Alaska Airlines offers free wifi for mobile devices. But hold on; your iPad or tablet isn't a "mobile device"
What is a "mobile device"? This question came up on a recent flight. Alaska Airlines, the hometown favorite airline of Seattleites, announced a change in its in-flight wifi access policy that would provide free wifi for mobile devices through September 30th. On my flight back to Texas last week, the flight attendant announced that our mobile devices could access the internet for free during our flight.
So, what is a "mobile device"?
Previously, internet access on Alaska came at the price of $6.95 for a mobile device or $9.95 for a laptop, each for the duration of the flight. This could cause a bit of an issue if you're as big a geek as I am. If I pay for the laptop access to work but want to up my geek cred by checking in at 20,000 feet on Foursquare, what then? (OK, well, you can go to the mobile site and check in, but it's not nearly as handy as on the mobile app, now, is it?) In-flight pictures taken on a smartphone couldn't be immediately posted without purchasing access for the smartphone as well. Oh, the humanity!
So Alaska had a great idea: provide free access on mobile devices. Give your email address, and you can Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook away from a two-and-a-half-inch screen.
But this begs the question: what is a mobile device? A laptop is mobile in the sense that it can easily be carried around, but it's not mobile in the sense that it requires access through a wireless carrier phone plan. My traveling buddy fired up her iPad, one without a wireless carrier plan. Turns out it's not a "mobile device;" in-flight access is priced at $12.95. The next questions: what if the iPad did have a wireless plan? What about micro-tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Velocity Cruz, with seven-inch screens? What determines the definition of a "mobile" device, at least according to Alaska Air?
Courtesy of the free internet provided via iPhone, "mobile devices" are defined as "web-enabled smart phones and iPod Touches." No tablets, no readers, no microtablets, no in-between third screens.
All well and good and perfectly reasonable on the part of Alaska Air, an airline that I enjoy flying frequently. But the question got me thinking. Outside of the amount of material one might download during a flight, therefore taxing the wifi system, what is the difference between a smartphone and a laptop? How are the in-between devices, the tablets and microtablets, blurring the line between a full workspace and a simple communication device? A smartphone isn't really a phone anymore; the running joke for iPhone users is that the iPhone does everything really well... except make phone calls. And the more than a seed of truth is what makes that joke resonate.
Will these new categories of mobile devices redefine the words we thought we knew, such as "phone" and "laptop"?