SmartTray: Sometimes It’s the Simplest Things That Grab Your Attention

Inflight Entertainment, Seats

I had been meaning to write about this after I met with the company at the APEX show back in September, but I never quite got around to it until now. At APEX, there were a lot of companies showing off the newest and coolest things to go on to an airplane. But there were also some at the other end of the spectrum.

Meet SmartTray. The company’s flagship product is the X1. If you’re going to take the name of the first airplane used to break the sound barrier, you’d better have some crazy, earth-shattering new idea, right? Well, not quite. Behold, the SmartTray X1:

SmartTray X1

That’s right. It’s a regular tray table… with a slit in it for you to put your tablet. That’s it. Oh sure, there is some engineering in here. There is a small track inside the slot, so if you use one of the cheap plastic covers shown in the picture, it’ll lock in. (The company sees this as an opportunity for airlines to sell sponsorships.) But other than that, it’s a tray table with a slit in it.

The simple beauty of this thing is that it costs an airline the same as a regular tray table but it has that little bit of extra utility to make it easier for passengers to use a tablet in flight. For that reason, you might think we’d see this in the air already. But no. The company is very close to announcing an order, but then again, who hasn’t heard that before?

Of course, SmartTray isn’t happy with just a simple solution, so it has created some more complex ones as well. The X2 is a built-in tablet holder that lets you watch the screen with the table open or closed. It’s hard to explain the system very well without a visual, so here’s a video I took at APEX (and yes, they have versions that adjust to every size tablet):

But wait, there’s more. The X3 is basically the same thing except the tablet is provided by the airline and is not removable from the tray. (Though something tells me that some enterprising person will figure out how to walk away with the entire tray table…)

Really for me, however, it’s the X1 that caught my attention because of its simplicity. With all the bells and whistles out there, it’s kind of nice to remember that even basic, inexpensive things can make a difference in the passenger experience.

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16 comments on “SmartTray: Sometimes It’s the Simplest Things That Grab Your Attention

  1. Maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t the slit in the tray force the tablet to sit completely upright (90 degrees to the tray)? Given that the slit would only be about a foot away from your face, that seems like an uncomfortable angle. I know with my laptop, I like the screen to be tilted back rather than bolt upright.

  2. “…it?s kind of nice to remember that even basic, inexpensive things can make a difference in the passenger experience.” A smile and eye-contact make the difference between a mediocre flight and great flight.

  3. How does this work when the seat in front of you reclines? I’ve almost had my laptop screen crushed a few times by a sudden recline. Does the tray table also pivot when the seat reclines? That’s the only way I could see that could work so that your tablet screen doesn’t get crushed.

    1. I’ve never had that problem when my iPad is in landscape view (the only orientation my case allows). However, I could see it being an issue if you put your tablet in portrait orientation.

  4. On the X1, it appears the tray also pulls out, away from the seat in front of you. That would be required because I can imagine someone leaning their seat in full recline and making the slot unusable.

    From an airplane appearance tech point of view, I would hate having to clean that slot for all the junk that will collect in it. I know I would not use the slot due to the dirt.

    Nice idea, but the upkeep (cleaning) would not be easy. Most tablets owners have their own stands, so I see little benefit here.

  5. Interesting idea, but my first and second thoughts were negative.

    Someone spills a drink which fills up slot, they just close the tray and liquid runs down the seat back. Seats with cloth covers and those magazine pouches will have sugary soft drinks soaking into the cloth and mold forming.

    Also it’s not going to work if they are on seat backs that recline since most of the time you can hardly see the tray top if someone moves their seat all the way back.

    But on the plus side, it will be a nice place for kids to put their crayons so they don’t slide off the tray.

  6. I’m still betting against this taking off. There are a bunch of potential issues with it which I don’t see anyone willing to pay to solve. The adapter to lock the device in is just one example (I know that’s optional, but still…).

    I’m betting on TabCaddy going into service first (I think they already have a signed customer or they’re very close) while SmartTray has been trying to sell this for a couple years now with no takers. TabCaddy was also at APEX this year, not too far from SmartTray. I thought their execs were more polished and better able to sell their ideas, plus the product is more flexible. I think they’ve got a winner.

  7. They could drill some holes inside the slot to allow for liquid to spill through…but either way, it may be a bigger hassle trying to keep the slot clean than it’s worth.

    Another option might be to “sell/give” passengers disposable plastic inserts that fit in the slot and accomplish the same purpose.

    While the perk of something so simple seems like a great idea and I’d definitely use it, the potential for complaints regarding the cleanliness of the slot may render it obsolete before it even takes hold.

  8. Great, now how about a tray table with a raised edge?

    There’s a section in my book with a list of ideas to make economy class more comfortable. Number 5 says…

    5. A tray table that extends to reach the body, so a passenger needn?t hunch over to eat or work. Ideally the tray should have a curved leading edge to better fit your torso. Said tray should be the sort that unfolds from the armrest, not from the seat in front. This solves the hunch-over problem and avoids the hazard of having your computer crushed when the person in front of you suddenly reclines, pinching your screen between the table and the upper cushion. ?Assault recliners? is my name for those passengers who come hauling back all at once, leaving you but a split-second to save your laptop from this deadly nutcracker.

    Tray tables also need a raised edge to keep food and beverages from spilling into your lap during climb or in rough air. Some have recessed cup holders, but many are perfectly flat and smooth, so that your coffee comes skating backward whenever the plane is nose-high. A quarter-inch ridge would prevent this. One assumes that cabin designers are more or less familiar with the concept of gravity; there?s no reason for such a tweak not to be universal. It wouldn?t cost more than a few pennies per tray, if anything.

    And while we?re at it, give us more of those ring-style cup holders that fold from the seat-back. They?re common in the rest of the world, but I?ve never seen one on a US carrier. They help prevent spills and free up space on your tray.


  9. Neat ideas, but don’t most table trays come with the seats that airlines buy? Is it likely that an airline would order replacement trays for existing seats? Perhaps I watch too much Shark Tank, but unless these guys get hooked in as a supplier to a seat manufacturer, I don’t see the business case. Also with my Shark Tank hat on, is anything here proprietary?

  10. Jobe –
    It does look like it slides out, but what is the seat pitch in the photo? It looks to me like an unrealistic distance. I don’t see any knees bumping up against the back of the seat. Nor do I see a belly touching the front of the tray. I don’t think this was taken in row 29 of a typical domestic 737 or A320

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