The future of entertainment in the air


This morning we packed the boy, Tess and a handful of bags and made off to the airport. Or to Yogyakarta in Indonesia, to be more exact. Believe it or not, we’re going to stay here till Tuesday next week. That’s five days (including traveling). Yes, I did not know what you can visit in Yogyakarta, either. But my fantastic wife always finds time to scout for interesting places to go when I read about the latest antics of Spiderman or am in deep thought about the latest mobile tech developments.

So, dear reader, both of us will know more about what is there to see here tomorrow.

Talking about mobile tech, though: we were flying with Silk Air, which is Singapore Airline’s low-cost carrier. And they have an interesting entertainment system on board which I so far have only read about, but never experienced myself. And this streaming of movies to your mobile device.

Up in the air, you keep Airplane Mode on, but activate Wifi. Your phone will find the streaming server of the plane and you surf to a client website from which you can stream the content. Movies appear like a YouTube video or any other movie you might watch on your device on other occasions. You can go full screen and you have the same user interface

This makes so much sense:

  1. Your phone or tablet has a way better screen than whatever they offer on a plane – including what you find in business class
  2. The controls for the movie are much more responsive than the best built-in systems with their abysmal cable remote.
  3. You can use your own headphones and as long as you’ve brought a decent pair, this will again beat the experience of the provided or rented headphones in a plane – it even beats the experience I have with my own headphones, because I need an adapter in airplanes to have an audio jack for my headphones. And this system is prone to little issues depending on how you turn the connector in the jack or how much you press the adapter into the plane system… it’s a pain in the neck.
  4. Removing all the personal displays from a plane with 300 or 400 seats should result in a significant reduction in weight and hence fuel savings.

Now, the Silk Air flight we were on did not have USB ports for charging your device (or at least keep it powered) on every seat, which is a must for such a setup. Also, what you would want is a fool proof, clean system where you can easily attach your device to the seat in front of you, where you would normally have the screen of the entertainment system. Holding your tablet or phone for several hours while trying to eat or getting comfy in steerage is certainly no fun.

Finally, before boarding you should be able to rent a tablet (or have one provided – your mileage may vary), so in case you don’t have one with you or don’t want to use your own, you have still an option to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

To be frank, the flight was only two hours and I did not watch a movie. I only tried out the system to see how it works. So it is totally possible that the streaming server will be overwhelmed if 300+ passengers go crazy with streaming all kinds of movies, music, TV shows and what have you. I also do not know whether safety information and the annoying updates from the cockpit in several languages would interrupt your movie experience (I reckon this is the case – if not, this would be another plus in my eyes).

Still: the principle is awesome.
It obviously can also be a nice revenue stream for an airline (at least to a certain extent and maybe on the less profitable short hauls). I would never pay for a movie in a plane with the existing, shitty systems. You know, the ones where you swipe your credit card through the cable remote. This looks like 80s technology and I don’t trust it.

But imagine you would be welcomed by a website which is populated by the likes of iTunes or Netflix or Amazon or … pick the one you trust. If designed smartly, this could also have the advantage that in case you did not finish your movie due to technical issues or because the flight was shorter than you thought, you could later finish watching on your device in your hotel.
How should the prices look like? Well, to be clear I would think that most content is still free (unless you fly one of the bare bone low-cost airlines, of course) and everything should arguably be free in Premium Economy, Business or comparable classes. Some content, like new releases might cost money in coach, however. But this can be of course a differentiating feature between airlines.

Another nice feature could be something like a “start simultaneously” option where you and a friend have the system sync the movie, so you can virtually watch it together.

Pretty amazing, and I have not even thought through all the things that could be done here.

Anyway… now it’s time to go to bed.
It would not be a vacation if my wife didn’t kick me out at 3 the next morning…


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