of Androids (including the first 3.0 device), thin tablets (no not ones to help you loose weight), coffee making cell phones, and the con-spicuous absence of last years big hit (3D TV). If you are after a hardware round up of the best shown this year, I suggest gizmodo, Engadget or PCMAG had good coverage.
Interestingly, all the personal devices, tablets and cell phones focus’ overlapped with the most important IFE related features.
1) Long battery life
2) HD video playback
3) Internet Connectivity
4) Games
The prime example was this year’s best in show winner, the Motorola XOOM. Eight (8) hour battery life, 720p/1080p playback, Wi-Fi and 4G, Android 3.0 Google App store.

3D TV, so last year.
Yes, unlike last year’s TV focused CES, the old guard seems to be fading fast. Adding Facebook to a TV is as much news as offering rotary phones in red, and in the ever en-croaching connected universe. Therefore, a TV becomes a peripheral of my personal “carry anywhere” connected device, eroding TV to just a monitor. On a 3D side note: Thales has been showing some very interesting “glasses-less” 3D displays on their stands at WAEA for several years now… the demand for this will be determined by the outcome of the present 3D enthusiasm.

Personal Device comes of age… again?
So down to the core, the take away for me was this CES seems to be the tipping point in a sea of change in consumer’s expectations, coupled with fast, small, powerful long lasting devices, displaying open standards. The connected universe and the end of the TV experience feels like we have reached that magic meeting of tech and humanity, “life on demand, anywhere, in the palm of my hand”. The challenge will be to understand and manage the growing passenger’s life on demand expectations in the new world, where only the laws of physics stand in our way.

Personal devices inflight, is IFE compatible?
Seeing that this year is the ‘cup overflow-eth’, for me anyway, I want to quickly re-examine a philosophy that will, I think, map the future of IFE. Content is king, and the king has common, simple, standardized needs. It neither Android, Apple iOS , Windows, or even OS nor hardware related. It is the standard by which they all connect and the formats used to show us the world. IFE is compatible with the new personal devices if it offers it’s wares via these standards, and focuses on the parts of their offering that are unique, such as certification, servers, content management, connectivity and air-craft/airline operational integration. In other words, they have to play well together on the same level playing field.

On a related side note: CES, Apple and IFE’s focus.
Since Apple does not exhibit any show, aside from their own expos, their absence from CES is not note worthy. However, Apple’s amazing success in consumer electronics, culminating in the fastest selling consumer electronics device of all time (iPad), creates an undercurrent of competition within the industry on consumer electronics devices. Possibly, all competing devices at CES were technically stronger than Apple’s, however, Apple’s strength is not in specifications, but rather, in implementation, and this is where the IFE industry could learn a lot from Cupertino. In the Apple universe you take leading edge tech (not cutting), implement it in a user-focused way, and then wrap it in the warm and fuzzy. This is the same universe that IFE needs to lives in (technology cycles are too slow to be cutting edge) while if it is to succeed, the user experience needs to be focused on supplying a perfect service inside in a limited set of expectations.