Ten reasons why 2010 is NOT the year of the mobile in travel
This is – yet again – the year of the mobile in travel. But there are many reasons why mobile currently doesn’t work.
Let me highlight some of the ones that are causing issues. Before we even get to the applications, let’s review the infrastructure environment.
- Platforms – the splintering of the platforms is far greater than in the PC based world and even within application platform there are so many splinter forms that the consistency of the user experience is FAR less. There are also radical differences between platform types. For example, the iPhone and the Blackberry have really different UI/UE. Good news is that 80% is concentrated onto three platforms Android, iPhone and Blackberry.
- 234 million people in the USA used a mobile device in December 2009, according to Comscore. However, only 47 million smart phones were shipped, with the number of Smartphones in actual operation estimated at 65 million vs 308 million people in the USA.
- The variations in performance mean that for the vast majority of time (and this will not change in the near future) the performance of the UI due to vagaries in the network performance mean that the impatient user will often have to wait minutes for a response – similar to comparing dial up with broadband. These are theoretical speeds – I am talking about real world experience when trying to access information.
- Connection breaks – you have to recover the connection and start over…. You know what I mean.
- Consistent mobile broadband speeds mean that the amount of time when a smart phone is able to actually obtain acceptable signal/performance to operate will come down significantly – we estimate that this number exceeds 40% of the time – this is based on my own experience.
- Physical window aperture on the device – i.e. the ability to view the application on the screen.
- Vision impairment – yes, this is a big deal. According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. About 64% of them wear eyeglasses, and about 11% wear contact lenses, either exclusively, or with glasses. Over half of all women and about 42% of men wear glasses. Similarly, more women than men, 18% and 14% respectively, wear contacts. Of those who use both contacts and eyeglasses, 62% wear contact lenses more often.
- Dexterity impairment, juggling impairment.
- And last, by no means least, THE HIGH COST OF ROAMING. At the recent Tnooz #tcamp3 event in Berlin, I described the iPhone as the devil incarnate. For the next few years – until our favorite EU commissioner Nelly Kroes gets her way AND such moves to reduce charges are adopted by other countries – this will be the biggest impediment to adoption of travel apps.
So having taken those into consideration, now let’s consider point 10)
What would be the possible usefulness of a travel application?
So far we are seeing users like “applets”, such as the iPhone based applications. Some figures:
- At the end of November 2008 there were 10,000 iphone applets.
- By February 2009 that number exceeded 26,000.
A week ago the numbers were as follows (from 148apps.biz):
- Total active apps (currently available for download): 159,611
- Total inactive apps (no longer available for download): 21,234.
- Total apps seen in US app store: 180,845.
- Number of active publishers in the US app store: 32,183.
So fighting through the clutter is not easy.
What now becomes a characteristic is that there is no clear portal for mobile apps. The major portals of the web, going back to the early days, were the search engines and early value-added apps – eBay, Expedia et al.
These don’t have anything like that level of reach in mobile and there are no clear “pioneer proving grounds” that demonstrate that value to the user.
My point is that there is so much fragmentation on the web that the ability of a compelling app to cut through the clutter and become a clear value winner, which then forms the model for others to follow, does not happen.
So, there are some interesting apps – Foursquare, for example, which make that work – but they barely rise above the crowd. And their longevity is – well, at best, inconsistent.
Some more reality – according to data from Compete, more than four in ten smartphone owners would find trip planning apps useful if they notified them of schedule and rate changes, consolidated itineraries or helped manage loyalty programs.
I suspect the answers would be different if the question that was asked was:
Which one app would you find most useful – trip planning vs schedule updates? [eMarketer]
HEBS, in another study, says 33% of hoteliers admit that they do NOT have mobile initiatives in 2010.
My conclusion is that this is the year of more mobile confusion.
With only 65 million new smartphones to be shipped in the USA, with at least 50% of which will be replacement devices, this means that the market is growing at a much smaller pace than people think.
The value of these apps is still not clear and the ability to employ them remains questionable. And let’s not forget software bloat.
Already coders are getting lazy and developing apps that are both data and space hogs. Let’s not forget that the iPhone and its companion the iPad are both SINGLE tasking machines (or will be at least for a few more months until OS4 arrives).
Last week at Minneapolis St Paul Airport (MSP) – I watched a very frustrated barely 20 something tech exec arguing with the TSA guy as to why he should be allowed through security with his mobile boarding pass.
The rather stern 50+ agent was having none of it…. He sent the chap back to print his boarding pass and wouldn’t let him cut in line afterwards…
So there you have it – technology thwarted by humans. Who would have thought that?
Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is a contributing Node to Tnooz. He writes about travel, in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.
He has two day jobs: managing partner at travel consultancy firm T2Impact, where he serves as the lead for the airline, aviation and airport practice. He is also co-founder of VaultPAD, an accelerator devoted exclusively to travel and travel-related startup businesses. One of the first companies to emerge from the incubator is Air Black Box, a cloud-based software company providing Airline Connectivity Solutions.
Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as head of technology, where he managed international technology services from infrastructure to product.
Timothy is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards.