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Three thinking

Robert Smith, senior market analyst at IMDC, shares his top three IFEC trends and considerations for the coming year (note that this blog is from 2011!)

More than hardware
As an industry we should be rightly proud of advances in inflight technology. But is an integrated touchscreen, for example, going to impress a passenger who is already getting bored of their iPad? High-end technology in IFE is not in itself enough to create that ‘wow factor’ on board. Hardware capability is only part of the experience, to truly impress IFEC needs to interact with the passenger and deliver personalised functionality and content.
If IFEC can achieve this ‘mass customisation’ and empower the individual travel experience by offering and continually improving inflight ordering, live travel information, tailored content selections and a connected experience, then there is a chance of passengers interacting with and approving of their chosen airline. The question for airlines over the coming year is: How to make an impact on and truly impress passengers?

Importance of applications
This year (2011) will be the year when US mobile phone users spend more time, on average, using mobile apps than they do surfing the web. While web use has increased, time spent using mobile apps has exploded, with the typical American spending an hour and 20 minutes every day using them. Almost half of time spent on apps is devoted to mobile games, and IFEC providers should take heart in the popularity of these relatively low-tech, near disposable lifespan titles, which would be well suited to the inflight environment. Connected apps are popular with both consumers and developers as they are a way of providing an improved experience, controlled by the developer, with lower data requirements than general web browsing. Integration with additional IFE services and functionality such as a movie selection that a passenger has ‘liked’ on Facebook, or travel loyalty scheme integration would have the dual benefit of delivering value to the passenger and relevant information to the airline.

Getting connectivity right
Passengers clearly value a fully connected experience, and some are even prepared to pay for it, but delivering it is not simple, even across single aircraft-type fleets all operating domestically and over land. Airlines should perhaps be prepared to make a cash loss if they want to offer connectivity as part of a premium service. It is also too easy to worry that anything less than the highest possible bandwidth will not bring value to the passenger. If the bandwidth to an aircraft is not capable of delivering a full browsing experience then it is not wise to try and offer it and then charge for something not worthy. At the same time there must be an effort to make the most of what you have, an unusable browsing experience might not be worth paying for, but an application-powered ‘live IFE’ experience could well be. Such an experience can be both high-value and low-cost if airlines can be smart with partnerships.

About the author: Robert Smith has five years’ experience at IMDC, a research and consulting firm specialising in inflight technologies. Robert is the primary author of the IMDC Inflight Technologies Market Outlook Report for which he produces a five-year market forecast and conducts analysis of trends in IFE hardware, content and connectivity.


19 August 2011


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