Samsung keeps its eye on the travel prize

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On the eve of the massive International CES show in Las Vegas, news broke that Samsung wants to parlay its technology into automotive navigation and entertainment equipment. But the leading smartphone manufacturer isn’t just interested in extending its reach to the car world; the South Korean company has set its sights on aviation.

Last year, Boeing inked a memorandum of understanding with Samsung to explore working together to research and develop technologies that will improve inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC), as well as enhance crew productivity. Discussions “are ongoing” between the two companies regarding a master research collaboration agreement, a Boeing spokesman recently told Runway Girl Network.

“We are exploring how we can work with Samsung Electronics to develop advanced communications technologies, including display and networking technologies, for aviation. In particular, onboard communications and networking are key elements to the passenger flight experience, and connecting the airplane with ground crews during flight is vital to airline operational efficiency,” he says.

Bloomberg yesterday reported that Samsung is teaming with Intel Corp on open-source software called Tizen that can run smartphones, tablets, TVs and car systems, and which has generated interest from car makers, including Toyota.

On board aircraft, however, Google Android has become the operating system of choice for the two largest in-seat inflight entertainment specialists, Panasonic and Thales, which have developed their latest-generation platforms around Android. Low-cost carrier Norwegian in July 2013 claimed the distinction of being the first carrier to offer an Android-based IFE system – manufactured by Panasonic – on board its Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

When it comes to tablet IFE, some carriers distribute Android-based Samsung tablets, while others have adopted Apple iPads.

For crew applications, the iPad is currently the preferred tablet (offered through various providers). The iPad has become a very popular platform for pilot electronic flight bags (EFBs). Additionally, carriers such as All Nippon Airways, British Airways, EVA, Iberia, KLM, Malaysian, Qatar and Swiss have armed their pursers with iPads, and 6,000 attendants at ANA now carry the device. American Airlines’ 17,000 flight attendants use the Samsung Galaxy Note.

Some industry observers question whether using Android OS for IFE, EFBs, or other crew devices comes with inherent security risks. Android is a primary target for malware attacks on the ground due to its open source architecture and market share. Asked what security measures would need to be put into place if Boeing and Samsung agreed to create a true “plug and play” onboard environment for passengers, and what timeline was being considered, the airframer said it would not “speculate on this topic”.

But as Android becomes more prevalent on board aircraft, its easy to see how Samsung could ultimately leverage its position as the dominant Android consumer electronic device manufacturer to further infiltrate the IFEC world, and provide operational benefits, with the assistance of Boeing. And of course, this comes at a time when Google is doing its own positioning in travel.

One thing is clear – Samsung is eager to have a footprint in the end-to-end travel experience. Watch this space.

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