There are many reasons for airlines to ditch in-flight magazines, from the cost of printing to the hassle of replacing damaged copies during each stopover. But what else are you going to mindlessly peruse while waiting for a flight to take off? Airbus has proposed a potential alternative: a digital magazine made from a flexible OLED that’s resilient, update-able, and easy to sanitize.
Ditching in-flight magazines is an initiative that’s well underway by airlines, and to date, they’ve been replaced with several alternatives, from touchscreen infotainment systems built into the back of every seat’s headrest, to tablets that passengers can rent for the duration of a flight, to apps that passengers (have to remember to) download to their mobile devices ahead of time and use to stream media and information when connected to a plane’s wifi network. But those solutions all come with their own problems, including flight attendants trying to serve as technical support for passengers’ various devices, on top of all of their other critical duties.
Airbus’ digital magazine concept potentially solves a lot of those issues. In 2018, the airline joined forces with Royole Technology to explore how flexible OLED displays could be used in the airline industry. Yes, that’s the same Royole responsible for the FlexPai, the world’s first folding flexible OLED smartphone that also happened to be one of the worst CES product debuts we’ve ever tried. Subsequent versions of the device have been significantly improved, and companies like Samsung have proven that flexible OLED displays are more or less ready for consumers.
The airline worked with Royole to develop its digital magazine concept, which looks more or less like a regular-sized iPad, but with the feel of a flexible magazine. Through the device passengers will be able to do everything from order food (including pay for it using a credit card), read digital copies of magazines and newspapers, stream movies, TV shows, and music, and potentially even surf the web—assuming the plane’s internet access is up to the task. The concept device even features the plane’s safety instructions on the inside of its screen cover, putting that info front and center every time a passenger reaches for the digital magazine which increases the chances they’ll actually read it.
Not only will an OLED display look better than the cheap LCDs many airlines put at every seat, but they’re also lighter, use less power, and passengers will be able to position them wherever they want while watching a movie or show. In a time when a pandemic is still very much an ongoing issue, an OLED is also a lot easier to clean and sanitize between uses, compared to a printed magazine.
It could be a while before you find a Digital Magazine stuffed into the pocket of your seat. Airbus says it has plans to install and trial the hardware on a test plane soon, but even if it’s deemed successful, it’s up to the individual airlines to decide if they want to add the feature to new planes that are being purchased or retrofit existing aircraft with the new design. At first, it will undoubtedly be a pricey upgrade, and after losing out on revenues over the past year due to the pandemic, airlines probably won’t be in a spending mood for quite some time.