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iPad mania!

Published on  18 June by Jim Peters , Chief Technology Officer, SITA
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On 3 April, Apple firmly planted the iPad as the Next Big Thing. 300,000 were sold on the first day alone, 500,000 in the first week. Within 5 days, 3.5 million iPad apps and 600,000 iBooks were downloaded. In less than 2 months, 2 million iPads have been sold in the U.S. alone. International sales just started on 28 May, so those numbers will surely skyrocket. Developers have created 5,000 new apps to take advantage of the iPad's Multi-Touch interface, large screen and high-quality graphics. This is in addition to the 200,000 apps already available, almost all of which work on the iPad.

But has this Next Big Thing affected air travel and the ATI? And, more importantly, what will its impact be in the future?

JetStar, the low-cost subsidiary of Qantas, has partnered with Bluebox Avionics to begin renting iPads to passengers in-flight for $Aus 10 ($US 8.50, EUR 7.00). Passengers can watch movies, TV programs and music videos, play games, read iBooks, and listen to music - all through the bluebox Ai, the industry's first iPad in-flight entertainment device.

JetStar is surely just the first of many who will jump on the iPad bandwagon. Several low-cost carriers - easyJet, JinAir (S. Korea), 1time (S. Africa), Volaris (Mexico), just to name a few - already rent out iPods to passengers onboard to improve the travel experience.

And while JetStar does not offer in-flight Wi-Fi, the bluebox Ai is fully Web-enabled, a feature many carriers, and their passengers, will find enticing.

The iPad won't be utilized just for in-flight entertainment (IFE). SITA Lab implemented a project with Malaysia Airlines earlier this year, resulting in flymas.mobi - a mobile site that allows passengers to book flights, check in, check flight status, view itineraries and contacts, even trace their luggage - all from their mobile devices. Flymas.mobi's layout, design and apps are perfectly suited for the iPad.

So, clearly, in the short-term, many carriers - particularly low-cost carriers - will continue to exploit the cost-cutting measures the iPad and its technology enable, such as:

  • Replacing costly IFE infrastructure with individual devices, available at a cost, per flight
  • Pushing offline content, such as magazines and safety instructions, to mobile devices - saving on printing and related costs
  • Offering digital duty-free catalogues, allowing passengers to purchase directly on the device
  • Providing premium services, such as new-release movies and Internet access, at an increased price
  • Arming ground employees with devices to expedite turnaround
  • Arming pilots and flight crews with iPads as Electronic Flight Bags

And long-term? How will iPad mania affect air travel?

Will the iPad be a flash-in-the-pan that will fade with time or the beginning of a fundamental shift in the kind of devices we carry around? Is it a 3rd device (iPad, laptop, phone) or does it replace the laptop? Please comment below with your own thoughts.

I believe the trend is a significant one, based on the "tipping point" of a number of underlying technologies, including new, low power processors, extended-use batteries, and high-density screens, that result in a compelling new kind of end-user experience. With two teenage boys at home and a web-savvy wife, the most asked question I have since bringing one of these homes is, "Has anyone seen my iPad?"

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