State of the IFE

Since I go to school for design and I started to document my travels, and I'm in the middle of working on my portfolio, this is an appropriate time to bring up something that's been on my mind for a long time:

99% In-flight entertainment systems out there are BAD.

How are they bad?

Depending on the airline / system, one or more of these applies:

- MASSIVE lag (between input and command)

- Poor control (resistive touchscreen, jack-of-all-trades controller)

- Obsolete hardware (read: slow)

One of the problem is that creating electronic equipment for aviation has more stringent requirements than your average consumer gear. You can't just take the latest Qualcomm chipset, drop it in, and call it a day. Aircraft equipment makers have a lot less freedom in what they can install and avoid interference. The other problem is that for the most part, IFE systems just aren't that important to airlines. The airline execs making the purchase decision on what IFE system installed aren't the one that'll use it to watch movies everyday, so as long as they have something that works it's fine. If you ask the flying public, They might say they care, but they only care about how many different movies they can choose from, if they care at all. Vast majority of the flying public base their purchase decision based on ticket cost alone. This is the same reason why airline seats horribly uncomfortable. AA and UA have both tried more spacious seat configurations before to very little success. Airlines don't see any benefit to investing in better seat or better IFE. In fact. United installed these wifi media servers on board that lets you watch movies from your personal mobile decide by connecting to the plane's wifi.

Since the hardware is limited, the software that runs on these IFEs are equally poor. Irrelevant and outdated content, non-intuitive, and unattractive. 

When I was reorganizing some photos I suddenly remembered something impressive from the Finnair A350 inaugural I did back in October:

This screen showed the time zone and local time for both the departure and arrival city, on two separate lines. You can clearly tell, at any given point in the flight, what time is it in each city. In this case the time difference is only and hour so no big deal, but on a long haul flight where you cross multiple timezone this will be very convenient and useful.

Granted, this IFE is brand new since it is attached to the brand new A350 so everything is fast and the screen is large, but it is nice to see people starting to put some thought into making the information useful and easy to use. Airlines can't be on the cutting edge like the consumer electronics, but it is nice to see they put in the effort.