As a traveler there are plenty of things to love about the new iPhone 5. The PassBook application and LTE support are two significant improvements which will benefit travelers around the globe. But there is one rather enormous change which will make things quite difficult on travelers. Maybe not completely ruining the experience but certainly a significant negative impact. And I’m not talking about the new maps.
The problem comes in the form of the new “Lightning” connector on the iPhone 5. The new interface is thinner, smaller and more resilient than the old one, but that doesn’t make it a winner for everyone. After all, there is a huge inventory of devices out there which have the legacy interface already. And while there are adapters to convert from the 30-pin plug of pervious models to the Lightning plug, even those can cause issues. Folks getting on an airplane or checking into a hotel are going to see a number of issues with these plugs.
For hotel guests (and operators), the main issue will be with the alarm clocks in rooms. With five million devices confirmed sold already it won’t be long before guests are showing up with the new models in reasonable numbers and expecting to use the bed-side systems like they have become accustomed to in recent years. As industry analyst Henry Harteveldt puts it, “Hotels, unfortunately, have no choice but to explore their options to buy adapters.” Of course, the customers likely have a number of other devices at home so they’ll be investing in adapters anyways, but hotels may be inclined to have at least some available for guests, similar to plug adapters available in many properties for foreign guests.
The hotels have it easy, relatively speaking. They don’t have to deal with FAA certification of electronics in their rooms the way airlines do on board their aircraft. Airlines and in-flight entertainment manufacturers are facing a much more significant challenge. Putting aside the physical dimensions which are different and the impact that will have on a number of carriers and the “fitted” systems installed to cradle the phones which now won’t work at all, there are bigger issues afoot.
It isn’t just that the IFE providers would need to recertify their hardware, going through the FAA processes and getting the airlines to take planes out of service to handle the testing. There’s also the fact that the current version of the Lightning connector doesn’t support the same set of features. Notably missing: video output. This passengers used to plugging in and watching their videos on the big screen at their set will be shut out. VGA and HDMI to Lightning connectors will be available eventually but in-flight systems don’t offer those inputs. Even when those connectors come out iPhone 5 customers are still not going to be able to watch their content on the in-seat screen.
And, that’s not the end of the story. According to Gizmodo there is a very real chance that the Lightning connector cables have an authentication chip embedded in the cable. Such authentication has been required in the past for video out activity because of the DRM involved but never just for syncing and powering the device. The full details are still unfolding on this but it doesn’t look good. At least this issue is addressed just by paying a few extra dollars for the name-brand cabling.
These are probably more like annoyances than events which will actually ruin the experience. Still, they’re pretty annoying for customer and even worse for the hotel and airline operators and IFE providers who are now looking significant costs to retrofit their systems.
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