For a few years, people have predicted the demise of traditional inflight entertainment (IFE) systems as wifi became more widely available on airplanes. But instead of seeing it disappear, we’re seeing IFE manufacturers work on bringing all the technologies together so travelers can get a rock star experience. (Not that kind of rock star experience — no cocaine.) We’re just now starting to see some very cool “second screen” technologies that should actually be flying within a year.
If you haven’t heard the term “second screen,” you will. It’s, um, having two screens at once (pretty complex stuff, I know). A simple way to think about it is when you’re sitting on your couch at home. You might be watching something on the big screen on the wall while you’re typing away on your laptop, tablet, or phone. They could be unrelated tasks, or the screens could be connected, talking about the program, reviewing stats, seeing extra related content, etc.
In the airline world, the first screen is a lot smaller. We’re talking about the little screen in the seatback in front you, though those screens get bigger and bigger all the time. The second screen would be the device you bring onboard the airplane. And a couple of manufacturers are coming up with ways to get them to work together.
Lumexis Second Screen
Lumexis doesn’t have any IFE systems on US carriers, but it does have installs on flydubai, Transaero, and more are coming. To be clear, I don’t believe the second screen piece is live with any airline yet, but it could be. It’s pretty simple. You walk on the airplane, connect your device to the onboard network (internet access not required), and then your device will interact with the airplane. You can use it as your remote control for your screen in the seat. You can view the moving map, watch trailers, order food and drink from the galley, etc.
This would allow you to interact with the TV more like you would at home. And with Lumexis, this isn’t even an app. Just open your browser and you’ll be able to use it.
Others are taking this one step further and actually opening it up to let others figure out the best way to have these work together.
Panasonic is one of the behemoths of the IFE world, and you’ve undoubtedly used a Panasonic system on many flights. Panasonic has moved toward an Android operating system for its IFE (like others), and because of that, it makes it a lot easier to open up for outside development.
Panasonic went and created an SDK that would allow developers to create applications that would interface with the IFE system on an airplane. Now this isn’t going to end up being an open market like you see on your phone, because there are many more issues when it comes to airplanes. But this means that any airline customer could create or outsource any number of apps. Heck, if an airline wanted to, it could have a competition to see who could create the best option to go on the airplane.
Now this all sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky (IFE providers have been talking about this for years). But I perked up quickly when Panasonic mentioned that there are a couple airlines actively working on this now and it could be on an airplane by next summer. Now it’s getting interesting.
Panasonic showed me an example of what could be created. This one is for everyone’s favorite airline, PanaAir (never had a delayed flight, I hear). This obviously won’t be on an airplane but it’s a good simple demo that showcases how it could work. The idea here is to integrate the onboard functionality into an airline’s app. So let’s say you already have United’s app on your phone or tablet. (And no, United isn’t the airline actively working on this, but I had to pick someone for the example and they have a great app.)
United could add functionality to the app that would let you browse the entertainment options from the ground. You could watch trailers and prepare for your flight by creating a queue.
When you get on the airplane, the app already knows your seat assignment so it could have it so that your screen is ready to welcome you when you get to your seat. You can play the queue that you created on the ground. You can also do all the things discussed in the Lumexis system if you wanted. It’s really up to the developer’s imagination (and the airline’s approval).
I liked the example they gave showing the route of flight at the top of the device. You could even set up notifications for when you hit a certain destination or when you’re a certain amount of time out from landing. In this case, the possibilities are really endless because the developer community would be able to come up with some killer stuff.
Like I said earlier, I know this sounds like it’s just a dream since it’s not flying today. But if it really is something that we’ll see by this time next year, then it’s worth talking about.