Convergence in Mobile Devices Drives Travel Technology Adoption and Innovation
Consumer Electronics Evolve to Meet Needs for Portability and Relevant Real-Time Information for Travelers
As consumer behavior has evolved into a mobile lifestyle, the face of consumer electronics has shifted. Adapting to a wireless world has led the industry to innovations that cater to the needs for compact and portable products, but also to the convergence of multiple technologies to address society's on-the-go demands. Access to relevant and mobile real-time information and transportability has impacted the evolution of design and the degree of product appropriateness, benefiting today's traveler in business and in leisure.
Norman L. Rose, President of Travel Tech Consulting and Analyst for Phocuswright, a travel research firm explains, "The new world of the always-connected mobile traveler is arriving faster than the industry can adapt. New applications such as location based services (LBS) will become a key differentiator for the frequent traveler and should be considered enhancements to existing customer service initiatives. We are moving away from the view of mobile technology as the next "cool" thing to an understanding that wireless communication is an essential part of the new travel process."
Real-Time Information and Communication:
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) has become a feature in demand by travelers that through recent innovations has become a mainstream reality. Jim Schwabe, General Manager of Accessories for Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) explains, "One of the biggest changes that has happened in the past couple of years is the ability to implement formally complex solutions like GPS on a handheld or smartphone. We offer a GPS kit for our Treo smartphones that gives you all the maps of the United States and Canada, and turns your phone or handheld into a complete navigation solution. What is driving the success at this point is that it has reached critical mass in a more easy to use solution. The most important aspect is the ease of use for the person who needs to get from place to place."
Taking the need for real-time information further, Palm also offers a software application Traffic for Treo™ smartphones that utilizes the road sensors and shows the speed that the traffic is moving on the major highways. "You can bookmark regular intersections and this will tell you how fast traffic is flowing and it also reports all incidents, collisions and construction along roads," describes Schwabe.
Focused on improving the ease-of-use and reliability of GPS is Garmin International's (NASDAQ: GRMN) nüvi product, which provides users with a new highly sensitive GPS receiver that is capable of picking up a signal in areas where they may be obstructions such as tree coverage or skyscrapers, with an assortment of additional travel features. The nüvi also combines their turn-by-turn, voice-prompted GPS offering with a real-time traffic interface, language translator, travel books, MP3 player, an audio book player, a photo viewer and a National GEO-coded coupon book. Driving the popularity of this device is not only the functionality, but also the desirable size of the product as Jessica Myers, Senior Media Relations Specialist for Garmin explains, "The nüvi's size is one of the many reasons consumers find it appealing. It's comparable to a deck of cards -- very compact and easy to carry."
AskMeNow (OTCBB: OWHC) looks to answer the needs of the traveler for on-the-go information by enabling subscribers to simply call or text message any question from a mobile telephone or handheld device to receive the information requested in moments. Basic questions are answered for free, while free form AskMeAnything questions are answered for a small automated fee of.49 cents, which is billed to their monthly cellular bill.
Darryl Cohen, CEO of AskMeNow describes, "I think that our service is extremely relevant to the traveler as we are unique in our ability to offer users the AskMeAnything feature, which opens things up to a diverse range of questions providing our customers with access to more information to help them on their way. You can feel a comfort level with us that when we give you information we are using good sources and when you are asking for distinctive information such as places for cheap gas, parking garage locations or even where an affordable family restaurant may be, that we can actually get that information for you. It goes beyond providing the standard options to obtain generic information, we allow travelers to ask unique and specific questions relevant to their personal travel needs."
Real-time video communication has grown in popularity through companies such as Logitech International (NASDAQ: LOGI), through innovative and portable web cam products. The Company's new Quickcam® for Notebooks Pro, which has a 1.3 mega pixel sensor, has technology and bundled software that helps to provide higher quality images in low light conditions such as hotel rooms. The camera comes equipped with a built in microphone with echo cancellation.
The growth of video communication is attributed in large part to the popularity and improvements surrounding MSN Messenger and Skype that have consumers comfortable with voice and video calling through simple to use software. Complementing this is the widespread availability of High Speed Internet in the home and on the road, which has made this a viable option for communication.
Karen Hoskins, a company spokesperson explains, "MSN came out with Video Conversation recently, which is synchronized audio and video calling software built into their latest MSN Messenger client. Logitech provides the technology that synchronizes the audio and video streams and operates the servers that support Video Conversation. It really makes it easy for people who are already using MSN Messenger to now do video calling.
"In addition, Skype recently put video into their client. We are seeing more and more of this happening. And with the onset of broadband in more homes it has become a more viable solution for people to use voice and video when they are doing their calling. Because they are putting the video into something that people are already comfortable with, it makes it a lot easier for consumers. Video calling then becomes a simple extension from what they are already confident in using."
