Will in-flight Wi-Fi kill seat-back entertainment?

(From my post earlier this week for msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin)

 

On the ground, the Internet, Wi-Fi and portable mobile devices have completely transformed everything from shopping, working and dating to how we get our news and entertainment. But what about off the ground?

One of the last spaces yet to be completely changed by the Internet is the airline cabin, where in-flight entertainment systems with content controlled by the airline and delivered on seatback screens are still the norm.

But now that in-flight Wi-Fi is fast becoming ubiquitous and affordable — in some cases, free — and as an increasing number of people travel with their own mobile devices, many predict seatback systems will soon go the way of LPs, cassette tapes and film cameras.

“Connectivity will destroy the walled garden,” said Greg Dicum, co-founder and president of MondoWindo, a company that provides web-based, location-aware content to passengers traveling on Wi-Fi equipped planes. “I see no seatback systems on new planes in five years. Especially not on planes flying heavily traveled routes less than five hours in North America, Europe and Asia.

Dicum made his comments at the 2011 Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Seattle.

“It’s going to be harder to compete,” he said. People with their own devices who can get to a browser are going to be able to get much better content. And I, for one, would rather have the airline carry my bag or give me some legroom than buy me talking dog movies I have no intention of viewing.”

In an exhibition hall filled with scores  of companies selling the latest in in-flight entertainment equipment and content, few agreed with Dicum’s declarations.

“It may happen. It probably will happen, but so far it’s not happening,” said Adrian Lambert, the head of marketing for IFE Services, a provider of in-flight entertainment. “Airlines moves quite slowly.”

“Yes, more people will bring their own devices, but are my mom and dad going to take an iPod or iTouch with them on vacation?” said Christopher Mondragon, senior manager, design and brand development for Thales Avionics, a provider of in-flight entertainment and connectivity systems.

As he demonstrated one of the company’s latest products — a screen that can be operated by gestures instead of a touchpad — and shared details about the company’s experiments with 3-D programming, he added, “I think it’s going to be more about merging technologies, being innovative and providing a unique experience to any age group.”

What do you think?  WILL in-fight Wi-Fi made seat-back entertainment systems on airplanes obsolete?