“When Apple (AAPL) came out with the iPad they completely changed everything,” says Michael Gulmann, Expedia’s vice president of global product, noting that “computers have gone from utilitarian to really a part of who you are. How do we give our customers the simplest, most beautiful inspiration for their travel?” Gulmann asks, channeling his inner Jobs.
Expedia began its redesign effort early last year with the principle that “the modern traveler is a mobile traveler,” Gulmann says. The site’s largest change is enlarging and moving the travel search box from its prior left-hand spot to a central location that dominates the top of the page. Expedia says the search box also loads twice as fast as the old one, in less than 1.2 seconds, swifter than other parts of the page with which most users don’t initially interact. Peeks of the new look have been available for several weeks to roughly 20 percent of Expedia’s users as part of the company’s testing.
The iPad and scores of smaller “phablets” that make a larger telephone screen the new desktop for millions of people alters the basic paradigm on which Expedia and scores of other consumer sites have been designed—many people no longer sit at a desk before a PC or Mac screen. Increasingly, prospective travelers and others are on a sofa or bed with a tablet, and Expedia considered its prior design—circa 2002, with periodic tweaks since—a hindrance for a mobile world. “They want to immediately perform the search and get into that content,” Gulmann says of browsers on mobile devices.