Today in Apple history: iPods take to the skies

By

iPod
Goodbye, in-flight magazines!
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

November 14: Today in Apple history: iPods in airplanes November 14, 2006: Apple teams up with a slew of airlines to offer the “first seamless integration” between iPod and in-flight entertainment systems.

A special dock would let iPod owners play music and videos on planes’ seat-back displays. The plan promises to rid the world of old-fashioned in-flight movies and airline magazines.

iPods go up, up and away

Apple’s November 14 announcement covered six airlines: Air France, Continental, Delta, Emirates, KLM and United. All of them, Apple claimed, would offer iPod seat connections  starting in mid-2007.

“There is no better traveling companion than an iPod, and now travelers can power their iPods during flight and even watch their iPod movies and TV shows on their seat back displays,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of worldwide iPod product marketing at the time. “We’re excited to work with Air France, Continental, Delta, Emirates, KLM and United to offer iPod users an even better in-flight experience.”

A brief controversy followed, when KLM and Air France wavered on the promise. “It’s way too early to confirm any such details,” an Air France spokeswoman told Reuters.  A KLM spokesman said, “It’s very premature what Apple are saying.”

Both suggested that — while preliminary talks had taken place — no deal had yet been struck.

“We have no idea if this is technically feasible, if it’s financially viable, or if customers want it,” KLM’s rep added.

Nonetheless, Apple said it would proceed with its other partners.

The mile-high iClub

Zune
The Zune wasn’t part of the in-flight entertainment revolution.
Photo: Microsoft

In the aftermath, analysts discussed how big an impact the iPod docks would have. Would they encourage flyers to choose particular airlines? In theory, participating airlines could benefit from the same “halo effect” as Apple products.

Another controversy erupted following the revelation that the docking stations would not work with Microsoft’s Zune music player. Microsoft’s newly launched iPod competitor never found traction in the marketplace. The Zune’s incompatibility with the airplane docks showed that, just a decade after Microsoft’s heyday, the company was losing the tech culture wars with Apple. (Microsoft abandoned the Zune in 2012, allowing it to die a slow death.)

Today, Apple technology continues to transform air travel. Flyers watch video, read books and listen to music and podcasts on iPads, iPhones and MacBooks. (Australia’s Qantas Airlines began offering iPads for in-flight entertainment on its Jetstar flights as early as 2010.)

Travelers flash digital boarding passes from their iPhones and Apple Watches at security checkpoints and jetway entrances. iBeacons also help make air travel easier and more seamless than ever.

Many pilots use Apple devices as well. American Airlines ditched heavy flight manuals in 2013 in favor of iPads. In a move designed to save more than $1 million in fuel costs each year, American became the first major commercial carrier to introduce iPads to all its cockpits.

The iPod may be a practically forgotten part of Apple’s product lineup. However, this  “Today in Apple history” installment reminds us what an iconic product it was at one point — and how almost everyone (KLM and Air France possibly excepted!) got on the bandwagon.