Apple’s iPad to be turned into in-flight entertainment device

With more than 200,000 iPads sold per week in the U.S alone, and passengers bringing their own iPad with them onboard, the device could be a good solution for carriers without an AVOD in-flight entertainment system. With a 9.7-inch screen (about the size of an IFE screen), iPads are small, portable, give the user control over what they want to watch, listen, read or play, and are far more versatile than current AVOD handhelds. Their 10-hour battery life is good for most long-haul flights, while re-charging them is easy.

Bluebox Avionics, a company that offers in-flight entertainment products to airlines, has announced the ‘bluebox Ai’, the industry’s first iPad in-flight entertainment device. The Bluebox iPad comes pre-loaded with movies, music, games, eBook, consumer magazines via Zinio, and custom apps for each airline. The Bluebox application also connects the iPad to a portal created for the airline, and if the airline has in-flight Wi-Fi, the iPad will also be fully web-enabled.

Although the iPad is the flashy part of Bluebox Avionics’ new service, it is essentially about the company’s software running on the iPad. For example, Bluebox’s own movie player application for the iPad comes bundled with Bluebox’s security software, making it “fully approved for early-window IFE content”. An unidentified international carrier, rumoured to be Australian low-cost airline Jetstar, will start offering bluebox Ai units to passengers when it becomes available in July 2010. Jetstar’s Chief Information Officer reportedly has said that the airline is thinking seriously to feature the iPad as an entertainment option (Jetstar currently rents out AVOD handhelds to economy passengers).

Several low-cost airlines, such as easyJet, JinAir (South Korea), 1time (South Africa), and Volaris (Mexico) already rent out iPods and Sony PSP gaming devices to passengers onboard. In the past years, airlines have also been adding USB ports and in-seat power points to seats in response to the growing number of passenger that carry their own personal devices. Meanwhile, in-flight Wi-Fi provider Aircell plans to launch an in-flight video downloading service, called ‘Gogo Video’, sometime in 2010.

Update 1 June 2010: Jetstar, the low-cost subsidiary of Qantas, has announced it will offer iPads for rent on selected domestic routes in a trial later this month. Passengers can rent an iPad for A$10 (USD8.50, EUR7.00) for the duration of their flight and watch movies, tv programs, and music videos, play game, read eBooks, or listen to music. Internet browsing will be disabled as Jetstar does not offer in-flight Wi-Fi. The carrier says it has bought several hundred iPad devices, which will be available on flights lasting more than 90 minutes.

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