Today in Apple history: iPods take to the skies

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

A special dock will 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.

In-flight 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, in a press release. “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, after 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 said.

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

iPods on airplanes: The mile-high iClub

Microsoft's Zune media player wasn't part of the in-flight entertainment revolution. The iPod was.
Microsoft’s Zune media player wasn’t part of the in-flight entertainment revolution. The iPod was.
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. And 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.)

Apple gear on airplanes

Today, Apple technology continues to transform air travel. Flyers watch video, read books and listen to music and podcasts on iPads, iPhones and MacBooks. And they typically do so with AirPods in their ears.

Sometimes, they don’t even need to bring their own devices. (Australia’s Qantas Airlines began offering iPads for in-flight entertainment on its Jetstar flights as early as 2010.)

Plus, travelers now flash digital boarding passes from their iPhones and Apple Watches at security checkpoints and jetway entrances. iBeacons also sometimes 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.

With the last iPod model discontinued in 2022, the groundbreaking music players might 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.



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