Travel

First Look At Jetstar's iPad Entertainment System

It’s been talked about since June last year, but Jetstar has finally rolled out its in-flight entertainment system that utilises the iPad. The new service will begin rolling out on planes from tomorrow (November 9), and should be available across the Australia-based Jetstar fleet from December. So what do you get for your money? Lifehacker gives you a detailed tour of the system.

Jetstar showed off the devices at an event at Melbourne today, after seeding sample units with passengers on a flight from Auckland to Melbourne ahead of the official launch tomorrow. The units we saw weren’t actually the final release models, sporting a commercial iPad case rather than the customised one that will be used in flight. There are also some final tweaks being made to the software.

Jetstar has initially purchased 3,000 iPad 2s, and says it will purchase more if the demand is there. This is not your standard issue iPad, mind you. Each device has been enclosed in a case to block access to the home button and the sync cable, ensuring that settings can’t easily be changed and you can’t add your own content. The headphone jack has been modified so that it’s the only source of sound, with the speakers disabled. The case also includes a security tracking device to stop you filching the iPad, and an extended life battery said to be good for 20 playing hours. In practice, you’ll never be on a flight that long, but that ensures the iPads can be hired out again over multiple flights.

The big question, of course, is what will it cost? You’ll initially pay $10 per sector to hire an iPad, which will be available from November 9 on some flights using the A320 and A321 that run longer than two hours. From December, when the availability will expand to cover most flights running longer than two hours you’ll also be able to hire iPads on the longer-haul A330 services. For the A330, that will cost $12 if you book in advance, or $15 on board.

That pricing closely matches the current charges for renting DVD players on Jetstar services. iPads are a free inclusion for passengers who are travelling in the business class section of the plane (previously known as Star Class, though Jetstar has retired that branding). The devices will be distributed after take-off but prior to meal service. You can pay by credit card or cash, and as an additional security precaution you need to hand over a form of ID which is returned when you return the device.

Pre-booking online could be a sensible move. Jetstar will have 24 iPads per A320 aircraft, 30 per A321 and 160 per A330. The A330 seats more around 330 people, so you’ve effectively got a one-in-two chance of getting one on the longer flights, and I’d imagine some budget-minded flyers won’t bother. Seats on board are also being gradually modified with hooks so you can hang the iPad for viewing, rather than having to hold it in your lap

Content on the devices will be updated every month, and includes a range of Hollywood, Australian and Japanese movies (two each of the latter). The initial November selection of mainstream movies isn’t too shabby, including both parts of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Horrible Bosses, Friends With Benefits, Beginners, African Cats and Larry Crowne. There are also 25 TV shows bundled on the device (though only a handful of episodes of each). The ones I suspect would most appeal to Lifehacker readers include Big Bang Theory, Thank God You’re Here and Man Vs Wild.

For parents, the devices include the Wiggles, Bindi The Jungle Girl, Bananas in Pyjamas and unspecified Disney Channel programming. There’s also a ‘kids zone’ icon which lets you set the device to only view family-friendly content. Finally, there’s also current issues of five ACP magazines. I suspect anyone hiring an iPad won’t have reading as their primary goal, though it’s admittedly cheaper than buying a couple of magazines. (On the other hand, you won’t be able to read the magazines during take-off and landing because of the standard “no electronics” prohibition. This is one area where seatback systems still have an edge, since on many flights you can now watch these through the entire flight.)

A partnership with Gameloft will also see 11 games offered on the iPad, though these won’t be fully uploaded until December, since the games need customising for use on the modified devices. The run of games will include Real Football, Ashphalt 5, Shrek 4, Uno, Shrek Kart, GT Racing, Brain Challenge, Blokus, Real Tennis, Let’s Golf 2 and The Settlers. (Yep, no Angry Birds.)

Jetstar hasn’t yet decided whether it will use a similar system on the Boeing Dreamliner 787 when it begins flying that in 2013, though having spent the better part of a year developing the software, I’d be kind of surprised if it didn’t try and maximise the investment. There’s no suggestion right now that it will introduce on-board Wi-Fi either, but as flight tech goes, offering iPads isn’t too shabby a start.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Jetstar.