Streaming is set to takeoff

Tablet computers are fast becoming the entertainment of choice for travellers. And there's so much more to come.

Imagine stepping onto a plane for a long-haul flight and finding there is no screen in your seat.

We will soon be able to 'stream' content direct to our own iPads.

Or walking into a hotel room and seeing a big empty space where the television used to be.

Don't panic. This is all about improving your entertainment options, not taking them away.

Tablet computers are infiltrating the travel industry at a rapid rate, with the potential for them to be used for anything from challenging other airline passengers in a computer game to ordering a late-night snack in a hotel.

Pilots and air crew are starting to throw out their log books and paperwork in favour of tablets, and many hotels are making them part of the offering for guests.

For now, tablet-based entertainment in the air is all about movies, television programs and audio content, but we could be doing duty-free shopping before long, watching a live footy game or letting the crew know whether we want the fish or the beef.

It's only early days, but it is without doubt the biggest thing in entertainment for travellers since airlines installed in-seat screens.

And the fact that it relies on mobile, hand-held devices means it can be rolled out quickly once the airlines decide to go ahead.

Perhaps we will one day be saying: "Remember when airlines used to have their own screens?"

Tablet-based entertainment is currently limited to devices provided by airlines and pre-loaded with content, but we will soon be able to "stream" content direct to our own iPads or tablet computers.

Virgin Australia says it will start introducing wireless streaming technology to its aircraft over the coming months, allowing passengers to download video and audio to their own devices.

The airline is currently making Samsung Galaxy tablets available to business class and higher-fare economy passengers on selected domestic and short-haul international flights.

The Galaxy tablets come loaded with movies, television, games and audio content and will continue to be rolled out to more flights.

Qantas is going down a similar path but has opted for Apple iPads, which are being provided free in every seat on selected flights.

The first of 16 aircraft to be fitted with the "Q Streaming" wireless streaming system are just going into service and the airline says it is looking into making the service available through passengers' own devices in the future.

Jetstar, meanwhile, is renting out pre-loaded iPads on flights longer than 90 minutes, with a choice of movies, TV shows, games and audio.

Tablet computers also have countless uses in hotels, from replacing in-room information compendiums and menus to providing an alternative to crappy television offerings.

A survey carried out in the US, for the software developer SmithMicro, indicates a clear preference for information and entertainment through travellers' own devices, rather than having to sit in front of the screen in their hotel room.

More than two-thirds of the 700-plus people surveyed said they would be more likely to purchase pay-per-view content if they could download it.

A senior vice president of SmithMicro, Jim Mains, says the ability to use a mobile device has become not just a preference but a deciding factor in hotel selection for many travellers.

"We're seeing consumer preference move away from static TV and towards viewing content from any device, anywhere," he says.

Mains says of those who were not interested in accessing content via a mobile device, many cited concerns about data charges.

Hotels should consider bundling video content and hotel wi-fi services together for guests, with the survey showing 88 per cent of people would be interested if it was this way.

Many hotels are already offering guests iPads or other tablets pre-loaded with apps and information they might use during their stay.

A leader in the Australian market is the Royal on the Park Hotel in Brisbane, which not only loans guests iPads with full internet access but offers fast, free wi-fi throughout the hotel, with no download limits.

You can even get an "in-tent iPad" these days, albeit in a $1500-a-night "tent" at the five-star Longitude 131° wilderness retreat at Uluru.

The property has loaded its new guest iPads with e-books, Australian movies and games such as Scrabble, along with a selection of music that can be hooked up to Bose speakers.

But wait, there's more

Travellers flying out of Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport in the US don't even have to wait until they get on-board a plane to be offered the use of a gadget.

Delta Air Lines has installed 250 iPads in airport restaurants, in order to "improve the airport experience" for its passengers.

Those dining at one of three restaurants in the airport can order their meal through the iPad and then log in to Facebook, games, flight status or news to keep them amused while they wait.