Most of us will remember the Apple app store debuting in 2008, Passbook being announced in 2012, and even the hasty demo of the redesigned Apple Music this week was hard to miss.
Without doubt, WWDC (Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference) announces new mobile developments that make an impact, that can change an industry. In fact the “D” in WWDC should probably stand for ‘Disruption’.
On the other hand, we have not seen the same wave of game changing announcements at the Google I/O conference…until recently.
It’s been a few weeks since I/O 2016, so let’s take a closer look at some of the key takeaways from the recent Google event and their relevance to the travel industry.
It feels like voice search has been a hobby of Google’s for years, but it’s taken a dark horse like the Amazon Echo to finally spur the search giant into action.
When Bjorn Bringert, Google Search Engineering Lead said in September of last year “What Google is trying to achieve is people talking to Google in a conversational manner,” the immediate understanding was that he was talking about voice as a search tool. But that turned out not to be the case.
If you think the future of ‘Home’ is to replicate Amazon’s voice search technology ‘Alexa’ and its application by the likes of Skyscanner, then think again!
The ‘Home’ video (which, among others features, includes communication of a delayed flight, rebooking of dinner and texting colleagues), gives a good insight into the role that Google Home and artificial intelligence could play in helping support travel management in real-time.
Autonomy and the personalised travel experience may get very interesting very fast!
Which brings me onto ‘Assistant’…
What is ‘Assistant’? I’ll let Google explain
“Assistant is conversational—an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater. It’s a Google for you, by you.”
In less ‘Googley speak’, it’s like Apple’s Siri but it understands ‘what’ you are saying on Google Now but with less one-way traffic. So far ‘Assistant’ is the AI brains behind Home and Allo only (more on that in a moment).
Allo is, essentially, a messaging app. Nothing ground-breaking here! So don’t expect millions of users to jump ship from Whatsapp or Messenger because, if I/O history has taught us anything, it’s that Google has never been that great at social products in the past (older readers may remember Wave, Buzz… Google+)
With FacebookMessenger, Snapchat and Whatsapp firmly atop the messaging tree, surely that ship has sailed?
Google does not seem to think so.
Allo is a messaging app with brains, specifically the brains of ‘Assistant’. So when Allo goes live later this year and the Assistant API is opened to others to implement into their digital strategy, there should be great opportunities to further enhance real-time, one-to-one communication with end-travellers and to advance the multichannel, multiplatform, communication approach all travel companies are beginning to wake up to.
Payment (credit card scanning, Apple Pay, Android Pay), check-in (passport scanning), booking (saved profiles, account auto filling) – MTT and others have used these capabilities to eradicate all the great friction points in mobile travel app usage over the past few years.
But Google thinks there is one more left: installation of apps themselves.
Instant apps are nothing new. They are the natural successor to Google’s ‘App Streaming’ from last year, only taken one step further. No installation needed, apps can now be modularised, with slices picked out by the user.
Far from being the death of apps, many are predicting this will actually be the greatest acquisition driver of them all.
Imagine getting a mobile boarding pass from an airline without having to download their whole app. The reach and brand visibility this enables for travel companies will be far beyond anything they achieved so far.
For airlines and travel companies to support the needs of their growing Gen Y and Gen Z customer base, the first true digital natives entirely immersed in the smartphone world, they need to remember that while their attention spans are shorter, their demand for a constant flow of information and updates is constant.
Apps will need to evolve to meet these needs and cater for all of the micromoments that happen throughout the consumer journey – from research and planning to the ‘day of travel’ and in-trip experience.
There is likely to be a shift toward engagement, with apps based on notifications and acting on the real-time, intent-driven micromoments that Google so frequently talks to these days – an ‘app snacking’ style of usage.
And finally we come to Daydream. After experimenting with Cardboard for the past few years, this is Google’s true venture into the world of virtual reality, lest they allow Facebook, Samsung, and Oculus to have all the fun.
And if you were in any doubt about where Google thinks virtual reality fits in the travel sphere, I’ll leave you with these straplines from the various sites related to Daydream: “Visit new places” or “Experience things as if you were actually there.”
The ability to integrate this ‘inspiration’ type functionality into an airline or OTA travel app to motivate the next trip booking will be a very powerful digital sales tool. For one thing: Destination guides just became a whole lot more interesting!
These latest developments from Google are in line with — and in some cases enhanced versions of — the virtual assistants, messaging apps, VR, AI powered speakers, chatbots, etc., already available from Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
But what is evident from all of these advances by Google, Apple and others is that digital travel will become increasingly sophisticated as voice-based search, artificial intelligence and digital assistants combine to offer new paradigms in personalised and relevant offers.
Virtual reality will immerse end travellers in new ways to research, manage travel and share their experiences. Plus, instant apps and ‘app snacking’ behaviour will drive new levels of engagement and expectation among travellers of what digital travel is now and what it needs to become.
So, has Google gotten your attention yet?
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