In an odd coincidence, both American Airlines and the Chrysler corporation recently made major strides towards offering wireless connectivity to their customers. In the case of American, this means that it is partnering with Aircell LLC to install broadband service on planes. Ultimately, the carrier hopes to offer connectivity on all its aircraft, charging between $9.95 and $12.95 per passenger.
On June 25, American tested out the new technology on a few select flights. It will be interesting to see what happens when this program goes through, as other airlines (including Virgin America and JetBlue) are already making plans to adopt broadband on their flights. While ten bucks is a lot to pay for a couple hours worth of internet connectivity, the ability to surf the net, check e-mail, and play websudoku might make flights go a lot faster. Given the recent spate of stress-related outbursts and breakdowns on airplanes, it seems like anything that could help relax passengers would be a blessing. On the other hand, it's worth noting that many intercity bus lines are already offering free internet access to their patrons.
Which brings us to Chrysler. In 2009, the automaker will begin equipping its Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep models with its "uconnect" system, a dealer-installed wireless internet router. It will work over cell phone channels, and will carry a monthly fee. The system will use Wi-Fi, so users won't have to worry about running down their cell phone batteries or hooking up all sorts of cords. Ultimately, Chrysler hopes to make the system standard on all cars.Chrysler's plan seems like a very good idea. Not only will uconnect undermine other information streams, like GPS and satellite radio systems, but it will also open the door to an almost unimaginable array of new systems that could potentially make driving easier, safer, and more efficient. In reality, however, most people will probably use it to play Halo with each other while trying to merge on the New Jersey Turnpike.
It's very cool that so many companies are adding web connectivity to their existing products, but I have to wonder if WiFi has become the millennial answer to the LED clock. In the 1980's, it seemed like every product, no matter how inane, had to have an LED clock attached to it. Everything from rulers to pens to can openers suddenly became capable of telling the time and date. In most cases, the purpose of this amazing new technology was to elevate one mediocre product above another, slightly more mediocre, product.
In some ways, this feels the same. American Airlines seems to be making everything on its planes into a "pay-as-you-go" option, transforming air flight from a wondrous, exciting mode of travel into something that resembles the drunk tank in a medium-sized city. On the other hand, Chrysler's cars, while beautiful, are gas-guzzlers, utterly unsuited to a world in which fuel goes for $4 a gallon. I wonder if these two companies are hoping that the exciting world of the internet will keep us from realizing that we're paying a hell of a lot of money for things that we once took for granted.
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He's currently developing a pair of internet-compatible boxer shorts. Although he's still in the testing stage, he's already been arrested three times.
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