/ 30 October 2012

Tech up in the air

Ultrabooks cater for business users who demand long battery life. Photo: Dell
Ultrabooks cater for business users who demand long battery life. Photo: Dell

Some of the most sophisticated gadgets now available are made for travelling, especially if you're flying on business. And the good news is in the next three years or so, wireless Internet will be a reality on most airlines for all passengers.

For people who need to get serious work done while they're on the move, the must-have device right now is the ultrabook — super-thin and lightweight portable computers with long battery life, great wireless connectivity and the ability to run the latest productivity apps and programs at full speed.

Tech guru and managing director of research firm World Wide Worx Arthur Goldstuck said ultrabooks are business-class devices.

"To justify their higher cost, you have to be more productive on them, and this means using them everywhere, even when commuting by air."

Goldstuck said business travellers are the main users of ultrabooks because the space in business class cabins allows them to flip back the screen and use the keyboard.

"You will find that tablets are the device of choice in economy class where space is limited. We are starting to see a decline in the number of notebook computers that executives use, because they are about twice the weight and depth of ultrabooks. For business travellers, particularly on short-haul routes, a huge advantage of ultrabooks is that they take just ten seconds to start up versus two or more minutes on traditional laptops. That may not sound like such a big deal, but bear in mind that for twenty minutes after take-off, and up to half an hour before landing, you are not allowed to use electronics on board at all."

Goldstuck said the real reason electronics have to be switched off on aircraft is so that passengers can concentrate on safety instructions. Gadgets don't interfere with aircraft systems in any way.

"Airlines need to get on with the 21st century, and realise that technology is now hard-wired into people's every day lives, and that their need to stay connected pretty much all of the time is growing."

This year low-cost airline Mango introduced Wi-Fi on its flights so that passengers can use their wireless devices to browse the Web, get onto social media networks as well as send and receive e-mails.

Goldstuck said: "We don't believe that people choose to fly Mango just because they offer Wi-Fi services. However, over time, the expectation that this will be available in-flight will increase. In the US, Delta Airlines and low-cost operator Jet Blue offer Wi-Fi services on long-haul routes. We expect this to filter down to airlines all over the world. In the next three to five years, wireless connectivity, wherever you fly will be standard."

On international flights and on trans-continental services especially, 12 hours is a long time to go without e-mail. Business travellers, in particular, expect to be offered these services in-flight whenever they travel. They are also happy to pay a premium to receive them.

Many airlines have therefore configured their cabins to accommodate the tech needs of business users. On modern aircraft, all business class seats will have a power point to charge devices like laptops, ultrabooks and tablets. Power is less of an issue for ultrabook users, Goldstuck said, because "battery life can be up to 10 hours — enough for nearly constant use on many long-distance routes, especially if you build in time taken to sleep on the journey.

"The ultrabook changes the game for business travellers because it is really geared for their needs. ultrabooks are super slim and light so they have less impact on the bulkiness of carry-on luggage. While tablets remain the best entertainment device for travellers, they are less useful in terms of productivity."

The latest airliners from manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus include configurations that feature some top-end entertainment technology built into all seats. They often include hundreds of channels of on-demand movies, audio and TV programmes. Although some operators use only basic models even on long-haul routes with severely limited entertainment systems, a device like a tablet means travellers can take care of their own entertainment needs on long journeys.

It's not only on aircraft that business travellers want to be connected — they also spend a lot of time at airports prior to boarding flights, especially if they are travelling internationally. For this reason, airport business lounges have had to significantly up their game in terms of the technology services they have available for business travellers.

"If you go to an airport lounge and there is no Wi-Fi, it really is regarded as sub-standard," said Goldstuck. "Today the measure of a good lounge is — Does it offer good or bad Wi-Fi connectivity? We are beginning to see much better Wi-Fi services in airline business lounges and more connection options from a greater variety of service providers. In some lounges business travellers are really spoiled for choice," he said.

Hotels, particularly those that serve business travellers, are also starting to offer better wireless services. By now, these should be a given, but even some seriously up-market hotels offer only patchy wireless services and charge for their use. These days, Wi-Fi should be as integral to a hotel room as a bed, and the service should be incorporated into the price.

"Business travellers are using an increasingly sophisticated set of tech tools to remain productive when they are out of the office. In the past, time spent travelling was often lost time, but this no longer has to be the case. Technology is improving constantly and devices and amenities like mobile power supply, pay-as-you-go mobile services and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots mean that business travellers can be in touch and productive wherever they are in the world," Goldstuck said.