This weekend’s THack at SFO airport was a teaser of things to come in the wearables market. Two of the concepts (see the roundup here) focused on smartwatch technologies in travel, a segment of technology that is just now hitting its stride with the announcement of the upcoming Apple Watch.
While Samsung Gear and the Pebble watch have been around for a couple of years, having such a reputable global cult brand like Apple vouch for the potential of the smartwatch is a big deal. And after the popular reaction from the announcement last month was generally positive, there is a real possibility that the Apple Watch is the next iPhone watershed moment in travel technology.
Think about what life was like in travel before the iPhone – some may nostalgically riff for the simpler, more lucrative times with fewer middlemen, but the reality is that the app ecosystem unleashed an enormous torrent of innovation and profit for more entities.
Extending apps to the smartwatch – a device that is physically attached to the body – is an obvious boon to travel, given that travel requires instantaneous access to information.
We’re not talking about booking travel through a watch interface; rather, we’re talking about adding value on-the-go and in-destination, where brand loyalty is fought and won by the most successful mobile application providers. We’re talking about seamless payments for on-the-go tours, a new way to interact with Beacons, and a navigable interface that makes sharing and exploring an itinerary seamless and fun.
Here are two of the concepts that emerged from the THack SFO event that focused on wearables and their upcoming dominance of development resources.
The team from Amadeus came prepared with a specific use case in mind: the cruise passenger with a limited timeframe to explore a port city during the day.
Many passengers will only have 8-12 hours in a port, so disembarking is fraught with peril and worry – how many stops can we make? What if we miss the ship? How long does it actually take to walk from point A to point B? At what point in the afternoon do we need to drop a few points of interest and start heading back to the ship? These are all questions that come up, and that the StreetSmart app addressed.
The app allows travelers to import lists saved from external sites – say a Pinterest board, which is already a popular way to aggregate destination activities – and then to create a customized itinerary on the watch. The app will update as the day unfolds to account for speed differences, and will begin to re-route and adjust the itinerary as needed to ensure that the time limit is met.
This application can also be extended to any limited-duration visit in a city. For visitors looking to make dinner reservations or travelers on a long layover, the same itinerary-building and management feature can be leveraged.
Another feature that has positive implications for smartwatch travel apps as a whole: connecting with friends. The StreetSmart app allows friends to connect with each other to share saved itineraries and favorite places. This is especially useful for travel marketing, as brands and destination marketers would be able to participate to offer timed and themed tours of places for travelers.
The roadmap development plan seen above includes some interesting integrations, such as seeing the time between points of interest, the ability to quickly review places (a huge potential change in the way places are reviewed), the ability to call a taxi from the current location, and the basic ability to discover things to do nearby.
Altogether, this hack offered a clear path to the way that smartwatches will be used in travel. This new platform, which may set sales records for Apple, could be the next gold rush in travel tech. It also provides new opportunities for ongoing engagement for destinations, hospitality companies and venues, as guests now have a quick way to review alongside a very simple interface to deliver updated specials, coupons and targeted specials.
App in the Air
This team (unaffiliated with the other App in the Air) created a means to use the smartwatch to book tickets and additional trip-add ons via the smartwatch. The primary use case here is when a traveler wants to book a train after arrival.
The watch could prompt upon arrival into Heathrow, for example, and the wearer could select an upcoming train departure and purchase right there on the watch face. The barcode could then be served on the watch for boarding.
The interface via the companion app could also be used to scan barcodes on airplane tickets to provide further information for specific trips. Beacons were also considered as an integration element, with the ability to deliver proximity-aware information – this sort of application is ideal for in-terminal directions, in-airport merchandising and any other service that an airline or airport might want to deliver via beacon.
The smartwatch would also allow involvement of retailers in everyday hospitality applications, who are able to target travelers for specific needs. One example the team focused on was the ability to re-book trips that were no longer appropriate – say, a balloon ride in the rain. With a few swipes, the traveler could select a new tour and book immediately. The booking would then be updated throughout interfaces and reflected in the travel plans.
There are clearly cross use cases with StreetSmart that demonstrate how brands could deliver a full end-to-end experience using the smartwatch. In fact, the team’s overarching pitch demonstrated how the approach could extend across travel categories:
Wearable travel services delivering B2C and B2B packaged journey information, location-based activities and full-trip support.
While putting an app out into the world was a race with a global army, smartwatch apps could indeed be precision-based developments that allow for complete brand loyalty across multiple functionalities.
This would be a departure for the “one app for a specific thing” state of affairs, where consumers have a multitude of apps depending on what they do. Given the small screen on watches, functionality will be shared across apps – so it’s more about who delivers the best overall experience that integrates seamlessly with other devices in a traveler’s possession.
More Tnooz coverage of the Apple Watch here.