One of the hottest world-wide electronics products ever – 2 million sold to date – was seen everywhere at AIX Expo 2010… what is it? The iPad of course, and we dug a little deeper for a bit more ‘real data’ on the device.

Apple’s iPad is an enormously successful consumer device. And when it was suggested publicly that it might be used as an IFE platform, the consumer electronics press and the geek-gadget-blogs waxed orgasmic over the notion of the iPad as IFE. In Hamburg, two different Personal Media Players (PMP) suppliers “offered” the iPad for IFE, while one made reference to the iPad coming out on an airline in July, as if it were the iPad supplier. That particular supplier said that its methodology for content loading was approved for Early Window content. But here’s what they didn’t say that airlines should know:

First, we have it on good authority that the airline in question obtained the iPad directly from Apple–not through the PMP supplier. The airline then went to a Content Service Provider (CSP) to find someone to repurpose the iPad for IFE, and the CSP contracted the PMP supplier to do so. Got it? It is a safe bet that Apple is not cooperating nor supporting the repurposing effort in any way. Neither do either of the two PMP suppliers have any kind of relationship or distribution rights with Apple nor to the iPad.

As for the claim by the PMP supplier that its methodology for securing Early Window content is approved, the facts are that they are referring to the methodology as it was applied to other PMPs. We were told that this service provider has apparently informed the studios of its intention to use the same methodology to load content to the iPad. But other PMP suppliers and content management experts tell IFExpress that just because the methodology works on other PMPs, there is no assurance that it will work on Apple’s less-than-open platform that uses the iTunes content delivery path for content loading and is resistant (read: not enough money here) to any kind of encryption/DRM that is not Apple’s. And Apple isn’t about to share their’s with IFE suppliers. Therefore, the “approved methodology” is about as good as a “pre-approved mortgage loan”–until it’s actually applied to a specific house at a specific price under specific circumstances, pre-approval means very little.

In addition, as much as we might like the iPad for personal use, its form factor is far from ideal for the IFE environment. When an airline opts for a COTS device like the Lefeel PMPs offered by digEcor or the ARCHOS devices offered by IMS, they are getting devices that have been repurposed for IFE under cooperative distribution agreements between the manufacturer and the IFE distributor than involve cooperation, collaboration, and–if necessary–reengineering to ensure that the PMPs are truly usable in IFE. Apple and the folks who now “offer” the iPad in IFE have no such relationships–they or the airline buys the consumer-level iPads and, at arm’s length and without benefit of manufacturer collaboration, are left to deal with IFE repurposing in software. And, we really don’t want the get into DO-160 for any imbedded concepts! The reality…you will see a lot of iPad’s on aircraft in the future, however, they will probably be brought on by passengers.

Lastly, Adam Williams, digEcor sent us this note: “We have administered a survey to a random group of passengers and compiled the results. The topics covered in the survey include trends in IFE, content, and ancillary revenue. I wrote a post this week discussing some of the key findings and am offering the full report free to anyone that would like to download it.”

Here are the results.