Mobile technology offers a huge amount of potential services for consumers, manufacturers and software developers. The coupling of sophisticated smartphone technology offered by giants in consumer electronics, such as Apple and Samsung, with fourth-generation mobile networks is a powerful combination.
In line with this, there is a potential usage of mobile technology which has been established for sometime, but has yet to really capture consumer imagination and become a mainstream function. This feature has many potential applications, and has been associated with mobile payment systems.
The feature in question enables smartphones and other forms of mobile technology to establish radio contact with other units by simply holding them close together. Until quite recently, the market leader in this function has been Near Field Communication (NFC). But with no dominant industry standard, competing platforms have also sprung up.
Apple has relatively recently announced its iBeacons format, while Radio-Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) have already been around for sometime. Another familiar technology in this area are QR (Quick Response) codes. But which of these competing technologies is likely to become dominant, and which offers the travel industry the greatest opportunity to serve customers?
Not to be confused with the National Football Conference(!), Near-Field Communication has been around for roughly a decade now, with Nokia, Philips and Sony establishing the Near Field Communication Forum back in 2004. The prominence of NFC is such that despite Apple developing their own similar standard, there have still been murmurings that the technology will be included in the forthcoming iPhone 6.
NFC is already extremely important to the travel industry. Virtually all major smartphone manufacturers include NFC technology within their devices, with the NFC feature typically used for such functionality as mobile payments and coupon marketing. The Google Wallet feature which goes hand-in-hand with NFC technology is already becoming popular, and Google recently formed a partnership with the New Jersey transit system to enable commuters to pay fares with phones.
While there is a focus on NFC's ability to provide payment systems, it also promises other convenient features for the travel industry as well. NFC should be of particular interest to marketers given all of the useful functionality that it potentially offers travellers. NFC can assist in the process of reducing baggage check-in time by helping passengers to be identified quickly via NFC devices. Additional baggage fees can be charged to NFC devices, while NFC also promises to streamline security checks and help regulate airport lounge access.
Passengers will also be able to make purchases during flights using NFC-enabled phones, offering obvious commercial opportunities. It really has the potential to be an all-in-one solution that offers convenience to both travel companies and travellers. Despite its relatively short range, it seems inevitable that NFC is here to stay in a big way.
Never write off Apple, though. The world’s most successful consumer electronics manufacturer is always enthusiastic about developing its own proprietary ecosystems. In a way, this has been both the making and the Achilles heel of the company. Many Apple users are extremely enthusiastic about the slick user experiences their products deliver, but the closed nature of its operating systems and devices sometimes draws criticism and antipathy.
But when Apple launch an entirely new technology such as iBeacons, it is a big deal. The corporation has clearly recognised that mobile payments are going to be massive, and intends for its customers to use their system rather than that of a competitor. Apple have already entered into testing agreements for iBeacon with a raft of airlines, major hotels and museums. These include Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, EasyJet, Japan Airlines and Mariott International.
iBeacons also offer marketers a huge raft of potential opportunities. This technology enables advertisers to more accurately target messages towards a particular group of users, as iBeacons appear to offer opportunities for advertisers to measure how close a consumer is to a desired area. iBeacons will enable retailers to send highly targeted product information, and adjust this extremely nimbly in real time.
The potential to offer exclusive offers and deals to carefully selected consumers at opportune times will obviously be a potential goldmine for marketers. It is estimated that there will be nearly 1 billion devices fitted with iBeacons in the near future, so given its contactless payment capabilities, this Apple innovation could offer huge opportunities to companies both big and small.
The fact that Android and iOS have coexisted suggests that iBeacon won't wipe out the competition. But every recent Apple product has succeeded, and it wouldn't be wise to bet too much money against iBeacon doing the same.
RFID looks to be swimming against the tide. While the range of this technology is broader than NFC, its expensive nature means that it will struggle to compete in a world in which the bottom line is all-important. Thus, the potential of RFID to be used as a contactless system seems pretty minimal in the long term. However, the technology still used within the travel industry for identifying and tracking tags on an object, most obviously luggage. It may have a future in this regard, but its survival is not necessarily assured.
Finally, many people will be familiar with the bizarre scattergun patterning that are QR codes. This technology requires scanning in order to be useful. QR codes are very cheap and relatively easy to produce, and can still be utilised productively with regard to travel marketing. However, QR code scanning is still not widespread, and the technology in general terms would seem to like the flexibility of some of its competitors.
Additonally, QR code readers are not built automatically into smartphones, which means that consumers need to download a QR code reader before being able to scan and read the codes. This obviously counts against the technology when compared with the convenience of NFC and iBeacons. QR codes and relatively affordable, and perhaps have the potential to survive as a niche technology, but are ultimately likely to be overshadowed by NFC and iBeacon in the long-term.
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