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2013-08-02 14.29.51
Will this in-flight screen turn old school in the next few years?

I saw a lot on my recent trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. Between the epic temples and beautiful beaches, it was also cool to see how technology is changing halfway across the world.

From the countless fake Beats by Dre headphones being sold on the streets to some realizations about in-flight technology, here are the top five tech observations from my two-week trek:

1. Smartphones and the Internet are key to making your travel experience awesome. It’s pretty incredible how much and how often phones — both on and offline — can help improve the quality of your time abroad. GeekWire columnist Frank Catalano also addressed this in his Geek’s Guide to International Travel.

A few examples, all of which made for a more efficient and/or better time, from my trip:

  • Finding good places to eat and drink with Trip Advisor, Yelp and other random blogs.
  • Storing all my identification, hotel and airline information in an offline Google Doc — no more carrying around stacks of papers with reservation numbers.
  • Using apps like Singapore Map to get around a city and find cool stuff.
  • Improving communication with translation apps like Google Translate and Learn Thai.
  • Communicating via Wi-Fi with messaging apps like WeChat.

Another interesting point: I brought my laptop but only opened it to write long blog posts. Otherwise my phone did everything I needed, from sending emails to taking pictures.

What does this mean?
What does this mean?

2. At the same token, it was actually really nice not being connected to the Internet all the time. I would hop online when there was Wi-Fi around, but for a majority of the trip I was without 4G — and it was great.

I’ve read countless stories about people doing this and having a refreshing detox, though it’s tough to just make it happen given the nature of my job. But being in a foreign place for two weeks forced me to disconnect and it felt really good not pulling out my phone every minute and instead allowed myself to have real conversations with real people and/or just embrace the physical environment I was in.

3. It will be interesting to watch in-flight entertainment adapt to improving technology. Even though I actually enjoyed the movies, TV shows and games my flights across the Pacific offered — though it would have been better with an Xbox 360 or PS3 to play with — there sure is a lot of potential in this space.

Gaming in the air ... when will I be able to play the Xbox One while at 35,000 feet?
Gaming in the air … when will I be able to play the Xbox One while at 35,000 feet?

For example, Southwest Airlines and DISH are already partnering to offer live TV in the air on Wi-Fi enabled aircraft, and many others are doing something similar. Will airlines eventually rip those screens out of the seats and allow customers to wirelessly connect their own devices to access content provided by the airline? It could happen, and here’s a good site following all of this.

On a related note, I noticed that United has begun using automated in-flight messages over the intercom to warn passengers of when the plane is descending, or when it’s OK to take off your seat belt. This means flight attendants don’t have to worry about those type of duties anymore. It got me thinking: What other opportunities are there for automation during travel? Will we ever be served food by robots, for example? Or when will we be able to fill out those customs forms electronically, and have them be sent to immigration before we even land?

4. Restaurants will slowly all adapt to a paperless workflow. At one Indian restaurant I ate at in Singapore, the reservation system, ordering and register was all done with an iPad. I really think it’s only a matter of time before more and more restaurants turn to this, so long as they can afford the upfront costs — it undoubtedly saves paper and time, which improves efficiency for the restaurant and the overall experience for the customer.

beatsbydre1215. Beats by Dre headphones were by far the most popular “fake” item I saw sold on streets. There were some smartphones and other electronics floating around, but Beats by Dre were everywhere. Unfortunately I never asked how much they were going for, but I’m sure since they were not authentic, it was less than U.S. retail prices. The abundance of Beats by Dre headphones really speaks to how powerful of a brand the company has created.

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