All last week as I roamed the halls of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo 2010, I kept asking myself the same question. Will any of these guys even be here in 20 years? It’s one thing to look at the near future of inflight entertainment, but the long run is a different story. I met with the big inflight entertainment providers Thales and Panasonic to see what they have in store for the future.

I fully expect that in 20 years, we’ll all have implanted iPads in our arms (Steve Jobs will stop at nothing less). Bandwidth will be far greater than what we imagine today, and that means all we’ll need is an internet connection and we can get all the content we’ll ever need either on the ground or in the air. So if that’s the case, then why do we need any other kind of inflight entertainment? I asked both Thales and Panasonic that question, and I’m not convinced that either one had a great answer.

Both of these companies have moved toward providing connectivity options, and they do see that as an integral piece of the future of IFE (to the point where it’s usually referred to these days as IFEC where the C is for communication). So for both companies, the future lies more with integration with other technologies than being a standalone.

Both providers have shiny new screens that look prettier, are more reliable, and are lighter (very important for the airlines to save fuel, of course). That’s important but it’s not revolutionary. They’ve also created more interactive remote controls that end up being mini-inflight entertainment devices themselves. So you can now watch a movie on the big screen and watch the moving map or play games on the remote control. (Some airlines could simply install the remote in the armrest and use that as their IFE.)

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  • Cranky Flier

    My name is Brett, and I’m an airline dork. I’ve had the bug since I was young. As a kid, I never missed a chance to go to LAX a…

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