The Next Thing in Inflight Entertainment? The Second Screen

Inflight Entertainment

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 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 API

Panasonic API

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.

Entertainment Queue Panasonic

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.

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23 comments on “The Next Thing in Inflight Entertainment? The Second Screen

  1. The question is, will they sync up with content providers? My biggest beef with IFE is that I don’t want to repay for something I already “get” offline, namely streaming services or movies that I cannot download or keep later on. It is often why I simply buy movies ahead of time and watch them on the flight. Now if you could give me access to Google Play onboard, that’d be great. The way I see it by hooking up with content providers on the ground, airlines and IFE providers can ignore having to think about content and distribution etc etc. and just get a slice of the pie.

    1. This’d be cool. I could see one of the online video providers really pushing this to differentiate themselves. The technology would be tricky though. There isn’t generally enough bandwidth for streaming content, so the content would have to be pushed to the airplane while its on the ground.

      I’m sure the plane could carry some “universal favorites” that you didn’t have to place in your queue before you got on the plane, but expecting everything on Netflix to be available on a plane isn’t going to happen for the foreseeable future, just as a datapoint, Netflix places their Open Connect systems within ISPs to handle a significant, but the complete amount of Netflix streams to the ISP’s customers. That box is 100 pounds, which I’d guess is more of a non-starter for an airplane.

  2. Like people here always say, just load something on your own device and bring it with you if that’s what you want to do.

    These seat mounted devices don’t have to be something the Jetsons or Mister Spock would be using. For me the airlines should spend their time and money improving their operations and training their people so the basic flying product actually works. Once they make that perfect (never going to happen) then provide the Mister Spock entertainment system.

  3. It sounds like the IFE guys are trying to think of stuff to remain relevant. Not sure if any of this is stuff that really would appeal to me. TV and movie options are enought to keep me pleny happy. Lyncing the IFE to my phone, who cares?

    All that said, I am one of those that likes the PTV’s and prefer it over bringing my own device. I don’t have “entertainment” on work equipment and often don’t have advance notice of pending travel, nor would want to bring another tablet/laptop. That makes me all for anything to improve the IFE experience and discount the naysayers that think an iPad is “just as good.”

  4. This article gave a good summary of what IFE vendors are offering. My concern lies in the fact that encryption technology is not strong for cellphones and other portables. There is the potential for hackers to break into individual devices with malware. There must be a powerful reason employers insist on not using their devices in networks not approved by IT departments.

    1. Encryption isn’t really the concern here, its more your portable having a proper firewall. AFAIK with the exception of Windows Mobile all the phones out there are based on *nix’s which have a pretty good security record. People connect their cellphones and portables to public networks all the time. (think Starbucks, the library, etc.)

      Also from my experience AT&T’s Wifi does some tricky things to prevent your computer from being able to directly communicate with any other computer on the same network. I’ven’t dug into it to figure out how, but I’m pretty sure they’re doing something. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wifi providers are doing the same thing.

  5. I would prefer more leg room to anything on the screen. This extra stuff is peripheral to the problem of having someone’s seatback in my lap so I can’t use my iPad or lay out my reading material. Do flyers need constant visual stimulation? Just raise the window blinds during the crumby movies and look at the Rockies or the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, 14 trans-Pacific hours can be a bit boring. You really can’t see the sharks at 30,000 feet.

    1. Yes, more legroom and wider seats, Rich. I am sick and tired of having to pay $2K plus for a cross-country first class round-trip ticket just so I sort of fit in the seat. If I have to fly last minute the price can be much more than $2K!

      Maybe (OK, definitely) we need to re-institute the pre-1978 regulations on the airlines so airlines can make money again and actually produce a decent product. The airline industry is one industry that needs to eliminate competition, each route can have one company flying it and pricing be regulated by the FAA so that the airlines can actually be profitable without taking advantage of the necessary monopoly that would be created. Of course the actual product would be regulated as well from the wi-fi specs onboard to the width of the seats to the legroom in front of them. IMO flying was much more comfortable in 1975!

      1. Evidence suggests that mega mergers might do this without the government having to get involved. Delta+Northwest has created a Delta with enough mass to actually be able to run a profitable operation and allow them to invest in the product and improve the customer experience.

