In plane sight: tablets and e-books take flight

So you're off on another business trip. You've settled into your seat on the plane, and face many long hours stretching ahead of you.

You reach into your carry-on bag and pull out – what? An iPad? A Kindle? The latest issue of your favourite magazine, or a book?

It certainly seems that books, at least in their printed "dead tree" format, are slowly being pushed off the inflight reading list.

It's no accident that air travel spawned its own category of literature in the form of the "airport novel".

These large, thick paperback tomes are geared to passengers with engaging, easy-to-read escapism to reduce the boredom factor in long flights.

As Ian Fleming freely admitted of his James Bond adventures, "I write for warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, aeroplanes and beds."

But is the new wave of technology setting up books for their own cliffhanger ending?

This week's sales debut of the iPad Mini is going to be seriously tempting for travellers, especially those growing tired of carting books and magazines for inflight reading.

Compared to its larger sibling, the Mini's smaller screen – 20 centimetres on the diagonal, against 24.6 centimetres for the original iPad – and lower price tag (starting at $369) are equally geared for portability and tablet holdouts.


That applies even more so to Google's Nexus 7 tablet, with a slightly smaller 17.8-centimetre screen and a significantly lower $249 sticker.

These tablets join a growing category of travel-friendly gadgets that I am seeing in increasing numbers on planes and in airport lounges and hotel lobbies.

On most flights, regardless of whether I'm in business class or economy, it's rare not to see at least one passenger in any given row using a tablet or e-book reader.

I also make a quick tech tally on most visits to airport lounges, and in the past few months tablets seem to be drawing neck-and-neck with laptops.

Quite a few travellers pack both: a laptop for work and a tablet or e-book reader for down time.

Of course, tablets also make it easier to jump online or dive into your inbox compared with powering up and juggling a laptop.

E-book readers play a more specialised role. They're single-purpose devices that do one thing very well, with an experience that's optimised for books. Think of them as a sharp knife instead of a Swiss Army knife.

And e-book readers are even cheaper than tablets, starting at $100 for the new Kobo Mini due next month, and $139 for the classic Amazon Kindle.

In the middle of all this rampant tech, do books and magazines have a place on the plane any more?

So this week, as the iPad Mini looms and the "tablet wars" get warmer, High Flyer is taking a snap poll on the reading habits of Australia's business travellers and frequent flyers.

Book, magazine, tablet or e-book reader – what's your choice of inflight reading, and why?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

Twitter: @AusBT