Travel may be in the doldrums but travel technology is still advancing by leaps and bounds, ensuring greater connectivity and productivity all 'round.
One of the most noticeable benefits for travelers in the improvement of mobile technology — such as the iPhone, iTouch, BlackBerry, and other “smart device” options — is that the traditional laptop will become obsolete. Mobile technology is moving so fast that soon you'll be able to do on a PDA much of what you do on a laptop, including full Internet browser access.
Think of how freeing it will be not to lug a heavy, bulky second bag with you across airports, past security, and into a crowded airline seat.
Gone will be the days of worrying if the traveler in front of you would recline their seat and crush your fragile computer screen.
As touchscreen technology becomes the norm among mobile devices, travelers will have no need to put their valuable laptops at risk.
What changed the mobile technology landscape was the iPhone. Now even BlackBerry has jumped into the fray with competing functionality.
Laptops haven't gone away quite yet, however. Like wooly mammoths of the last ice age, they are evolving into smaller creatures even as they become obsolescent. Smartphone and touchscreens are their Darwinian successors. With Apple taking the lead in making its full Safari browser available on the iPhone, the goal of carrying just one mobile device on the road with you is absolutely nearing reality.
The future I foresee is of the traveler freed from carrying multiple electronic devices, along with accompanying wires, batteries, and cases. The future will be simpler, lightweight, inherently more portable, and with more pervasive, higher-speed, 3G and Wi-Fi connections that will make surfing the handheld Internet a virtual breeze.
Travelers are learning that they enjoy having full booking capability in the palm of their hands. The iPhone gives its owners that capability, while the BlackBerry, which requires web pages to be optimized and also lacks Java, does not yet offer that full range of browsing pleasure. But rest assured that inevitable technological leapfrogging will bring new capabilities and surprises with each new edition of these devices.
For example, take Amadeus's e-Travel Management application, which enables employees to book and manage their own travel online. It is easily accessible on the iPhone, but full operability on the BlackBerry is a work-in-progress.
The iPhone is pioneering other application compatibility, from supporting push-email with Microsoft Exchange to running Lotus iNotes.
Previous devices have let travelers change seat assignments or make other upgrades, but you need a genuine smartphone to be able to take it to the next level — for instance, to be able to check-in for your flight. Now, if there's a snowstorm the day of your flight, you can of course call the airlines like everyone else, or you can phone your travel agent, or you can proceed to re-book your flight yourself from wherever you and your smartphone happen to be.
Airlines like American are testing having a totally paperless boarding pass come straight to your smartphone. To board, you would merely sweep the “virtual boarding pass” on your smartphone across a sensor at the gate. This is where format is critical, like making the touchscreen on your phone as large and clear as possible — but think of all the trees that will be saved!
The capability of smartphones to streamline the travel process will increase as these phones become more like super-mini-laptops. For example, expect to see hard drives appear inside your smartphone some day soon. Or you may be able to plug a standard adaptor into your TV to download photos and videos from your smartphone.
Cab companies like HappyTaxi will locate you via your GPS coordinates and tell you if credit cards are accepted. The company even has a web site where you can click and pre-pay for your taxi ride. Maybe some day there will be an online form for reserving your ride?
Where mobile technology needs to grow is in improving access to software that businesspeople rely on. On most “smart devices” you would be lost trying to do any editing. Travelers don't want mobile technology to be separate from their usual computer desktop. They want it to be an extension of that one and the same desktop. Think of it as boiling the desktop down to the scale of the mobile experience. Mobility is what travelers live, and finally technology is letting business catch up.
Airline Futurist • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com