Travel Tech

A form of technology which is set to make a big impression in the coming years is that of wearable devices. The smartwatch in particular is expected to become another major mobile revenue stream for huge consumer electronics producers such as Apple and Samsung. The Korean manufacturer has already released its first range of smartwatches, the Samsung Gear, while a wearable mobile device from Apple has been rumoured for quite some time. Many tech analysts expect the so-called Apple iWatch to hit the market early next year.

Thus far smartwatches have been marketed with a distinct emphasis on sport and health functionality. Apple have recently run a series of adverts for the iPhone 5s which emphasise this element of its feature set, and many believe that this is in preparation for the branding of the forthcoming iWatch.

Potential smartwatch applications

However, although smartwatches clearly do have health applications, they are certainly not limited to such functionality. Travel businesses are already developing apps for wearable devices, and this could present an opportunity for travel-related companies in the very near future. Considering that its more a case of when rather than if Apple launches its first wearable device, the cultural notion of smartwatches being extremely fashionable and desirable could creep up on the market pretty rapidly.

This prognosis is supported by research carried out by the International Data Corporation (IDC). A report published by the IDC in April, 2014 predicted that wearable device shipments worldwide would inflate by nearly 500% between 2014 and 2018, meaning a market growth from the current 19.0 million wearable devices, to touching 112 million in four years’ time.

Naturally all companies want to get on board with any form of technology that shows such encouraging growth potential, and travel companies are already exploring various opportunities related to wearable devices. Essentially, wearable devices such a smartwatches should be seen as a new type of mobile device, not dissimilar from smartphones and tablets in terms of demographics, but with different technical capabilities and qualities.

Smartwatch-based boarding passes

With this in mind, Vueling has partnered with Sony to create the concept of a smartwatch-based boarding pass. This particular innovation is available through the Google Play Store, and enables smartwatch owners to store a boarding pass via their wearable device and present it at a variety of airport checkpoints all over the world. Although such functionality is currently pretty limited in terms of its scope, as the technology acquires a larger user base more opportunities will arise for both travel companies and consumers.

Another example of wearable technology being utilised by the travel industry is Virgin’s recent testing with Google Glass and Sony Smartwatches. The result of this process has been the delivery of a high-tech, personalised passenger experience in the Upper Class Wing at London’s Heathrow Airport. Although this technology has only been subjected to a six week trial at present, eventually it is proposed that wearable devices could enable passengers who've purchased them to gain access to concierge and other premium services at airports.

These previous examples of travel-related wearable technology were brought into sharp focus in recent weeks when Expedia announced its Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch app. This fancy new application will enable all owners of the Korean company’s smartwatch to receive notifications related to a trip, such as reminders of travel times and notifications of gate changes. One can see how this could be extremely useful when applied to a device which is attached to a passenger’s wrist at all times.

Smartwatch user base still small

At this point in time, it must be said that the impact of wearable devices has been pretty minimal. There are a few key reasons for this, and among the most important is that tech companies have yet to find a viable niche for the technology. An article in the UK newspaper The Guardian in April of this year indicated that one-third of American consumers who have owned a wearable product stopped using it within six months, and also reported on the large number that were apparently unwanted, being available for sale second-hand via the online auction site eBay.

However, with Apple looking to enter this marketplace in the near future, and other big players such as Google and Samsung already committed to the technology, wearable devices are likely to take off sooner rather than later. This is clearly reflected by the projected sales figures for wearable devices, and travel companies can potentially get a leg up in sales by seriously considering right now how this embryonic technology can be used productively in the near future.

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