In a press release this morning, Alaska Airlines announced plans to phase out its clunky digEplayers — handheld video players with pre-recorded television and films — to replace them with Microsoft-powered tablets that instead rely on its new streaming entertainment service. These players will be available beginning February 1 and include movies, television, XBOX games, movies, digital magazines, and Internet access.
This is a welcome development for two reasons. First, the current digEplayers barely qualify as handheld. They are as large and heavy as bricks, so it’s good that they include a kickstand. Second, many people were concerned when the streaming content was announced earlier this year, thinking that Alaska would remove the digEplayers entirely and not replace them. Now we know that those without their own mobile devices will still be able to rent an device onboard for about $8-10 (and they will continue to be complimentary for MVP Gold 75K members and customers in first class).
I’m frankly surprised to see them announce the new mobile devices so soon after after the streaming content service. It seems these are separate decisions — perhaps they planned to stop renting devices all along and then changed their minds.
While some have griped that “real airlines” use built-in displays, I and other have countered that there are merits to a hand-held version: less weight, lower capital and maintenance costs, more frequent upgrades, and fewer annoying screens flashing advertisements in front of those who aren’t watching. On the short- and mid-haul flights that make up most of Alaska’s route network, built-in systems just don’t make sense.
Alaska also provided an update on the streaming content roll-out. Over half of Alaska’s mainline (Boeing 737) aircraft now have their new Alaska Beyond entertainment service, and they expect to be finished by April 2015. That’s definitely not a timeline you would expect with built-in devices.
Streaming content was originally offered for free during the month of January. However, the press release indicates this promotion will be extended through March 31, presumably to coincide with the completion of the installation process. After that, digital content will be priced starting at $1.99.