NB:Â This is guest article by Carl Kim (head of product development) and Mark Wallis (head of mobile technology) fromÂ My Destination.
Mobile is hot. Not the kind of incidences involving smoking iPhones, but as indicated by the almost daily write ups about the hike of travel related activities on mobile, how tablets are changing shopping behaviour, and the obligatory infographic.
Such findings are all very good but weâ€™re already bought into its importance â€“ the Internet has long reshaped the travel industry and now the second wave is coming in the form of mobile.
Weâ€™re all sitting up trying to figure out how to ride its momentum rather than being dumped by its force.
Weâ€™re not here to give the ultimate business mobile solution. Instead, weâ€™ve come to learn that the answer lies in the approach, and the approach depends on your circumstances.
Sorry if that sounds a bit wooly, but hopefully the details of our own experience (our rationale, challenges and mistakes) will be helpful to your businessâ€™s own mobile strategy.
And if our approach doesnâ€™t turn out to be 100% correct even for us weâ€™re still comfortable in the knowledge that because mobile is changing so rapidly our learning will help us quickly head in the right direction.
Why is there no ultimate mobile solution?
Mobile devices are still in their infancy. This isnâ€™t meant in terms of their sophistication, but more in that theyâ€™re yet to reach some level of standardisation.
Compared to desktop PCs and laptops theyâ€™re still evolving rapidly and on many fronts:
- software capabilities afforded with each operating system upgrade (voice command is an obvious example)
- the number of different platforms including iOS, Android, Windows Mobile 8, and the “will they/wonâ€™t they” Blackberry OS
- the physical characteristics of the devices (namely the screen size)
- types of devices themselves â€“ whether they are smartphones, tablet PCs or hybrids such as Kindle and Nook.
Another potential factor is the circumstance which your business finds itself in.
That mightnâ€™t be an earth-shattering insight but in our case it turned out to be quite instrumental, in both good and bad ways â€“ in other words, our approach to mobile played out well in the context of what else our company was doing, but more of that later.
The road to mobile has many lanes
So what is our approach to mobile? Itâ€™s to go multi-pronged:
- we have a smartphone app that has a particular, narrower focus than our website
- we are in the process of building a full mobile version of our upcoming new website
- later in the year weâ€™re launching a tablet PC app
We aim for each to serve different needs of users, offering varying degrees of differentiated features, and to compliment each other overall.
Back in November 2009, we engaged a mobile development agency to create a smartphone app for our business as an online travel guide. Admittedly, one reason for wanting an app was the classic “because everyone else has one”.
Another was for bragging rights (although we justified it by calling it “brand building”), but the primary reason was the value of an additional channel for reaching the audience.
However, the app never materialised.
We wonâ€™t need to go into the reasons but our advice is that when hiring an external developer delve deeply into their processes in order to explicitly define the milestones, and hold them to these.
This might seem obvious, but our point here is that “agile development” shouldnâ€™t be used as a cover up for lack of quality control.
Time to rethink
As a result we lost a fair bit of momentum whilst having created expectations with our users â€“ in eager anticipation we had prematurely plastered announcements all over our site about our imminently coming app.
Nonetheless, this lull gave us time to look long and had about mobile and we came to realise that without a mobile presence weâ€™re absent in a significant part of our usersâ€™ travel lifecycle, vis-Ã -vis when they are actually traveling.
Whilst users would have gotten beforehand their travel inspiration, carried out research for their itineraries, and booked big ticket items such as flights and accommodation, there is nonetheless a significant long tail of smaller ticket items that would be purchased during their actual travels â€“ meals, entertainment, local transport and activities.
Moreover, with our USP being â€˜local expertiseâ€™ it made even more sense that we should be engaged with our users once they are at their travel destination. Thirdly, travel is leisurely and social by nature, even when it involves research and making bookings.
A tablet PC is particularly geared towards this nature given the ease with which it can be taken to the couch, bed or cafÃ©.
The implication for us became obvious. Not only did mobile need to be an inherent part of our existence, but we also needed in-house capabilities.
However, before you rush off weâ€™re not suggesting you automatically banish your mobile development agencies.
There are instances when outsourcing makes good business sense, and not least from a cost, time and quality stand points. In our case we have our own full development operation (programming, graphic design, information architecture, infrastructure) so adding technical mobile skills was another piece to add.
In the second part of this article weâ€™ll explain our revised approach.
NB: This is guest article by Carl Kim (head of product development) and Mark Wallis (head of mobile technology) from My Destination.
NB2: Travel app image via Shutterstock.