‘Have Tablet, Will Travel’

By Glenville Morris, Head of Consulting at MTT

Sometimes tech journalists and pundits just plain get it wrong. Four years ago when the iPad was announced (a full ten years after Bill Gates unveiled the “Tablet PC” at Comdex to middling  fanfare but zero market traction) the world wasn’t quite sure what to make of the “big phone”.

But four years later it’s clear that the iPad essentially created the tablet category and that none of the innovation we’ve seen around tablet apps for travel would have happened without the iPad.

So, four years later, what exactly has happened and what effect have these ‘big phones’ had on the mobile market? How have they changed the way consumers actually ‘consume’ content and services? And what is a ‘tablet’ travel app these days anyway?

Let’s start with some facts:

2014 – the year of the tablet

If you recognise that phrase it’s because the ‘XX, it’s the year of mobile’ has been repeated every year since 2011, but it’s only this year that we can truly say, “2014 really is the year of the tablet.”

In March 2014 the market intelligence firm IDC released its forecast for tablet sales which suggests that tablets will outsell PCs next year. Not outsell desktop PCs (that happened years ago) we’re now talking all PCs, including laptops.

But even with these dramatic figures being bandied about there has been a lot of talk recently about how tablet growth is slowing, that markets have peaked and matured, that tablets have reached their tipping point.

While this may be true for countries like the US and UK where demand does seem to be softening, real growth is happening in emerging markets such as Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Don’t believe me? More facts here:

So what is driving this?

There are two drivers for this explosive growth –  the infrastructure for connectivity has finally reached a level in these markets where capable of supporting tablets for both consumers and business use and low end and low cost tablets, mostly running Android or Android AOSP have made these devices the a more affordable alternative to the PC.

What effect are tablets having on travel?

Last year Google predicted that US hotel searches would be up 24% in 2013 overall. Interestingly that 24% represents a 68% uplift in searches from mobiles and an increase of 180% from tablets.

Adobe followed up that research in June 2013 with their own stats. Their ‘Hotel Benchmarking Metrics’ report showed that tablets formed nearly 60% of the 300 million visits and 60% of all visits to the 31 hotels in their study.

It’s not just hotels. Airlines are starting to see a seismic shift. Lufhansa recently announced that 70% of their mobile sales come through apps. No great surprise there but what’s interesting is the strength of the percentage through tablets – 43% via their phone apps and 30% via tablet. What’s so surprising about this is that their tablet app is young and less feature/functionality rich compared to their much more mature and innovative smartphone apps. Emirates also discussed publicly last month the effect that tablets are having on them, suggesting that 20% of visitors to emirates.com are using iPads.

Those figures from Emirates back up the most significant fact about tablet use, that despite the dominance of Android in smartphone market share and the growing number of Android tablets in the wild, it is still Apple that owns the consumer, with nearly 9 out of every 10 tablet visits to e-commerce websites coming from an iPad.

The apps, they are a changing

“I don’t know where or when” was and is still a common phrase at airlines for that elusive segment of customers who come to your website knowing that they want to go on holiday.…but want to ‘be inspired’ to help them choose a time and destination. When the iPad dropped, that was it, a lightbulb went off across the heads of travel industry marketers everywhere.  This was what the iPad was built for surely, inspiration and discovery. Make them ‘crave a trip to Paris’ by showing them big pretty pictures whilst they’re watching the telly and browsing and scrolling on the sofa. Eureka!

First out of the gates in mid 2011 were Lufthansa. “Discover the fascinating world of Lufthansa” was the tagline when the German flag carrier launched their iPad app, and for the next two years every airline and travel company in the book rushed to deliver the ultimate inspiration tool for this couch surfing device – easyJet, Emirates, Skyscanner, Trip Advisor and more all took the ‘show me the world’ idea and ran with it.

But just as the iPad has changed and evolved since 2010, so has the idea of what a tablet travel app is and what it can be. Gone are the simple days of ‘show me where I can ski for £50 in March’.  Travellers now want your tablet app to actually be more like…. your smartphone app.

Accor’s ‘Away on Business’ is the same, a full travel experience on the iPad more akin to a phone app, expenses, calendar management, schedules, transport details, LinkedIn integrations, tips and packing lists. The phone-like features just keep coming. But it’s ‘Fly Delta for iPad’ that truly takes this once sedentary device from the couch to the airport and beyond – spinning globes, destination information, trip maps with social tips, flight tracker and check-in are so expected now that Delta just nonchalantly list them off as basics in the app description. Itinerary management with their What’s Next’ feature, buying inflight wi-fi and priority boarding, browsing, purchasing and downloading entertainment from the IFE system, profile management and preferences. Many of these features are things we’ve come to know and love on our smartphones, but now they are being delivered on tablets.

Emirates have just released their new iPad app. “The Emirates App was designed for today’s new tribe of global travellers – what we term “globalistas”.  This, of course, is just a fancy way of saying it’s a complete mobile experience, this app is groundbreaking in terms of its profile management, preferences set up, and the ability to book and manage flights. Of course it still has destination inspiration but it’s so much more than that, in fact it’s such a mobile mobile app that they are bringing it to iOS and Android phones next. Can you imagine that tablet first strategy 4 years ago?

PC, laptops… watch out mobile, tablets are coming for you next!

In our next post we will discuss the technology innovations that are changing the way tablets look, feel and perform. Stay tuned.

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View the Travelport Digital Webinar: Have Tablet, Will Travel: The New Face of Tablet Travel Apps and Emerging Tablet Strategies for Airlines. Available to view on-demand here.

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