A common theme driving adoption across a variety of product types is ease of use and relevance to traveler's needs. According to Norman Rose, "To be effective, the platform must use personalization techniques and rich user interfaces to simplify the process and provide added value to the user. Information must be relevant to users based on their specific needs at the time and at their specific location. The key to making this information more situation appropriate is to also combine the location and personal preferences of users to filter the information based on their specific situational and personal requirements."
As digital entertainment has become an important part of normal life, when consumers travel this demand for stimulation does not appear to subside. Sling Media's Slingbox™ can be connected to whatever TV service you have in your home, whether that be digital cable, regular cable, rabbit ear antenna setup, DVD changer, TIVO etc., and allows for remote viewing access. Jeremy Toeman VP of Market Development Management explains, "The Slingbox stays at home, it is always on and it is always delivering you your live TV feed to wherever you are anywhere in the world, accessed remotely through any device with Internet connection whether that is a laptop or a handheld device such as a phone or PDA. Business travelers, who find themselves in unfamiliar environments for extended periods of time, welcome the opportunity to tap into a bit of home through the Slingbox."
Driving the popularity for this type of product according to Toeman is the large percentage of homes with access to High Speed Internet creating the necessary network, in addition to laptops outselling desktops supporting the movement by consumers to a mobile lifestyle. "Internet connections are more available and accessible, combined with Microsoft and other companies leading the charge of making video compression technologies work such that you can stream at low enough bandwidth effectively," adds Toeman.
Moving from in-the-vehicle to on-the-person are XM2go radios (NASDAQ: XMSR), which are the first and only portable satellite radios that capable of live reception. These devices provide access to XM's 160 channels live, with approximately 5 hours of programming; helpful in areas where radio reception is not available. These portable radios also have a built in FM transmitter that can beam the XM radio content to an FM frequency allowing travelers to use even their hotel clock radio to listen. This month, the Company unveiled the next-generation XM2go radios, which play MP3 music files in addition to live XM.
The timing appears right for the XM2go devices according to XM Radio spokesman David Butler who states, "The popularity of XM radio is a combination of high-quality programming and technological innovation. XM offers more entertainment than has ever been made available before on radio. When you combine this variety of programming with the cutting edge technology that XM offers and the desire among consumers for portable convenient products, it is easy to see why XM is one of the fastest growing audio products available."
Coby Electronics Corporation, a manufacturer of portable DVDs, innovates for different lifestyles with slim, sleek, colorful models, and compact sizes. Robert Gee, Vice President of Marketing, describes the applicability of Coby's products, "Consumers are always on the go and products that can fit that dynamic will make a lot of sense to travelers, families etc. For example, these products make a lot of sense for families traveling with kids as a portable means of keeping them entertained."
Convergence of Technology:
As consumer demands for mobility increase, the drive for convergence of technology has escalated to suit this trend towards portability. Companies, through innovation, have created products suited for travel that eliminate the need to carry multiple devices by providing all-in-one solutions.
"The nüvi combines combines several different technologies into one device. It helps simplify travel by eliminating the need to carry maps, travel books, coupons, etc. Now a traveler has everything they need in one slim, sleek device that they can easily carry in their pocket," states Myers.
As described by Darryl Cohen, "Due to the convergence of technology, cell phones and portable devices have become much more functional and easier to use. At AskMeNow because people have become adept at using small non-qwerty keyboards through the popularity of text messaging and SMS, there is a simple transition to utilizing our service to obtain relevant answers to specific questions."
Companies continue to evolve their products through convergence to meet the growing consumer and traveler expectations. David Butler explains, "We are introducing the next generation of XM to go radios this spring. These will have the added feature of being able to store and play MP3 music files and will have the capability of storing up to 50 hours of XM content verses the 5 hours that the current models allow. Also when you hear a song that you like on XM you can bookmark it and hook the device up to your computer and it will find that song in the Napster library for you to download a permanent copy of the song. So there is a new convergence; not only does it allow you to combine XM with MP3, but it also allows you to buy the songs you hear on XM seamlessly from Napster."
"At Coby, we are trying to address consumer needs through our features as users are looking for multi-purpose products that converge technologies into one unit that is easy to use and fit into their environment," stated Gee.
As the consumer electronics industry continues to evolve and converge technology to meet the demands of travelers and consumers, it appears that innovation will progressively lead to smaller, more powerful and more functional devices and applications to satisfy user needs while away from home and work.
Ann-Marie Fleming completed her MBA in the United States, where she attended Webster University. She also holds an Honors B.A from the University of Toronto. She has over fifteen years of experience within the financial industry to include retail banking and brokerage, investment banking, and mortgage brokerage within the United States and Canada, with a firm background in corporate research.