MondoWindow: a new way of looking at in-flight entertainment

Imagine being bored on a plane. It isn’t hard to do.

First, you’re flipping through the in-flight magazine or the Skymall catalog. Then, maybe you watch the movie or whatever 90s-era sitcom the airline has chosen to pump through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system to your seatback screen. If you’re lucky, you brought along your smartphone or tablet, which is stocked with music and e-books. Though, if this is a last-minute jaunt or a return trip, you may not have had the foresight to load new content on your device. The availability of WiFi on your plane is still not a given, either, even though it’s twenty-freaking-eleven. And, don’t even think about getting up to walk the aisles for a few minutes – beverage service is about to start!

IFE has indeed made some strides in the past decade but it is a far cry from the type of interactive entertainment we are now accustomed to on the ground. Enter MondoWindow, a start-up that is seeking to be the “disruptive charge in the $6 billion in-flight entertainment industry-an inefficient, bloated sector that is the last major consumer media space still largely untransformed by the Internet.” Co-founders Greg Dicum and Tyler Sterkel aim to harness the “twin disruptions” now happening in the IFE sector, that of the increasing ubiquity of personal devices, such as tablets and smart phones, and the move towards more internet connectivity aboard aircraft, to make “every seat a window seat.”

Here’s how it works:Navigate over to and you’ll be greeted immediately with the view of the passing terrain from a flight in progress. You can watch the progress of the randomly-generated flight, or track a flight by airline/flight number or airplane tail number. At first glance, this may remind you of the flight status map you see on airplane seatbacks. Look closer at MondoWindow’s live map, and you’ll see points on the map ranging from Wikipedia content and user-submitted Flickr photos to approximately 300 points of interest that the team at MondoWindow have connected to geo-tagged posts on Posterous. All of these interactive push-pins correspond to the points that the plane is passing. This is where the disruption begins.

MondoWindow has built its IFE model around a map. Dicum explains:

“the map is a key piece of any IFE system. It’s the only content that is relevant to absolutely everyone on the plane, and it’s the only content that is unique to the in-flight experience: you can watch TV or movies at home; you can only track your progress across the planet in flight.”

Using the map, wifi, and a growing roster of content, from photos and videos to feature articles and games, MondoWindow brings relevance to the in-flight experience, connecting passengers with the environment – businesses, landmarks, even people – below them. At its most basic, a passenger could tap into MondoWindow for information about the Grand Canyon as she flies over it. A more advanced outlook sees passengers using MondoWindow to participate in geocaching games with persons 30,000 feet below. No doubt, there are possibilities that neither I nor the MondoWindow team, have thought of, especially as interactive technologies develop. When MondoWindow’s map goes global, perhaps passengers could tap into Turkish lessons en route to Istanbul or watch a documentary on The Great Wall as they try to entertain themselves on a long-haul flight to China. MondoWindow’s model has boundless potential for positively disrupting the IFE sector.

MondoWindow is still very young, having only launched its beta site at South by Southwest in March 2011. But it is the “interactive grandchild” from Dicum’s 2004 book Window Seat, which gave airplane geeks, aerial photography enthusiasts, and curious travelers the ability to read the landscape from the air. Paired with Sterkel’s years of experience as a curator and technical project manager for museums such as the Smithsonian and the SFMOMA, MondoWindow has the power to completely change how we view, use, and consume in-flight entertainment. The next step is to get the airlines on board.

Gadlinks for Monday 7.6.09

Aloha, Gadling readers! Another week is upon us. Here are this Monday’s Gadlinks.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks here.

Can other airlines learn from Virgin America?

In my mind, there is nothing worse than flying. I think it’s a waste of time (I’ve probably wasted, cumulatively, half a year of my life in the air). Ever since I had to take off my shoes and undo my belt, I’ve hated checking through security. And there’s something really gross about sharing oxygen with over a hundred other travelers on a plane. I feel like I’m bound to catch the flu.

The one saving grace in flying is the entertainment on the plane, and even that has been lackluster these days (aside from “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Milk,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” there really is nothing out in theaters worth shouting about).

That is until Virgin America came along. This upscale carrier somehow found a way to make flying really comfortable and fun — starting with its safety video, which is just awesome.

With regard to the video, I love the wry narrative voice and the innovative shots and character sketches (a matador and bull buckling up? Brilliant!). The video was produced by Anomaly and animated by Wildbrain, who also creates imaginative commercials for Nike, Coca Cola, and Honda.

I think it would be a great idea if every airline carrier revamped the image of the airline safety video. Traveling would be that much more enjoyable, wouldn’t it? And while they’re at it, they could maybe learn a thing or two more from Virgin, such as installing comfy black leather seats perhaps, or offering personalized entertainment like “Red.” Every passenger gets to tap on a touch screen and select from dozens of music and real-time television (like CNN and USA) options. Even its latest unbeatable fares between California and Boston are a godsend from bi-coastal travelers like myself.

Once United, America, and Delta Airlines in particular take some notes and finally understand we’re no longer living in the 20th century, maybe — just maybe — people in the air will be far more happy flying the “friendly skies.”

Budget Carrier Rents PSPs to Passengers

South Africa-based 1time Airlines is a low cost carrier. In order to keep their prices low, they decided against adding any built-in in-flight entertainment in their fleet. Not really a problem, because most of the flights are not lengthy. The bulk of their air time is between their hub in Johannesburg and other South African cities like Durban and Cape Town. 1time does have one longer route from Jo’burg to the Tanzanian city of Zanzibar (approximately 3.5 hours).

The airline has introduced a concept of offering portable entertainment on their planes for rent. On select flights, 1time will be offering PlayStation Portable devices for a nominal fee of 60 rand (about $4.80 US). The rental includes disposable earpieces and last for the duration of the flight. This isn’t the first gimmick for 1time. They also use their extra leg room and leather seats to differentiate themselves from the competition. A novel approach? Other carriers have offered video gaming devices in the past. But this time it is in lieu of in-flight entertainment, not in addition to it.

[Via Travelwires]

Ryanair weeks away from offering in-flight mobile phone service

An article posted by The Register this morning reports that Irish low cost carrier Ryanair is just a few weeks away from launching in-flight mobile phone service.

The service will be provided by OnAir, a joint venture between SITA and Airbus, which was setup to bring Internet, phone and text messaging service to the skies.

Mobile phone calls will cost £2 per minute, which at the current exchange rate translates to just under $4. At launch, the service will only be available to passengers with a mobile phone on the UK’s O2 and Three networks. The technology allows 6 simultaneous calls from each plane and the required equipment will first be introduced on 14 Dublin based Ryanair planes.

In a time where airlines are scrambling to find ways to generate more revenue, I doubt Ryanair will be the last airline to try and tap into the lucrative mobile phone market. It is however ironic that the low cost carriers are among the first to introduce these new services.

Mobile phone service on flights won’t be coming to the States any time soon, as the FCC has not lifted the ban on in-flight phone service. The upside to this, is that you won’t have to deal with a seatmate blabbering on his phone for the entire flight.