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Update: American Airlines' in-flight deployment strategy

by Steven Lang

October 14 2011

This summer, American Airlines announced it would be deploying 6,000 tablets for use by premium class passengers. Alice Liu, American Airlines’ Managing Director of Onboard Products, recently gave TabTimes an update on the process, goals, and logistics of this deployment.

After issuing a Request for Proposals toward the end of last year, the AA team chose the Galaxy Tab 10.1. “We looked at all the tablets,” Liu explained. “American Airlines went with the one that offered all the features customers wanted, then balanced it with cost.”

Samsung believes the pricing was “a learning experience,” said Tim Wagner, vice president and general manager of enterprise sales. “We offered a highly competitive price for the enterprise. The same thing happened with smart phones. Anytime you’re into a new market or a product line, it’s always a learning experience.

“We sensed the market,” he added. “And I think we did a good job of pricing.”

The tablets will replace the airline’s current personal entertainment device in American’s premium cabins on some transcontinental flights. They will, however, be branded and configured specifically for the end-user.

“American Airlines is customizing the tablet,” said Wagner. “The tablet will not boot into an Android home page; it will boot into an American Airlines home page. And the front of the tablet will say Samsung because [the company] is paying for a branded device.”

In addition, this version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1will differ slightly from the version sold to consumers. While it will be powered by the same CPU and the same Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) platform, its dimensions will be a little thicker. The airborne versions will also have greater memory and enhanced DRM, which will allow them to play early release movies, Wagner said.

The tablet’s design is not yet completed, said Liu. Solution provider IMS—an in-flight entertainment and connectivity firm based in California—is still working on it.

Once completed, deployment should be quick. The airline anticipates the program should take only about a week to roll out, she said. AA flyers will come into contact with the tablet at different phases of their flight experience, according to the type of air craft. Passengers on Boeing 767-300s are expected to have the tablets placed for them at their seats while 767-200 passengers will be handed the tablets, Liu said.

She pointed out that her carrier aims to be at the head of the pack when it comes to deploying new technologies. In August, American because the first North American carrier to stream video for a fee to flying customers from an on-board server.

Samsung wants to win more deals like the American contract by relying on both a dedicated sales team as well as a direct organization, said Wagner. “We also want to leverage our expertise with companies like Cisco and Sybase to build dynamic solutions.”

Specifically, the enterprise manager says his company expects to post big numbers in the business arena for its Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1. “It’s fantastic for [professionals who want to] hold the device in one hand,” he said. “It’s going to be great for people in the field who need to switch hands like health care and field service professionals who want to use it as a GPS, then use it for capturing data—what I call the highly mobile professional.”

As for Samsung’s 8.9-inch tablet, its newest iteration, what Wagner calls “the shiny new object,” he expects it to see action in the health care, education, hospitality, and federal markets.

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