Skift Take

How long will it be before we talk about travel websites as always having an essential, if limited place, in much the same way that we sometimes talk about print guidebooks? Smartphones with bigger screens, tablets of mini and maximum dimensions ... buckle your seatbelts.

When you think of itinerary management organizer TripIt in 2013 perhaps one of the first things that comes to mind is your next flight or hotel stay popping up on Facebook or sharing your upcoming trip plans through TripIt apps with your LinkedIn connections.

You probably associate TripIt with one of its smartphone or tablet apps, and TripIt.com, the website, that is, may be an after-thought — if you consider it at all.

But, when you circle back to the beginning of time in the world of mobile travel apps to circa 2009, when iPhone apps in travel such as TripIt’s and Kayak’s first started emerging on the scene, social media wasn’t high on the priority list in mobile, and neither was geolocation, maps, or traveler ratings or reviews to the degree they are today.

At Skift we previously took a look at The Evolution of Usability on Top Travel Websites. And now, in a period when companies such as HotelTonight and others are executing “mobile first,” or perhaps mobile-only strategies, it’s an opportune moment to review how the user experience has been transformed in the game-changing yet short history of mobile travel apps, as evidenced by the offerings of some leading companies.

While some of the first travel websites arrived on the scene from 1996 to 1998, it was just around four years ago, in 2009, that mobile sites and mobile apps in travel started making their debuts in earnest.

You can take a glimpse at the evolution of the user experience in travel apps through the “before” and “after” images of mobile apps (above) from companies including TripIt, Hotels.com, HotelTonight, Priceline, Orbitz, Room 77 and HotelsCombined.

View the Transformation of Mobile Apps in Travel and the User Experience from Leading Companies in the Gallery Above.

While the free TripIt iPhone app was merely about organizing your itinerary and viewing all its random parts in one place on your smartphone in 2009, today TripIt has free and paid apps on a variety of smartphone and tablet platforms, and you can share your plans on social media, and add new trips from your smartphone.

And, with TripIt Pro you can also track your miles and points, and even receive notifications of when the airline seat you want becomes available.

The gallery isn’t only about design changes, but how some of the companies’ business strategies evolved.

You’ll see how Room 77 pivoted from room-specific intelligence to hotel metasearch.

And, HotelTonight evolved to let travelers book the next night, too, in its self-described and curated “basic,” “solid,” “charming,” “luxe” and “high-roller” properties while retiring “modern” and “classic” designations.

There are some parallels in the evolution of travel websites and travel apps. In recent years, both have become less cluttered and more visually appealing, and many in both categories have dabbled in social media, maps, and travel inspiration.

There are big differences, though, too. You won’t find Mobile Steals from Orbitz, an Expedia notification that you can check into your hotel in six hours, and such an emphasis on booking now, on demand and tonight, via HotelTonight, Priceline and Uber apps with smartphone in hand as you might on their respective websites.

And, you’ll see how the shape of these travel apps have evolved as the design of the smartphones themselves have changed from upgrade to endless upgrade.

Just four years into the history of mobile smartphone and tablet apps feel like a decade’s worth of innovation and upheaval.

But hold on because the mobile revolution in travel will undoubtedly render today’s travel apps passé in merely a year or two of app updates. Then it will be time for another slideshow of the changes.

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Tags: apps, hotels.com, hoteltonight, orbitz, priceline, room 77, smartphones, tripit