The future is not impossible to predict. A quick look at where influencing technologies are heading is usually the recommended first step in any effort to unlock its secrets. And there are no examples of obvious future trends that are as vivid, (or as appealing to a technophile such as myself) as those coming from Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch new operating system.
The iPhone is a peculiarly ignored medium for reservations and guest interaction; and almost never seen as a different segment in internet business segmentation – even from the most aggressive and methodic specialists. Possibly a slightly uncomfortable subject for CRS firms (who usually educate on what they can deliver and forget to talk about the stuff they can’t do) even the most obvious features of the trend-setting platform (because that is exactly what it is) are frequently ignored. Look around (on the net) and see the signs.
There are many examples of full Flash websites without an html alternative… which will not work on an iPhone, making the expensive choice of full Flash design less high-end than what it might have looked on paper… (and don’t expect any great improvement with Microsoft’s Silverlight technology either)
With the new iPhone and iPod Touch related developments around the corner, there is a lot more that is coming our way that should worry us. A lot more than just presentation and usability of our website on such a great demographic (who do you think can afford an iPhone?).
Alarm bells starter ringing about a month ago when Apple invited developers (people that write applications for its Apple Store) to talk to them about the tools that it is now giving them for the next operating system (3.0) for the iPhones and Touch iPods. In their presentation (tailored to the less technically minded person – so don’t be shy if you don’t know your class from your object, and do watch it here) they didn’t fail to point out that their market is just superb. And growing really, really fast.
A few facts of interest:
In less than two years, a completely new and different – and in most places rather very expensive – phone is being sold to over 80 countries around the world.
Just in the 12 months of 2008, Apple sold 13.7 million (yes, million) iPhones and another 16.5 million iPod Touch units. That is a combined 30 million units (did I mention these things don’t come cheap?).
If you are not already getting interested in the size of this market, maybe I should mention that there is over 50 thousand individuals and companies working to produce independent applications for these two machines.
And today, there are well over 25 thousand applications for it.
And over a billion (yes, billion) downloads that have taken place by iPhone and iPod touch owners by the end of last month (in about 8 months since the shop where you can buy them went live).
Given that the iPhone is invariably one of the most expensive phones to buy (yes, I know I mentioned this before, but it is important enough) there is probably a lot of mileage in the demographics behind it. I don’t think there is data for it, but I suspect that in their majority, people that have an iPhone also have money to buy a hotel roomnight somewhere. And that makes them oh, so very interesting to us…
So we know that this technology is here to stay, and we know which way it is going to go (from the presentation Apple did, telling us all about it). And in my personal view, there are a few interesting factors that will make this market an arena for differentiation and profit of those of us that find the means to tackle it early.
The main changes are:
- iPhone will now allow in-application purchase.
- It will allow for push technology to be taken advantage of, and
- peer to peer over Bluetooth is going to be supported.
- Stereo Bluetooth is going to be supported, and
- maps can be widely used by everyone who is writing an application for the iPhone.
All in all, if successfully implemented, the way that we interact and relate to our customers has just been opened up to endless possibilities for dramatic, and really cool changes.
In-application purchase means that if you are making a booking over your iPhone through an “App” dedicated to the job, you don’t need to browse a hotel’s website in order to buy add-ons. And third parties with their technology and budget requirements fulfilled, (companies like Expedia and Travelocity, but also hotel chains and representation companies) will be able to offer add-ons dynamically, at any stage of the booking (before or after) and without giving their app customers any extra work to do in the process. In fact, it should be easier for the consumer to be offered and to buy add-ons over the phone, rather than on his or her computer. Naturally, these add-ons can also be free, allowing for post booking customisation of the stay (something not dissimilar to what BA does with their offering to their customers the ability to choose their seats and set meal preferences. Not dissimilar at all in fact – just much, much, much cheaper to develop).
Push technology means that a firm with an app handling the booking on the customer’s phone, can now send messages to its customer without needing to know their mobile number (although consumer permissions will be needed at some stage – so I suspect a new process of licensing will be introduced in the app purchase process). So, in our example of a hotel chain, if the reservation happens through an app, it is easy for the hotel to send all sorts of interesting stuff (calendar notes, location pins, important news etc.) to the consumer – without the need for anyone to be reading e-mails, or agreeing to being sent texts (that are both expensive for the sender, and apparently massively annoying for the consumer). No resistance in “pushing” messages to consumers is in itself a huge subject, but it should suffice to say here that we expect it to provide a new channel to consumers’ mobile phones. Consumers that would otherwise decline receiving that message (at least through text) are now going to seek them..!
Bluetooth peer to peer – using Apple’s brilliant Bonjour – could mean that when a customer is in range, the iPhone can register them with reception, and even receive a key to open the Bluetooth enabled or docking port equipped door of their room.
When in the room, the customer won’t even have to take the earphones off to listen to the TV (thanks to Bluetooth Stereo). The customer could in fact use the iPhone to control every electronic item in the room, from a specially adapted interface for the lights, to radio clocks, to channels on the TV, to ordering room service or booking a table without talking to anyone. Even feedback can be given on the spot – giving you a greater chance to fix the problem before you read about it on TripAdvisor!
Sounds like science fiction? It shouldn’t. Because the hardware is here, and the platform on which the required software (Apps) can be developed is here. The only thing that is needed at this stage is time for the development and the market forces to kick in. And yes, initially these services will be offered separately – one imagines that it will all have to progress from one App per service; customers will have to dock their phones rather than working with them wirelessly. But things will move on and improve as hotel chains will start standardising their software.
So the future looks bright… bright, apple shaped, on a back-lit touch screen hand-held with automatic dimming and a platform that – barring minor annoyances – is better than all of the rest of them.