iPad takes flight: are tablets the new face of in-flight media?

By David Flynn, March 5 2012
iPad takes flight: are tablets the new face of in-flight media?

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.

Qantas' Q Streaming system represent a new frontier for in-flight entertainment
Qantas' Q Streaming system represent a new frontier for in-flight entertainment

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.

Read our hands-on review and exlcusive video report of Q Streaming in action

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?


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jul 2011

Total posts 186

I carry iPad, iPhone and a Samsung Tab (the 7") version.  I've left my iPad on a plane in the seat pocket twice, first time on a Tiger flight (who were brilliant at getting it back to me) and the second time on Qantas (and that experience was just woeful).  So I'm still a fan of IFE, for that reason, plus I find the lighting in planes reflects horridly on the iPad screen and can never really position it in the right place.  It ends up balanced on my knee or held at some difficult angle which cant be maintained for long periods.  But do admit I'd rather watch something I want to rather than some of the crap available on the IFE.

The Samsung Tab works better in the fact it doesnt take up as much room on the tray table especially when the meal arrives, and it can work as a cheap second phone with a local prepaid sim card at overseas destionations. 

30 Jul 2011

Total posts 2

In the photograph of the iPad running the Q Streaming app, there is an adaptor between the headset and the iPad. Anybody know what adaptor this is?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2540

I don't know what actual make/model this adaptor is, but it's just a simple adaptor which turns a single 3.5" jack into a pair of jacks.


05 Mar 2012

Total posts 26

It's also to permanently mute the speaker - quite clever really the things they managed to do without jail breaking.

The main issue I have with the iPad for this purpose is its lack of widescreen. Black bars are really annoying as it effectively reduces the size of the screen you are watching. 

On the whole though, the main advantage of the airlines offering tablets is that hopefully it means less legacy IFE as it removes the installation costs. 

05 Mar 2012

Total posts 3

A thought that always crosses my mind and I forget to ask cabin crew when I see the use of laptops, iPads, iPods etc inflight is what happens when attention of the passengers is required when inflight announcements are being made?

At least with the IFE the PA would override the system and pause the program and the announcement could be heard through the headset...what happens now when the people control their own devices with no interruption?


05 Mar 2012

Total posts 26

presumably the same thing they have been doing since personal audio was invented - i guess if its very urgent they would have to shout!!


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 580

Much as I love the iPad, I'm not convinced that these types of devices are the solution... There simply isn't the space for them in Y, and building in docks and holders into the seats is not feasible given the wide variety of devices that passengers will be bringing on board, and how frequently they are being updated.

Wireless distribution is the way forward - but I think that the PTV's should stay...

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on iPad takes flight: are tablets the new face of in-flight media?