647 days ago

The many problems with travel apps and how to fix them

The ease with which one can generate an mobile app has, of course, encouraged many in the industry to go ahead and put resources into creating one.

To the “Follow me on Twitter” and “Like me on Facebook” has been added “Download the App”.

But this is all starting to take serious amounts of time. On my personal iPad, which is a wifi-only device, I typically get two or three update requests a day, requiring me to spend probably about an hour a week downloading the latest versions.

It’s yet another thing that increases the flow of digital junk on my machines. And this is before we, as users, even start using such apps.

According to Neilsen, the average user spends around 40 mins a day with apps.

I have also looked at the amount of interaction I have with the apps that I have (now numbering more than 150) on my various devices. I see now that many are really not that useful at all after their initial one time, “it’s interesting” peruse look at.

So, what strikes me is that the amount of time spent with just dealing with apps is increasingly wasteful, inefficient and often very annoying.

Here are the things I am beginning to see as general obstacles to the success of applications and the culture surrounding apps.

  • Clutter – too many residual apps sitting around being useless – let’s call them Zombie Apps.
  • Useless apps to start with, developed for no real reason other than it sounded cool and someone in IT had some free time on their hands rather than supporting users.
  • Abysmal search on the various App stores. Apple and Google are particularly bad but NO ONE IS GOOD in this area.
  • Mostly poor quality of the apps themselves, such as bad coding and lousy UX etc etc. I would also put this down to lack of discipline in the approval process by Apple and Google.
  • Time wasted in companies managing apps
  • Gaming the user to downloading useless apps (just when you thought SEO/SEM was bad!).
  • Bad support for apps – how to fix or answer questions. Indeed, how arrogant is it to say that an app which is another channel for customer interaction doesn’t have customer support?
  • Apps that assume that data is always on. Couple this with high roaming charges.
  • Poor interoperability of apps with standard functions like GPS etc. I am amazed at how many apps just, well, fail.
  • Privacy. Loads of people big and small companies have been caught abusing personal data.

So here is a series of suggestions of what you should be thinking about before starting your app development.

  • What is the real purpose of the app? Define it and refine the use cases. Is the app really necessary?
  • Apps may be smaller applications but they are still applications. This means that you have to use development methodologies – and there are NO short cuts
  • Know thy users.
  • HTML 5 is now pretty standard and makes the use of the mobile web probably just as functional without having to download and maintain an App
  • Don’t over complicate things.
  • Consider client and server side functions. Not everything has to be done at the client side.
  • How are you going to get user engagement and, if necessary, increase the frequency of use.

And let me leave you with this thought. Check out this infographic:

With nearly 1,300 new apps being made available every day and 35 million being downloaded, how do you cut through the clutter?

Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

About the Writer :: Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is a contributing Node to Tnooz and managing partner at travel consultancy firm, T2Impact. He serves as the lead for the airline, aviation and airport practice. He is also a Co-founder of VaultPAD an accelerator devoted exclusively to travel and travel-related startup businesses.

Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team where he headed the ground transportation and international portfolios, before founding T2Impact in 1998.

He has worked in aviation and travel distribution for more than 30 years, including time with Worldspan as head of technology where he managed international technology services from product to infrastructure.

He is also CTO and deputy CEO of Lute Technologies, a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes on the T2Impact Blog.



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  1. Matt Zito

    Tim, hi, great post. I am currently looking at developing a mobile travel app and have been thinking through much of what you say. I agree there will be a time when app overload takes over and maybe the time is nearer than we think. I believe knowing the user is key.

  2. vlad

    Native mobile apps as well as HTML5 web apps can be created without programming skills at Snappii. Non-programmers can create apps in hours here. Also it is a good way to outsource app development quickly and cost-effectively. With Snappii your app development is 10x times quicker than when hiring developers.

  3. Marion Hughes Roger


    I wrote a blog on this recently as well.

    In fact, every time I go to a site I am asked to download a custom app and save it onto whatever appliance I am using. So as of today I joined the ranks of those resenting the growing APP-ification of life! Time and effort to download and install (which may be a Trojan horse and infect my “smarter-than-me phone”) only to discover said app hogs a LOT of space on my device not to mention keeping them all updated — annoying as heck! This newly named (by me) syndrome is “APP -Aversion” (when added to another syndrome known as SMOD or Social Media Over-Dose) makes me want to check out. But actually it’s like the song “Welcome to the Hotel California” …. “you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave!”

    Sometimes I feel like I am sinking into a black hole of tweets, likes, comments, circles, profiles and scores. In fact, I have begun to feel overwhelmed, under-impressed and simply annoyed at how much information about what I do, who I know and what I talk about is quietly collected, crunched, and then commercialized.

    look beyond the surface: APP-ification means we allow ourselves to be monitored, analyzed and yes, monetized. You know how you feel when you take youngsters to the amusement park? Oooh! This is so much fun …wow!! Later on, sensory overload makes you feel queasy and the money spent on the outing starts to feel like a big rip-off. Not only do all these apps suck time away from life (how much time did you spend playing Angry Birds?) but there is a more ulterior context.

    An amusement park ride can suddenly seem quite risky (when it’s YOUR kids up there you notice all the rust and scaffolding!) In the same way, downloading apps and more apps means you are unknowingly giving away precious information that is not only questionably secured but also is making someone rich (and you’re not getting a cut).

    Last spring, the Facebook IPO introduced the “personal data economy”. Facebook–and a thousand other companies like it–collect and monetize personally identifiable information (aka PII). They take advantage of this data by targeting ads — mention your upcoming wedding on Facebook or a new baby due in an email and you’ll see ads for bridal dresses or strollers. I have a BA in Advertising and an MBA in Marketing so of course, I get it. “Targeting” is clearly the killer APP here (pun intended). However, the lack of transparency and the massive adoption of social media sounds a wake up call once you see the numbers.

    Facebook (nearly 1 billion users) has amassed highly detailed personal information – which when you think about it, is more than anything ever stockpiled by any company or government in history. As the mobile and social media marketplace matures, users are realizing that installing 3rd party apps means losing control. It is never clear just who’s developing the app, what they’re doing with the data they may be collecting, or what PII security practices are in place. Question: How closely do you understand what permissions you’ll be granting when agreeing to add it to your profile?

    According to PhoCusWright’s U.S. Corporate Travel Report: Market Size and Technology Trends report, 51% of US travelers access travel content on their phones, while four of every five travelers access hotel and airline information. According to TripAdvisor’s 2012 Industry Index survey, 47% of global respondents (accommodation owners and managers) plan to offer a program using mobile devices (e.g. mobile apps, special offers and booking on mobile devices, etc.) to engage with travelers in 2012. In the Latin America region this figure is 50%, in the Asia-Pacific region, 53%.

    As the hospitality industry faces the evolution of both mobile and Social Media usage, we all seek to exploit both trends for sophisticated sales and marketing platforms. As always, Hospitality Evolution Resources is thinking about what’s next and how to prepare for it.

    As of Fall 2012, questions our clients have discussed with us include:
    How do we deal with the growing suspicion, fear and fatigue of apps?
    How do we prepare for App Aversion?
    What thought processes are required for an app a hotel or group offers, with regard to reassuring future users?
    When asking a prospective or regular guest to interact with a property or brand via app, will we be required to allow them to chose what information our hotel can retain and utilize?
    When using an app from a technology provider, how can we know how THEY secure our guests’ PII?

    Join this dialogue and enjoy Phoenix Phocus which appears to b Phab-ulous!


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