In his last book, Mind at the End of its Tether, H.G. Wells memorably opined: “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” While Wells was talking about the idea that mankind will one day be replaced by a more advanced species of being, he could just as easily have been discussing today’s ever-evolving IFE market where an “adapt or perish” mentality is king and the only constant is change. And that goes double for the portable IFE realm where inflight connectivity together with innovative wireless IFE solutions from Lufthansa Systems, Bluebox Avionics, and other companies are working to meet the entertainment needs of personal electronic device-laden passengers.
It all begs the question of whether in a BYOD world there is any sort of future for traditional, tablet-style portable IFE solutions at airlines.
“I do believe that there is a meaningful slice of the IFE pie left for portables,” veteran IFE industry consultant Michael Planey tells RGN. “They offer the airlines important flexibility on aircraft that are used in multiple roles with varied stage-lengths [and] can also be a low-cost investment for premium service without having to wait for a major interior maintenance visit.”
Indeed, portables are often deployed on older aircraft in their end of life, and on narrowbodies that serve longer stage lengths. They’re also being paired with wireless IFE in instances where carriers desire a hybrid portable/wireless solution.
Being able to showcase A-list studio content is another key driver for adoption of portable and hybrid offerings, since Hollywood studios still disallow the streaming of early window (EW) movie content to passengers’ own devices but permit it for approved portable, hybrid and embedded IFE systems. But if Hollywood eventually relents and permits EW streaming – as some believe it will – portable IFE will take a hit as it is “more exposed to loss of marketshare” than is traditional embedded IFE, notes Planey.
As wireless IFE take-up expands, “I expect that it will move into the route and aircraft categories where portables are a good first option,” he adds, noting that there “are tradeoffs between managing an installed system of any sort versus one that can be removed from the aircraft at a moment’s notice, and the makers of portable devices should be highlighting those benefits at every opportunity”.
One of the providers doing just that is portable IFE pioneer digEcor, whose original digEplayer was the first self-contained AVOD portable IFE device in the air (it debuted on Alaska). Since being acquired by Brisbane, Australia-based Total Aviation Solutions in August 2013, digEcor has been concentrating its R&D not just on the handheld devices it has historically been known for, but on an enhanced product suite for the cabin as well.
“Our Integrated Flight Experience heralds a new era at digEcor,” suggests digEcor CEO David Withers. “We are just at the beginning of this journey and so far have brought to market our Glide embedded inflight entertainment system, LED mood lighting, USB and 110V in-seat power, crew and customer connectivity, tape replacement solutions, expanded content services and the latest version of our handhelds, the NV.”
Hoping to create a consistent passenger experience (#paxex) across various fleet types, Withers notes that digEcor’s new products have also been built in a modular way to allow airline customers to select the experience priorities that best suit their brand and expand them over time.
“It’s not just the hardware that provides this flexibility, it’s the software as well,” he explains. “Our systems are open and can integrate with new, non-traditional media and content, host GUIs that are not hard coded and allow dynamic updates and develop middleware that answer increased operational efficiencies.”
Withers suggests that the ability to quickly and strategically adapt to changes in the marketplace is key. “Personally I take great satisfaction from having watched the product line evolve from the portables we bought with digEcor in 2013 to the full suite of passenger experience solutions we have today. Particularly knowing we are no longer selling ideas and promises but real certified hardware creating real value for our customers.” Attendees of the APEX Expo in Portland, Oregon will get a chance to see digEcor’s line this fall.