Tales from APEX Expo 2013, part 2: IFE systems that rock


I spent last week working at the Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) Expo in Anaheim, CA. The event features both airlines and vendors covering everything from seat manufacturers to IFE systems to the companies which make all the wiring harnesses and other behind-the-scenes stuff. Oh, and it was collocated with the IFSA conference which was all about food & beverage offerings on board. I spoke with dozens of vendors to get insight on where they were in developing new technologies and getting them deployed on airplanes. And there was both good news and bad news to be found. Here’s my take on the most significant things which came about at the show, at least that I saw. (Note: There was too much to cover in one post; Part 1 about wifi on board is here. This is part 2 covering everything else.)

Pam Ann is incredible

Seriously, she rocks. Absolutely hysterical and ruthless in both language and topics. No one was safe, whether asking Garuda about their safety record or joking that Emirates has so much money they deice with Dom. The part where Emirates apparently did have a couple bottles of Dom at their table probably didn’t help their case on that one. She was crass and vulgar, but it was also smart funny. She knows so much about the industry that she’s able to hit hard, but it isn’t particularly “wrong,” really.

There is no single solution IFE solution or platform which dominates

There are a lot of players in the IFE space, and they’re all doing something a bit different and incredibly interesting. And it is pretty clear that none of them are going to dominate all the others. If you hear someone claim that BYOD or portable or overhead or in-seat systems are definitely the future or definitely dead then they’re probably wrong. We’re certainly not going to see things shift dramatically on that front in the near-term. That’s not to say that companies won’t be successful selling the various products. Bluebox, for example, has been tremendously successful with their tablet-based system, deploying with Hawaiian Airlines recently and announcing Garuda as a new customer during the show. But Rockwell Collins is also reporting an up-tick in overhead display sales, not a decrease, in addition to their other systems sales. In other words, everything is still selling and each carrier has a valid reason for the choices it is making.

I'm holding one of the IFE units from the Rockwell Collins kit. It is easily removed/swapped/upgraded without dismantling the whole seat.
I’m holding one of the IFE units from the Rockwell Collins kit. It is easily removed/swapped/upgraded without dismantling the whole seat. The one to the left is fully installed.

There’s an app for that, and it is coming to your IFE screen soon

First it was Apple. Then Google. Now we’re looking at an app store for the IFE systems, too. Thales has announced a new SDK and app store for their Android-based IFE system. The SDK side of the kit integrates to the Eclipse IDE and exposes some of the special hooks that the IFE system has which other Android-based devices wouldn’t. That means accessing flight path data is possible and handling content interruption by PA announcements is properly managed. The store side is, well, a store. Once an app is ready to deploy a publisher pushes it into the store and airlines can go shopping, just like consumers do today. Pick an app, buy it and the Thales system delivers it to the supported aircraft along with the other content updates such as new movies. Thales is still providing some level of screening before letting just anyone in to their app ecosystem, but the idea of a standardized platform to operate between the developers, IFE providers and airlines is a fantastic one which has great potential to change the style and range of products available to passengers in the very near future.

Check out the new Thales app store for in-flight games and such. The SDK is pretty slick, too.
Check out the new Thales app store for in-flight games and such. The SDK is pretty slick, too.

Keep your eyes open for TabCaddy

For the BYOD community coming up with a way to use a tablet while also doing something else is a tremendous challenge. There have been a few companies which have tried and the back-story in the space is an interesting one, with tales of patent violations and IP theft, in addition to the part where there isn’t really anything deployed yet. I see that changing pretty soon, and TabCaddy is my bet for the first big winner.

I'm betting big on TabCaddy this year. Probably the break-out offering of the show.
I’m betting big on TabCaddy this year. Probably the break-out offering of the show.

Those are the highs from the show, if you will. Mostly positive news, really. And while no single event or booth gave me a particularly negative feeling I couldn’t help but walk away at the end of the show a bit sad. And it isn’t because the offerings are bad; actually, it is quite the opposite. There are so many amazing technologies, systems and kits which could be installed on-board to make the experience so much better. And I know why they aren’t all there all the time. Still, it is a bit sad to me that I know the options are there and we can’t have them all immediately. Some will make it on board eventually and I’ll console myself with that.

But the in-flight experience really could be so much better.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .
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