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 mondowindow.com 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.