Virgin America will be launching its Android-based IFE system on three aircraft this month.

Virgin America will be launching its Android-based IFE system on three aircraft this month.

APEX Insight: Virgin America’s Red Beta can brag about having three times the IFE content or being first to support surround-sound, but its most exciting feature is its least flashy – the Android-based platform that will enable it to do even more.

Virgin America is seeing Red, the name of its in-flight entertainment system, in an entirely different way. Instead of simply dangling new IFE features in front of its passengers, the airline is actually sowing the seeds to grow.

Red Beta has some fancy features to brag about: three times the entertainment including: full seasons of Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, retro arcade games like Pac-Man and Atari’s Asteroids and – it’s the first airline to offer surround-sound.

“We really wanted to design a system that was more interactive and allows us to offer more of the things that travelers have access to on the ground,” said Abby Lunardini, vice-president of Brand Marketing and Communications, Virgin America.

But the highlight is Virgin moving its IFE system over to Android-based software, a platform that has dominated 80 percent of the smartphone market.

“I think the great thing about the Red Beta platform is it gives us a different foundation to build on, and that the Android software is much more easy to update and to refresh and we’re really excited about the opportunities that that new platform offers us,” said Lunardini.

Retro arcade games like Pac-Man and Atari's Asteroids will be available on Red Beta.

Retro arcade games like Pac-Man and Atari’s Asteroids will be available on Red Beta.

Passengers will have an IFE experience that is similar to the way they already use their own mobile devices. The new capacitive seatback touch screens, Panasonic’s EcoV2, pinch and swipe the way you would zoom in on a map or browse through photos. Even the entertainment menu looks and scrolls horizontally as it would in Netflix. And with the 720p HD resolution and the surround-sound provided by Dysonics, watching a movie on a plane may just beat streaming on a personal smart device.

Red Beta will launch this month on three Virgin aircraft and the airline hints in a press release, that an evolving IFE system is part of their long term plan “to further connect, personalize and expand Red in entirely new ways.”

“The most exciting thing about this new system is not so much what it is today but what it can become in the future,” said Ken Bieler, director, Cabin Systems, Product Design & Innovation, Virgin America. “It gives us a platform to really innovate and draw up new capabilities and new features and bring them to all of our guests on a much faster basis.”

Take the Red Beta tour below: