Aircraft IT Operations – Winter 2013

Aircraft IT Operations – Winter 2013 Cover


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Column – The iPad is a MacGuffin

Author: Paul Saunders, Solution Manager, Flatirons Solutions


The iPad is a MacGuffin

October the 22nd, 2013 was a landmark date for aviation IT. It was, explains Paul Saunders, the day that saw the launch of Apple’s fifth generation iPad and Microsoft’s second generation Surface tablet.

WAS THIS ALSO the date that saw both of these devices come of age? Could it be that today it dawns on airlines across the globe that using the iPad as a full blown enterprise tool is just too darned  difficult so that they turn to their old friends at Microsoft who will finally launch a product that is both consumer and business friendly.

Whatever the answer to that conundrum, it is clear that, had it not been for Apple and the launch of the first iPad only a few years ago, we would still be stuck with hardware and software that truly sucked. For that reason, whether you love it or hate it, the iPad has been a major MacGuffin for our industry?

‘A what?’

A MacGuffin. A plot device….

What? Still confused? Let me explain….


Do you remember ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’? This was a film which saw our hero, Indiana Jones swash buckle his way across 1930s jungles and deserts to retrieve the fabled lost Ark of the Covenant from the grips of the bad guys. Despite the film’s title, Raiders of the Lost Ark had absolutely nothing to do with a lost ark. The ark was a contrived plot device with little importance to the overall story. It was simply a desired object and a driving force to ensure there was a story-line for our protagonist to follow. Alfred Hitchcock used to call these plot devices ‘MacGuffins’ and the name has become part of the Hollywood vernacular ever since. For other movie MacGuffins, think of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the mysterious suitcase in Pulp Fiction and the titular Maltese Falcon.


For me, the iPad has been a similar plot device in the story of the consumerization of aviation IT. Prior to the iPad, user experience in enterprise software had a very low priority. In fact the desires and goals of users were way down the list of requirements for any IT project. Today thanks largely to the iPad and what some have called the Apple-ization of business IT, these demands and goals are addressed and sometimes, even met with every new hardware and software release. The Microsoft Surface 2 would not exist without the iPad and if it has the impact that early adoption suggests on flight operations then Apple’s MacGuffin will have served our story well.

As Raiders of the Lost Ark prepared Indiana Jones and the audience for his further adventures in the Temple of Doom and the Last Crusade, so too did the iPad prepare the hardware and software industry for a new way of working where design and usability were central to the plot. As for the software vendors: they have learned so much about mobility, user interface design, connectivity and so on by embracing development for the iPad, that the next challenge that they face will be a much simpler sequel.

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