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Summary:

Aircell, the company behind Gogo in-flight Internet Wi-Fi service is ready to add smartphones in airplane seats. Today the company announced an Android device for voice calls on the GoGo Biz Voice service that could be used to sell apps and services to a captive audience.

airplane-phone

In-flight web access has recently taken off, with more airlines adding wireless service for customers that want to stay connected. Aircell, the company behind the popular Gogo Internet service, is taking things one step further for flyers who still need to make phone calls. The company announced the Aircell Smartphone Thursday, an Android   handset that’s a drop-in replacement for flush-mounted phones in aircraft headrests.

While the phone could have been built on Android simply for voice calling features, it’s interesting that Aircell is dubbing the device a smartphone. By using Google’s mobile platform, combined with the company’s Gogo Internet service, Aircell could develop or license value-add applications and services to boost revenues.

Travelers who didn’t pack a mobile device or don’t want to use a full laptop, for example, could check their Gmail on the handset’s 3.8-inch screen for a small fee. Reading an e-book, playing Angry Birds or a myriad of other smartphone activities should be easily accessible as well. And of course, the handset can be used for traditional voice calls, although I’m not sold on the idea that nearby passengers will appreciate long conversations from the sky; our first test of a video/voice chat on Gogo’s service in 2009 was met with plenty of commentary to that effect.

Those who disapprove of in-flight voice calls don’t have to worry just yet. Aircell doesn’t expect the new smartphone to launch until late 2011, and it’s going to take time to retrofit or add the device into aircraft. Plus the company is still working out its GoGo Biz Voice service that the handset will use in order to provide high-quality, low latency voice calls. That gives developers more time to consider the type of apps that would most appeal to consumers sitting in uncomfortable seats eating generally unappealing and hard-to-identify food. Maybe that’s the first app we’ll see: one that answers the question of “what am I really eating?”

Image courtesy of Flickr user sadsnaps.

  1. actually chromeOS would be perfect for airline seat devices. android is all about apps from the market by users for ongoing usage. so would users install apps from the marketplace and than the phone gets wiped and ready for the next passenger at the end of the flight? i don’t quite get it. a basic web browser that can visit any webpage on the other hand seems the perfect thing for wide spread appeal.

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    1. Conceptually, I agree with you, but Google has repeatedly said that ChromeOS is for keyboards while Android is for touch. Perhaps these phones could be set up with non-identifying / generic Google accounts for application installs (not likely full Market access) or maybe Aircell will simply pre-load them with popular apps. Gmail can be accessed through the browser in a pinch as well. I see definite potential here, even if all of the implementation details are sketchy.

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