iPods on a plane

Update, 16 Nov: as David points out, some of the airlines named in the Think Secret story are denying everything… 

I mentioned this story – Apple signs a deal to put iPods in planes – in the Zune comments thread, but I reckon it deserves a post in its own right. It’s a vivid illustration of why Apple’s such a fascinating firm to watch, because the story made my jaw drop.

According to Think Secret, Apple is working with six major airlines to put iPod connectivity in their planes. It sounds like they’ll be using iPod docks, and the result is that you’ll not only be able to keep your iPod powered on long flights, but you’ll also be able to display clips from your iPod Video on the seat-back screen. As Squander Two put it: “In one fell swoop, the Video iPod is transformed from pointless gimmick into rather useful thing.”

He’s not wrong. It also turns iTunes movie downloads into something considerably more attractive. If you’ve ever been stuck with the in-flight entertainment on a long haul flight you’ll know just how bad it can be, and the iPod alternative – choose what you want to watch before you fly, stick it on your iPod and watch it on a decent sized screen – is a great idea. Mobile video is a fairly niche product, because unlike music you need to be able to give it your full attention. And when you’re stuck on a plane, you’ve plenty of attention to give.

Let’s imagine the war of the MP3 players as a game of chess. Apple’s made some moves, Microsoft’s made some moves, then Apple’s made a minor move – redesigned Nanos, etc – before Microsoft plays the Zune. Apple doesn’t react, and while Microsoft keeps a poker face, inside it’s going “woo-hoo! The game is mine!” – but then Apple makes its airplane move. It’s not so much a case of taking one of Microsoft’s pieces off the board; rather, it’s akin to attacking the entire board with a rocket launcher and then dancing on Microsoft’s head in football boots.

Hmmm. Maybe the chess analogy isn’t the best one.

Anyway. If, as seems to be the case, the airline deal means iPod docks rather than a couple of bog standard connectors, Apple’s completely outflanked Microsoft (and Creative, and Sony, and…) on this one. Sure, you can take a Zune on a plane, or a network walkman (or whatever Sony’s calling their MP3 players these days). But only the iPod is actually integrated. It’s the same with cars: sure, some systems have an aux plug that lets you plug anything in. But the nice stuff, the control-your-player-from-the-steering-wheel stuff, that’s iPod-only. How long before Apple announces a similar deal to integrate iPods with in-car video systems? With Zune, Microsoft’s going after the player in your pocket. But Apple’s already thinking of bigger things.

Incidentally, how long do you think it’ll be between the launch of in-flight iPods and the first newspaper story featuring appalled passengers who’ve been subjected to some idiot’s porn collection? I reckon a few weeks, tops.

8 thoughts on “iPods on a plane

  1. Ms Mac says:

    Is it just me or is in-flight entertainment getting worse? I mean, I know you used to only be able to watch whatever movie everyone else was watching and it was censored out of recognition (Mr Mac and I have fond memories of an in-flight version of Glengarry Glen Ross) but I’m sure they used to actually show movies that others would be envious that you’d seen when you got home or whatever.

    Now, even with the fancy scmancy whatch whatever whenever systems, it’s all shite. On the way to the USA we had a choice between Dukes of Hazard and Stick It, and in tv shows Four Kings and really old Frasiers. There wasn’t even any free booze to drink yourself into oblivion. I felt like I was being punished for contributing to Global Warming or something.

    Pahhh! Air travel used to be exciting. *sulks*

  2. tm says:

    I once got on a 10.5 hr flight and the only entertainment on was the straight story. One mans story of lawn tractor driving accross america. Everyone had to watch it, no seat back tele’s in those days. Read my whole book, start to finish on that flight.

    Another time I saw Galaxy quest 4 times in a row on a pair of flights outbound and a pair of flights inbound. Good job it’s not a bad film. On those same journeys I saw some truly awful romantic comedy three times.

  3. Stephen says:

    Next up: Microsoft announce that Samuel L Jackson has agreed to help “get these motherfrackin’ iPods off the motherfrackin’ planes.”

  4. Lis says:

    There’s already a problem with porn on planes. The culprits are DVD players on laptops or portable DVD players – much cheaper here in the U.S. than iPods. I’ve sheepishly pulled my screen down on the laptop when I was watching the Thomas Crown Affair (Pierce Brosnan hot version ;-) on a flight to Orlando loaded with little kids going to see Mickey Mouse. A lot of passengers aren’t as thoughtful as I might be – I’ve seen some fairly explicit videos (sex or violence, take your pick) on planes and no one tries to tilt the screen so the five year old next to them doesn’t see.

    That said, seat-back entertainment is difficult to see from alternate angles (bad enough picture sitting directly in front in many cases). So, hopefully if such a thing should materialize it would help the situation.

    Though an argument could be made that they are facilitating broadcast of explicit or questionable videos. Maybe a reasonable analogy would be: though the airlines provide magazines, they don’t provide Hustler or Juggs but cannot prevent a passenger from bringing Hustler on board and reading it openly at their seat.

  5. Gary says:

    Thanks David, I saw that last night but was too tired to post. I’ve updated the main story accordingly.

    Lis – yeah, you’re right. I think the only thing the airlines could do is ask the passenger to stop on the grounds of upsetting other passengers.

    I experienced my first drive-by porning the other week, btw. Someone driving a Mitsubishi Warrior with (I assume) a DVD rig; the screen was facing outwards for the benefit of passers-by. I really don’t understand the motivation.

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