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Written by Elizabeth Hartnoll-Young on Saturday, 17 March 2007
/boeing_777.jpgOn New Years’ Day I had the good fortune to travel in a new Boeing 777-300ER commissioned by Singapore Airlines. The 13 hour flight from Singapore to Milan gave me plenty of time to explore the latest design and technology developments.

As I passed through business class, I couldn’t help but notice the extra wide seats, with their 15 inch personal display screens. Economy class seats, at 48 cm, are also noticeably wider than usual and have been redesigned to be a little thinner, allowing more legroom. The ‘dashboard’ here is also up to the minute, with the handset in front rather than in the arm rest, and slots for USB, computer etc, next to the screen. The reading light shines from below the screen, so is less intrusive for those passengers trying to sleep.


Being a ‘mobile learning’ enthusiast, I was interested to see that along with the usual options of movies, audio, games, and flight information, the airline was offering a selection called ‘learning’. In this section, the Star Office range of open source software was available, suitable for spreadsheets, word processing and presentations.

Stephen Ong, the Panasonic engineer who was checking out the system in flight, explained that SIA wanted to offer travellers the convenience of working on their own documents and presentations from a USB stick, without the need to connect their laptop. On one side of the handset is a QWERTY keyboard, while left and right mouse clicks are achieved through through two buttons on the upper edge.

I pulled a hot pink USB out of my handbag and started my usability test. I had a conference Powerpoint that I needed to check, so I wanted to see if the system would allow me to edit it. The instructions in the inflight magazine were a start, but it was difficult to balance the book and the handset, so I appreciated some help from Stephen. I quickly worked out the logic of the system, and after some practice in moving the cursor, I was able to edit the final slides while my laptop stayed in the overhead compartment.

Keen to explore, I then opened a new word processing file and successfully typed some sentences. It was fiddly trying to hold the handset and type on the small keys, but it wasn’t impossible. Throughout the flight, Stephen was taking notes to iron out the system. He assured me that the usability testers would be looking at the sorts of concerns I had. Other features such as email are planned.

The idea is good, and as with most innovations, needs polishing. I’m not sure it should be labelled ‘learning’, but the handset and USB stick combination will certainly allow passengers to keep working, writing their travel diaries or sorting their photos while on the move. Perhaps the laptop can be left at home.

/ehy2.jpg Elizabeth Hartnell-Young

Elizabeth travelled with SIA as a paying passenger. She is organising a conference on mobile learning in Melbourne in October 2007: www.mlearn2007.org










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Last Updated ( Saturday, 17 March 2007 )
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