… This post was published on Tnooz here
… This post was published on Tnooz here
Movitas – “The New Guest Operating System”
Due disclosure – I am a big fan of Keith Forshew, their CEO. I think he’s a class act. Movitas essentially build property-specific mobile apps for resorts, hotels etc. Their perspective on this is that the mobile device is a great way for the property to communicate with the guest, and by providing a hotel-specific app that covers everything from check-in through communications between guests and staff and between guests themselves, access to everything from restaurant menus to amenities down to using the hotel switchboard to place calls routed from the smartphone.
I agree that hotels, and especially resorts with many services and amenities, would do well to offer their own mobile apps / websites. People are coming to expect that. But the assumption that a guest (and old dog) is willing to learn a “whole new operating system” (new tricks) every time he is visiting a new hotel is simply unfounded. Simply getting guests to download your mobile app is not trivial. Getting them to learn how to use it to do twenty different things – including things for which they already have well-established mobile habits (e.g. telephony), is plain unreasonable. So if I’m a property-manager in need of a mobile-app, I may well look at Movitas as a vendor – they do have a good “template” to start from. But I will avoid much of the high-flying tech-for-tech-sake features they propose. Movitas will do well to take some of their ideas and try to ground them in existing mobile user habits – not build proprietary experiences (easier said than done).
Goby – The Local Mobile Search Engine
I have to say I like the area these guys are pursuing. Hotels / Cars / Flights were done time-and-time again, while no one has really cracked open the in-destination market, especially with regards to activities & services (A&S). I also think they’ve built a compelling mobile user experience, and they seem to have amassed a whole lot of content.
However, the challenges ahead are still significant. First & foremost, one of the biggest issues of the A&S market is the lack of an easy monetization infrastructure. Those dozens of thousands of disparate businesses, each with a different “booking model” do not tap into one system and are not all (or most) part of some wide-scale affiliate program, which makes monetizing the traffic (customers) you send to them extremely hard. In an adjacent space, OpenTable did that by building a significant sales-force on the ground and signing up restaurant after restaurant by offering them software they actually needed in order to lure them in – and ended up monetizing mostly through the subscription fees for that software. And restaurants are generally comparable which simplifies the software and the user experience. A museum and a white-water-rafting vendor – not so much.
The second challenge is again getting traction with users in the face of established habits. Google Maps and Yelp are slowly becoming platforms for solving the “what to do next and where” challenge for consumers in their home-town. These consumers may well prefer the brands and user experiences they know when they’re traveling too. TripAdvisor is already trying to chase Yelp, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goby is a target for them – at least in order to progress the user experience faster and present a more compelling consumer story.
Kony Solutions – Write Once, Run Anywhere?
Again for due disclosure – in 2001 I led the creation of a platform called X-Mobile, an XML-based, mobile, loosely-connected rich-client creation environment. It was deployed by Israel’s largest bank for banking application, and Israel’s largest dairy vendor for a supply-chain-management app. Heck I even wrote my MSc. thesis on the subject. So I am biased.
The challenge of developing multi-platform mobile apps is real. This is a market where not just the #1 but even the Top-3 platforms change every 3 years –
Furthermore the different device form-factors themselves are varied – big screens, smaller screens, keyboard, no keyboard etc. If you’re a consumer-facing company, and you decide you need an app – you have a big dilemma. We discussed that at EyeForTravel and I followed up with a more detailed review. So I buy at least into most of the arguments in Stewart Elliot’s FUD campaign.
So – is Kony the solution? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. This is a hard problem to solve at its core. The differences between the platforms are supposedly the manufacturer’s “differentiators” – the reason someone prefers an iPhone 4 to a BlackBerry Torch or a Motorola Droid X to a Samsung Fascinate. They have a good reason to maintain the differences, so the common way to build a platform that “magically bridges them” is to dumb down the capabilities to the platforms to a lowest-common-denominator. This means many things that can be done in the “native” platform cannot be done in that “write once” platform. So do you need those things in your mobile travel app? If you do – Kony might not be good enough. If you don’t – they may be overkill anyway.
Furthermore, the “right way” to build such a tool is one where the platform owner (e.g. Google Android, Apple iOS) is the one incentivized to have that tool work well on the platform. Otherwise the tool will break every time there’s a new platform update or product. That usually means establishing a standard, and in this domain the relevant standard seems to be HTML 5. HTML 5 allows rich web apps to run in the browser on all these devices. Kony is aware of that and seems to be running a hybrid approach of HTML 5 screens running within a Kony “meta-client”.
So what Kony really is, from my perspective, is a consulting company with expertise in serving travel suppliers, and a “secret sauce” in the form of a proprietary framework to build these hybrid applications in. So as in Movitas’ case – if I’m a travel marketer looking for someone to build my next mobile app, I’ll definitely solicit a proposal from these people. If it’s a non-trivial app, it’s likely they will be able to expedite it to the market and the cost may even be competitive. But assuming they will displace standards, or give Adobe (for instance) a run for their money? Don’t bet on it. An if ultimately what you wish to built can and should be built as an HTML 5 mobile website, getting locked into their platform can be a big mistake in the long term.
