Smart Design debuted Next, a personalized in-flight entertainment concept, this month at Future Travel Experience Global in Las Vegas. Image via Smart Design

Smart Design debuted Next, a personalized in-flight entertainment concept, this month at Future Travel Experience Global in Las Vegas. Image via Smart Design

APEX Insight: According to Smart Design, the in-flight entertainment industry is primed for disruption. In response, the design consultancy has unveiled “Next,” a cross-journey, wireless media platform that aims to personalize the passenger experience and meet millennials’ rising expectations.

Smart Design, a New York-based design and innovation consulting firm, designs with the aim of disrupting the in-flight entertainment experience. Rather than shy away from industries in flux, the people-centric design firm has a history of troubleshooting in complicated markets, including its contribution to New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow initiative, which envisages a future for yellow cabs in an increasingly crowded ride-share economy.

The company’s techy portfolio and resume of clientele – which includes the likes of Ford, PepsiCo and Under Armour – has not come together by chance. “We create internal points of view of an industry sector that we think is currently in disruption,” says Heather Martin, vice-president of Design for the firm. “When regulations around carrying personal devices on board changed, we realized that it allowed us to explore the experiences of customers on personal devices.”

“It’s effectively a personalized in-flight magazine crossed with in-flight entertainment.” — Heather Martin, Smart Design

In response to shifts in the in-flight entertainment ecosystem, Smart Design developed Next, a highly personalized, device-based entertainment experience, designed to be accessible throughout the entire passenger journey. Martin presented the concept, four years in the making, for the first time this month at Future Travel Experience Global in Las Vegas. “It’s effectively a personalized in-flight magazine crossed with in-flight entertainment,” she said during her presentation.

Live notifications, access to books and magazines pushed by Amazon, playlists from Spotify, films powered by Netflix-style libraries, destination-specific information and recommendations from Google are all possible features. According to Martin, leveraging the expertise of these companies through strategic partnerships would allow for rich media opportunities and for passengers – particularly millennials – to have an experience they’re used to day-to-day.

While airlines such as Virgin America, Aeroméxico and JetBlue already offer passengers access to subscription services on board, Martin emphasizes that personalization and recommendations are key to reducing a so-called Netflix syndrome, the fatigue one feels after searching vainly through an endless catalog. “On demand services are just too demanding,” she proclaims in a post that explores a smarter, more curated TV experience.

“There’s a lot of value in offering [passengers] more personalized experiences to help them feel special, rather than just one of the masses.” — Heather Martin, Smart Design

“Airlines want to keep loyal customers happy, so there’s a lot of value in offering them more personalized experiences to help them feel special, rather than just one of the masses,” Martin says. To make the most of passenger data, Martin suggests that airline alliances or groups such as IAG – the British-Spanish holding company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling – could benefit from a shared back end, with customer-facing solutions tailored for each airline.

“We’ve had a very positive response from everyone who’s seen Next. A lot of interest,” she shares. “We’re talking to a couple groups right now … I don’t think it’s going to be a very long time until there’s something to show for it.”

Smart Design isn’t the only company that’s responded to the potential for disruption in the in-flight entertainment industry. PaxLife’s Cloud 10, Piksel’s Voyage, Arconic’s CloudStore, Adaptive Channel’s ACES and Stellar Entertainment’s recently announced pixL are only a few of the growing number of wireless in-flight entertainment apps available on the market.

Martin welcomes the shake up. “I think some companies have had a monopoly on the market for a long time,” she says, referring to hardware-led companies such as Panasonic Avionics and Thales. “They’ve been in a comfortable position because they were the dominant suppliers … and they haven’t kept up innovation. That’s why I think it’s kind of an open field now.”

Katie is a contributing editor for APEX Media, based in Paris, France.