Anybody who’s set foot on a plane in the past two years would find it hard to argue against the iPad as a new wave for personal in-flight entertainment.
Apple’s sexy touchscreen tablet is also becoming increasingly noticeable in airport lounges and even the long lines for customs and luggage collection, especially at international airports where there’s free wifi.
(And who wouldn’t want to do a quick Foursquare check-in to become Mayor of Baggage Carousel #3 at LAX?).
In time, the iPad could be second only to the Sony Walkman in its role of personalising in-flight entertainment.
Before the Walkman were books and magazines. But after the Walkman? Portable CD and MP3 players simply digitised the experience, and tray-table DVD players never reached anywhere near the penetration of their music-minded counterparts.
Neither was a game-changer in the same league as the iPad.
When you’re stuck in a seat for upwards of eight hours at a time, what better bit of kit than the iPad or a similarly multi-faceted tablet?
Being able to cue up your own choice of downloaded movies and TV shows, flicking through a digital magazine or disappearing for hours into a game: those are welcome alternatives to being locked into the aircraft’s own video system.
(I find the ebook experience is less compelling due to the iPad’s size, weight and bright LCD screen compared to dedicated e-ink devices such as Amazon's Kindle.)
Looking back across scores of flights in recent years, I rarely watch anything on an in-seat screen. That’s not as much about the airlines’ choice of content as the low-quality screens with washed-out images and woeful sound.
I download almost all my in-flight viewing onto my iPad, so when I’m not using those airborne hours to catch up on work I’m catching up on assorted TV shows.
Airlines are also cottoning on the iPad as an alternative to their own in-seat systems.
Jetstar has already replaced its clunky video players, which were as big as the Bible and almost as old, with iPads preloaded with movies, music, magazines and games.
Qantas is going a step further with its Q Streaming system which wirelessly beams video and music to iPads from a mini-computer located near the cockpit.
Q Streaming is the first system of its kind in the world, but it won’t be the last: Virgin Australia will debut a similar wireless tablet solution later this year, although Virgin is backing Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy Tab.
Singapore-based start-up Scoot will forego conventional in-seat screens when it launches in June, preferring the low cost and flexibility of iPads.
In the end, Apple’s all-conquering iPad could be the future of in-flight entertainment as airlines swap seat-back screens for tablets and BYO tech.
What's your take: are in-seat video screens on the way out, and are tablets like the iPad a better way to fly? And how often you do watch an in-flight movie or TV show?
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.