Seat-back screens to be ditched by 2020?

Seat-back screens to be ditched by 2020?

Mobile devices will make flying more fun, cheaper and quicker, one expert predicts
Tablets and mobile entertainment systems are predicted to replace traditional ones by 2020.

Aircraft seatback TVs may be obsolete by 2020. 

Instead, lightweight and easy-to-update mobile devices like tablets or iPads will be tomorrow's answer to in-flight entertainment (IFE), according to one aviation expert. 

“Now, every three or four months, there is a new airline introducing tablets,” said Ravi Madavaram, aerospace and defense consultant for Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, a consulting firm.

“It is cost-saving and airlines just cannot ignore the benefit of tablets for long.”

In 2011, American Airlines and Jetstar introduced tablets and iPads on some of their flights. Last February, Qantas tested iPads on some of its flights and by July, it had launched iPad-based entertainment on its 23 Boeing 767-300 aircraft.

Recently, Malaysian-based long-haul budget airline AirAsia X equipped all its flights with Samsung Galaxy Tab 10s. 

Madavaram said airlines like Emirates, which have previously lead the way in IFE, will have to rethink their strategies in the next five years when current IFE contracts expire.

“It costs to install and invest on new technologies, but eventually, the market will be tablet-based by 2020,” predicted Madavaram.

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Tablets vs. traditional IFE devices

Renting out tablets can also provide a new stream of revenue for carriers.

AirAsia X replaced its previous portable e-players with tablets that feature high-quality sound and visuals and the latest entertainment. 

It costs 35 ringgit (US$11) to pre-book a tablet one-way online or 45 ringgit to rent one onboard.

These devices will also allow passengers to make connections in the air like Skype-calling, when the use of Wi-Fi expands.

Eliminating traditional IFE devices, surprisingly, could also mean fewer flight delays. Most airlines have quality parameters that mean IFE maintenance is a necessary, time and money-consuming burden.

Comparatively, mobile devices are low-maintenance.

Currently, the industry is spending US$1.2 billion a year on IFE maintenence.

“You will just get another (tablet) if one is not working," said Madavaram. "Aircraft won't have delays because of IFE. It will make a huge difference to what passengers can see on the surface.”

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Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.

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