        I say “might” because while its working for Delta, United has stumbled so badly on the operational side that that haven’t been able to improve the customer experience much.

        American is of course an unknown at this point, but Parker and his team have acknowledged that they know AA+US will result in a different kind of airline than they’ve had with US (a network that can’t produce as much revenue, thus the need to keep a tight rein on costs across the operation), so there’s hope that the new American will have more leeway to make enhancements to the passenger experience than US Airways has done on their own.

      2. The product was also more expensive. A first class ticket on Pan Am in the day would blow the water out of the prices people pay for lay flat seating now. People always claim they want better seats, more conveience, but if you want that there is an alternative; fractional jet or jet card programs. People who have the money to drop on ridiculous Emirates suites in the Middle East or in SE Asia simply fly private here in the states. There’s no upper class desire for better seats in America, because if you’re going to drop 10K on a seat, wouldn’t you just hire a private plane?

  6. I would like to see it taken a step further – make the in-seat screen a true “dual screen” for those of us that have to work on board. At my old job, our laptops were configured to run on up to three screens at once, mainly to facilitate working off of multiple files at once (i.e. have the work product open on one screen and the source document open on another, so you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between the two). What I had in mind was a USB connector that allows your laptop to also project on the IFE screen. That would have some real utility for business travelers that really need to get stuff done in the air, especially on longer flights.

    1. That’d be sweet, although I’d suspect from an implementation perspective it’d be a program you’d have to drop on your laptop to then share the screen with the airplane screen. Having all those USB ports would be a nightmare I’d think, and AFAIK most computers don’t support sending video over USB, so a program on the laptop would be necessary anyway. The native video connections for laptops are so varied and change far too fast to be built into an airplane IFE. (e.g. Every 3-5 years there is a new video port technology to support and that’s moving at light speed for IFEs.)

      1. I think it would be safe if the video port was a standard VGA connector. That’s the baseline standard, pretty much every other video system seen on laptops has adaptors to connect to VGA. I’d bet that many business travelers already travel with them, since that’s the most likely connector they’ll have to a projector if they’re doing a presentation.

        1. Well having all the VGA ports is as bad as having all the USB ports. Its simply more ports to break, and eventually VGA will be dead, its dying slowly but surely. The other strike against VGA is the cables aren’t as flexible as other cables because each element has to be shielded against other elements to prevent cross talk.

  7. This just seems comical when many carriers still offer no IFE or just the overhead! And really we are talking about a SECOND screen? can we maybe get the first one first?

  8. Every single person who wasn’t sleeping on the flight to LGA from ORD last night was watching TV on an iPad. About 35 people. The only thing I ever use the IFE for is to watch the moving map, while I work or watch my own iPad. I can’t imagine there’s much of a market for this.

  9. I find it surprising that UNITED AIRLINES has decide to eliminate all EFI devices on the plane in place they have gone with WIFI (additional cost) to be used by your own device. I see this as a joke, people want to use their hand-held devices for their own work while listening to something on the TV SCREEN. The next bigger problem is we don’t want to eat up our device power and arrive at our destination with devices that have no power. The power problem is even more evident on long flights of over 5 hours, then you figure in that people may be using their device at the airport for 2 hrs prior to the flight then even a 2 hr flight would kill a devices remaining power.

    The final problem is that UNITED in their total greed even removed all music from the seats, now this is a device that I remember as a kid in the 60’s using on a plane when traveling, that made the flight quicker since I was not just sitting there doing nothing, and UNITED has decided to remove even this entertainment capability.
    I was just on a flight from DC to Orlando for over 2 hrs and UNITED was too cheap to provide WIFI on the flight, the flight attendant informed us that UNITED was not providing WIFI on the Orlando flights because it was too short a flight and they felt that it was not needed.
    So with this new UNITED AIRLINES, they feel that they should not even provide any basic entertainment, even music that has been on planes since the 1960’s.
    I find it hard to justify purchasing tickets on an airline that is so cheap in their capabilities that they feel they can over charge its customers and provide less services for those over charges. I can tell you that UNITED is on the bottom of my list of airlines to travel on.

  10. I see no value in IFE. It’s a distraction and it allows my kids and me to watch things I would never allow us to watch at home.

    However if they were to allow us to connect our laptops and use the IFE screen as a monitor, it would suddenly have value.

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