For the first time, an Apple executive delivered a keynote at FTE Global. Michael Tchao, Apple’s vice-president, iPad Product Marketing, said that by providing the right information and tools to the right people at the right time, “we’re going to be able to enable a future travel experience that is simpler, more seamless and ultimately even more magical.”

Tchao opened his keynote by saying: “We believe we’re in the midst of an incredibly exciting transformation driven by mobile devices like iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. And far from science fiction, we see signs every day that these devices are helping to transform the travel experience.”

When Apple launched the first generation iPad in 2010, Tchao said the company was told it had made “the perfect device for aviation,” even though it was not specifically designed for aviation. “We think it’s the hallmark of a great product if people find new interesting and unexpected ways to use it.”

“We think it’s the hallmark of a great product if people find new interesting and unexpected ways to use it.” – Michael Tchao, Apple

A little over a year after the product launched,  Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines were using iPads in the cockpit and the FAA had approved the tablet for use in all phases of flight. According to Tchao, using an iPad saves 40lbs of paper charts and flight manuals per pilot.

More than 450 airlines around the world are currently using iPads to support their operations, Tchao explained. He said that this has led some people to call iPad “the most rapidly adopted new technology in aviation.”

Tchao revealed that one of his favorite iPad aviation apps is SkyPath. It works by taking advantage of the device’s built-in accelerometer and GPS to crowdsource turbulence data, by automatically detecting, measuring and reporting turbulence during a flight. The app makes this information available to others using the service through real-time notifications. Tchao said United Airlines has been testing SkyPath and have found it to be more accurate than the EDR sensors that would otherwise have to be installed on aircraft.

Because the camera sensors built into the iPhone and iPad have evolved into very accurate devices, Tchao believes they will influence the future development of apps.

“We are incredibly excited about the potential of augmented reality.” – Michael Tchao

“They not only take better pictures, but they can identify, analyze and understand what’s in them.” he said. “We are incredibly excited about the potential of augmented reality and we’re investing heavily in putting new tools and technologies into our products to enable new experiences. AR lets you understand complex subjects easily”

United Airlines has deployed more than 60,000 iOS devices across multiple functions and are connecting its team members and customers in interesting ways. Tchao said a good example of this is United’s new ConnectionSaver service. It works by identifying passengers with tight connections and sending them personalized text messages with directions to the gate, in addition to information about the estimated travel time between the two gates.

The service also notifies gate staff about when to expect a connecting passenger and exactly how long to hold a flight. “As a person who’s had so many tight connections, this takes away so much of the stress out of a stressful situation to know where you have to be and how long it’s going to take to get there … In a business where on time performance is crucial, getting everyone on the same page about what’s happening is critically important.”

Tchao explained that over the period of a four-month trial, the service held flights for more than 14,000 United passengers and the average hold time was around six minutes. “It’s a great example of an end-to-end traveler experience that shares information across functions, systems and geographies.”

“We think the real magic happens when the connected airline meets the connected traveler.” – Michael Tchao, Apple

Moving forward, Tchao thinks services such as ConnectionSaver will define the future traveler experience. “For so many years the dream of the connected airline has been literally that, a dream. But thanks to mobile devices like iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch that dream is becoming a reality,” Tchao said. “We think the real magic happens when the connected airline meets the connected traveler. That connection comes from applications and services running on their iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.”