Are mobile apps becoming too specialized?

Mobile hospitality technology continues to be a hot topic, and Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research recently surveyed hotel guests about what makes an app worthwhile. The report, “The Mobile Revolution Is Here: Are You Ready?” was sponsored by Intel and Monscierge.
It turns out that guests are more interested in using apps to receive room-ready notifications and request room amenities, hotel services and room upgrades – the things of most immediate use to them during their stay – than in marketing or room booking. Curiously, the report also notes that women and younger travelers were more willing than others to share a limited amount of personal information in order to receive special services; I would have expected women in general to be less open to that.
Significantly, though, travelers reported a preference for having one single app that could be used to create a personal travel profile and would serve as a central location for their information and booking preferences across multiple hotels and brands. They believe that this would allow for a more personally customized experience than is currently possible by downloading an app for each individual hotel or brand. Maybe this doesn’t hold true for travelers who make a point of always staying with the same brand family, but I believe anyone who has to stay at a variety of different brands can relate to it.
What it would need, though, is a very clear way for individuals to set boundaries around what personal information they would be willing to share with what class of business entities under what circumstances. Hotels would also need to agree that working to this goal for the benefit of the traveler carries greater rewards than does pushing their individually-branded apps onto guests’ phones. That may be a stretch for many hotel brands’ marketing departments to accept, but I hold out hope that someone like Apple or Google has enough clout to make it happen. What happened to Apple’s iTravel?
I think we’re in an age of increasingly narrow focus on our apps, to the point where you have to wonder whether some of them are actually useful or are just complicating our lives instead of making them easier. Apple Pay, for example, only seems to make sense for those few travelers who have a phone with them but not a credit card. Apple Watch is intriguing but it can’t do a whole lot without its wearer also carrying a phone, so it adds visual convenience (in some cases; how many of those tiny screens do you have to flip through to find what you want?) at the cost of adding yet another device (and charging cable) to the traveler’s load. Just today I saw a smart suitcase that will display a traveler’s current flight number, status and departure gate. Why do we need another way to see that?
My sense is that what we really want is the fewest number of apps (and gadgets) that genuinely help us and take the fewest steps to use. We need to strike a balance between having one app that does many useful things but requires multiple menu choices to get to any of them, and multiple apps that each perform one useful thing very simply. It’s a fine line, but one that vendors need to be increasingly aware of. Slapping a chip on something and calling it “smart” doesn’t make it so.

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