So – what does this mean for the industry?
From the low attendance of mobile travel innovators and also from what these companies actually do, I get the feeling the zeitgeist is that mobile travel will be left in the hands of the incumbents. Whether it’s established travel players – e.g. Expedia (with some help from the Mobiata team) or potentially mobile players (Apple’s iTravel? Others are moving too) or most likely real platform players – like Google Maps. For all of these companies this is a high-stakes game, and they do seem to realize it. In the absence of disruptive upstarts, they’ll just keep trying and gradually improving their offerings in the space, until they hit a gold vein. At this stage I think Google has the most demonstrable ability to do it, and if no one else builds a better mouse-trap, Google Maps / Local Search will be the in-destination tool of choice for travelers. With 80% of purchasing decisions made in-destination (according to QuickMobile’s Patrick Payne), they stand to make a lot of new revenue there. And with the ITA and Google Places assets progressing, they stand to be the dominant player in mobile pre-trip planning too.
Last week, I had the honor of moderating the Mobile in Travel track at Eye For Travel TDS Chicago.
With presentations and panelists from fifteen different companies, the amount of experience and hands-on knowledge was hard to replicate, and hopefully was useful for the audience.
Given the nature of such events, sometimes after listening to so many people over so many hours it is hard to recap everything. Here’s a run-through of the main points, as delivered by the speakers and discussed in the panels.
The Time For Mobile is NOW!
This fact is was demonstrated in two different ways by two very different presentations – Jared Miller from Continental showed the traction generated with the brand-new Continental iPhone app – within weeks of release the application was providing services to dozens of thousands of passengers and generating significant ancillary revenue. Tripit’s Gregg Brockway took the 30,000 feet approach, presenting mobile as part of another wave of change which will change whole industries, and which you should prefer to ride – rather than be crushed by. According to Gregg, the interoperability between current offerings, mobile and social capabilities provides for a new Traveler-Centric service approach. Similar thoughts were reflected by Max Starkov of HeBS in his talk about the “hyper-interactive travel consumer”. This is an opportunity for disruption, which could come from start-ups, incumbents, or companies not traditionally involved in travel, who decided to step in (esp. mobile giants).
… A video recording of Gregg, Max and Chris’ session is available online here.
Mobile Creates New Touch Points With The Customer
Jim Davidson of Farelogix moved the audience with his question – “What is the first thing that happens once an aircraft touches down?”
The answer – hundreds of cellphones are turned on all at once. The potential for revenue-generating or otherwise value-generating interaction with the arriving passengers right there and then is easy to understand. It is totally feasible to deliver relevant content and transactional opportunities at this time (to wit – it is a feature of WorldMate on BlackBerry). Many such examples exist, based on location, context and immediacy. Jim predicted that “in 2012, 50% of all ancillary transactions will be made on mobile devices”. While this may sound like a tall order, Jared from Continental presented a chart showing that weeks after their iPhone app was released, check-in transactions on iPhone were generating more ancillary revenue than on any other medium (web, kiosk or mobile web). In the hotel domain, similar data points are emerging. Tony D’Astolfo quoted a Priceline report stating that 82% of their mobile customers book their hotel within one day of arrival – compared to only 45% who do it on the web.
The Platform Story Is Complicated – And Will Remain So
It’s a complication from multiple aspects – first, the multitude of different mobile platforms (iOS, BlackBerry, Android etc. – see my previous post) and approaches (apps vs. mobile web). And no – it doesn’t look like the platforms are consolidating soon, nor does it seem like HTML 5 will replace apps in the foreseeable future. TripAdvisor’s Mike Putnam suggests a hybrid approach, with an app that presents the main user interface but uses an integrated “browser window” to present most of the on-line content.
Second, some experiences call for a platform-wide solution, for instance mobile boarding passes – a sub-par experience that can be improved with an airline app – but only for boarding passes from that same airline – and do we really want to download and sign up on an app for each of the airlines we use? More likely, we want the platform to provide a solution, styled after Kerry Kennedy‘s “save the screen shot” idea but a little more direct.
Last – Tablets. They Are A Separate Opportunity
Tablets (e.g iPad, PlayBook) are great travel research tools, unlike smartphones that are great immediate info retrieval / action tools. This market is growing quickly, as demonstrated by some of the stats provided by Orbitz’ Chris Brown.
It’s a different mode of interaction – more similar to the desktop, but still a different user interface. If you’re an online marketer, these too should be on your roadmap, and unfortunately, what you deploy on these should be different from what you plan to build for smartphones.
Personally it was a challenging experience for me not to try and answer every question myself… If you have specific questions / ideas and need someone to discuss them with, contact me directly or comment here.