What do you do when first at your seat on the train?
Take your jacket off, stow your bag, sit down and then, if you are anything like me, get your phone or connected device out. Even if it’s a leisure trip with a novel or magazine to keep you company, the device is never out of arms reach. Then, perhaps a quick trip to the buffet car to get a coffee and a snack, and with everything set out in front of you, a productive and enjoyable journey can commence. Whether travelling for pleasure or business, for rail companies all over the world it’s essential to ensure their passengers make the most of time on-board and further grow the popularity of rail transport
Now, one Scottsdale Arizona based company, SmartTray, has brought their unique experience of 22 years in the airline industry and servicing airline companies around the globe to the rail business. SmartTray has focused on enhancing the on-board experience for the modern connected passenger by providing a unique, patented line of tray tables with an integrated device holder built right in! Our Editor Luke Upton decided to learn more about SmartTray and what they are offering.
Here at SmartRail World, we frequently write about how our evolving rail industry is learning from other sectors, whether it be wireless mesh networks from mining, CCTV cameras from defence or in this case passenger experience from airlines. The team at SmartTray saw the increasing popularity of inter-city rail travel, and the changing expectations from tech-savvy passengers as an opportunity to work with rail operators to help support the industry’s growth.
The patented designs that SmartTray has deployed for rail carriages are similar to the ones found on aircraft. Your device can be secured in the expandable groove feature, straight in front of you and hands-free, which enables the entire tray table surface to be used for food, drinks or good old fashioned newspapers and books while enjoying your favourite movies, listening to music, or surfing the web. Ergonomically speaking, SmartTray holds your portable electronic devices (PEDs) allowing the user to rest comfortably while using their tablets, smartphones, e-readers or MP3 players, and even computers such as the new Microsoft Surface.
Whilst many SmartRail readers in Europe and Asia will be used to tray tables on their commutes in the morning, they are far less common in North America. And the addition of the special expandable groove to fit electronic devices will be an innovation wherever you are in the world.
We asked Nick Pajic Jr., VP Project Management of SmartTray Rail & Bus, LLC about how they began delivering their tables on the tracks as well as in the skies: “With so many rail passengers traveling with their PEDs and smartphones today, rail companies were coming to us looking for a simple and practical retrofit solutions that make it easier for their customers to use their devices while eating, drinking and keeping in touch on-board. Increasingly the on-board experience is a selling point for rail travel, particularly in contrast to travelling by car.”
“So the ability to ensure passengers can work and relax is important. With our patented SmartTray tray tables electronic devices are always within arm's reach and in full sight – which most passengers now consider essential.” added Pajic.
In spending some time with the SmartTray (@TheSmartTray ) team, the enthusiasm and passion for their product is clear and I asked their Chief Operating Officer Jay Esty to guide us through some of their most popular lines: “The SmartTray® X1 (pictured above) is our most popular and customer requested SmartTray product. It has a retractable PED feature that seamlessly deploys and retracts into the tray table. Rotating right out of the tray table, it allows for unlimited adjustments for viewing ease while keeping the entire surface of the tray table uncluttered and is very popular with passengers.”
Esty continued: “Then there is our SmartTray® X4 (pictured below), designed specifically for Business and First Class travellers, it features a patented rotation feature that seamlessly deploys and retracts into the tray table. This innovation fits into arm rests where some tray tables are stored and a regular seat-back solution couldn’t be used. Plus that’s not all, a ‘safety-break’ feature prevents a passenger device from sliding forward and becoming damaged during sudden stops.”
When we spoke it was the week that Apple launched the iPhone 7, and Jay and Nick had been watching closely, as they always do to keep up to date with the latest technology in the hands of commuters. The mechanism that holds the device on each SmartTray has been designed with a knowledge that devices change, and the SmartTray can evolve with them, the groove expanding and retracting automatically to the thickness of the PEDs and smartphone fitted into it. And SmartTray’s design team can effectively design and manufacture tray table solutions that will integrate seamlessly to any existing configurations as well as new designs.
One design addition that I can’t ignore is that the PED device when gripped by the groove mechanism is always slightly elevated above the tray itself, so for those clumsy travellers among us, accidentally spilled coffee, juice or water won’t mean a new iPhone.
And as of March this year, the luxurious Holland America Princess Cruises Rail in Anchorage, Alaska became the first rail line in North America to deploy SmartTray tables, installing them on their carriages for the 2016 cruising season. Whether companies are looking to freshen their current rail fleet seats with retrofit tray tables or outfitting their new ordered seats with this exciting upgrade, the SmartTray team is ready to design, manufacture, and service for all OEM Seat and Rail customers.
After spending an afternoon with the SmartTray guys, the small foldable tray on my commute home, with the only nod to ‘smartness’ being a mild indent for a cup of tea or coffee looked pretty uninspiring. Much like free Wi-Fi, this kind of passenger focussed, gadget-friendly innovation should become the norm for rail operators looking to improve experience on the train, boost ridership and bolster their position against road and air travel. With innovators like SmartTray leading the way, the passenger experience on-board our trains will continue to improve and keep pace with expectations.