Android Smartphones Gogo-Going to the Sky

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.

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