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If you are super-interested in what new features might be incorporated into a travel app update, don’t trust the description. Instead, download the app and try it because there may be some sleeper features and surprises in there that perhaps the company didn’t want to publicize yet.
When it comes to the way travel companies describe “what’s new” in their app updates in iTunes and Google Play there is often much more than meets the eye.
While most companies say they try to be as transparent as they can be with their customers about updates to mobile apps, sometimes companies sneak in important features for testing, feedback or public relations purposes, or perhaps the updates only affect a portion of users and don’t get mentioned.
Then again, it is impossible to fit in every tweak into the few paragraphs of space allotted for “what’s new” information in Google Play and iTunes.
Conrad Hotels & Resorts
Take Hilton Worldwide’s Conrad Hotels & Resorts brand, which in November 2012 launched a mobile hotel app, Conrad Concierge, in iTunes and Google Play.
The feature, which spokesperson John Walls describes as the first “pre-check-in” feature in the luxury segment, enables guests to enter their estimated time of arrival any time after completing the booking, and was updated several times over the course of the year, but Conrad Hotels didn’t start publicizing Conrad Concierge until almost a year later in October 2013.
“Versions of pre check-in were initially introduced in a previous app update to users only in the Americas, and after receiving overwhelmingly positive comments from both guest and hotels we then launched the feature across the entire portfolio of 23 hotels and resorts worldwide,” Walls says. “The pre check-in functionality is now one of the most frequently used features within the Conrad Concierge app.”
Kayak Taxi Feature
It never got any ink in app update descriptions, but Kayak apps have a “taxi view” feature within their itinerary management tools.
Have you ever traveled internationally in a country where your accent in the foreign language is suspect, and tried to explain to the cab driver where your hotel is located?
Just click on the “Taxi view” button in Kayak’s itinerary management tool, “and the whole screen becomes a large-sized, black and white address of the hotel,” says Kayak chief marketing officer Robert Birge, who describes Taxi view as his “favorite secret feature” within its itinerary management tool.
“It’s awesome outside of the U.S. especially,” Birge says. “You just hold up your phone to the taxi driver. No German needed. It’s great in the U.S., too, but really great outside the country.”
A packing iist is another feature in Kayak apps that doesn’t get much verbiage.
HotelTonight’s Express Check-In
HotelTonight on May 7 launched an Express Check-in feature in its iOS app, “but we held off mentioning it in our notes,” says CEO Sam Shank.
The feature enables guest to check into their rooms before arrival and just pick up their keys at the front desk without going through all the formalities.
Shank describes the reasons the feature wasn’t immediately publicized.
“This was partially done for testing reasons (we were piloting the feature at a select group of hotels) and partially for press purposes,” Shank says. “We’ll sometimes hold off on mentioning a feature so it will have a bigger impact when we announce it (like how we announced Express Check-In as part of a suite of new features we demoed last week at Google I/O).”
In querying travel companies about their approach to app update disclosures, several mentioned that app update blurbs in iTunes, Google Play and other app stores are a now viewed as communications opportunity.
“We think of our release notes as another touchpoint with our customers — a way to show our personality and voice and to entertain,” Shank says. “And we get lots of great comments on them via social media, which shows people are actually reading them.”
“We also like to pepper our notes with inside jokes and shout-outs to our team here,” says Shank, although the inside jokes seem more oriented to team motivation than to being informative to customers.
For example, this was the description on November 7, 2013, when HotelTonight introduced its Android app version 4.2.8:
“Since we last spoke, we:
- Integrated new interactive Google Maps, including indoor directions (aka show-me-how-to-get-to-the-hotel-bar)
- Unearthed missing tablet photos, Indiana Jones-style
- Listened to even more Billy Ocean than usual.”
The inside joke here was that HotelTonight’s lead engineer is a Billy Ocean fan.
Delta Air Lines’ M.O.
Delta Air Lines is a public company and its management believes in straightforward descriptions of its app updates, ones that a majority of its customers will find useful.
Sneaking a feature in without publicizing it “doesn’t really fit our M.O.,” a spokesperson says.
However, a feature that might only impact Platinum Medallion members wouldn’t necessarily get detailed in app update descriptions, the Delta spokesperson says.
“The message has to be relevant to everyone,” the Delta spokesperson says.
Like HotelTonight, Delta views app update descriptions in Google Play and iTunes as “a communications opportunity.”
“In itself, it is a communications event and an opportunity we didn’t have two-and-a-half years ago,” the spokesperson says, because Delta didn’t have an app before then.
And update descriptions are taken very seriously. Delta employees from the airline’s mobile business unit, SkyMiles, airport services and, of course, the Delta legal team all might review and provide input into the description.
“With any communications, multiple sets of eyes from different perspectives across the company will look at any communications, the Delta spokesperson says.
Gogobot, Trover and Momondo
Most companies Skift queried about their approach to app update descriptions took pains to note how transparent they are, although perhaps some were too timid to admit that sometimes they play games with their descriptions.
Still, it is impossible to include everything in a brief overview about a mobile app update.
“in our new app that we launched in May, which incorporated nine months of development work, we had 23 brand new features,” says Travis Katz, CEO of Gogobot. “We obviously could not include the full list there so we tried to pick 3-4 that we thought people would be most excited about like the collaborative itinerary tool or the new map-based search.”
“The rest we left to users to discover on their own,” Katz says.
Jason Karas, CEO of Trover, says only about half of the changes to its app are regularly noted in “What’s New.”
“For example, adjusting the aspect ratio of photos shown near a destination, or tweaks to how our search engine engine works,” Karas says. “These subtle changes make our beautiful photos easier to find and browse, but are hard to describe in ‘What’s New.'”
Momondo’s head app designer says the metasearch company strives to be up-front about its app update descriptions.
“Our quirky edge is just that,” the designer says. “that we show all our cards, all the time. That we always share every little details that excites us.”
Still, some of the technical stuff isn’t necessarily suitable for mainstream descriptions, though.
“There are some cool things in the integral design of our apps that we probably don’t mention, like parallax imagery of your destination when you kick off a search,” says Momondo Group CEO Hugo Burge. “Or the fun little way in which the graphics move as you navigate through the app, but our principle is to be direct and open with users to build trust.”
Still, the next time you read a description about an app update, if you are super interested then it’s best to download it to see what features may not be ready for prime time publicity.