It's still too early to draw any conclusions as to which functionalities work best for travel brands on the Apple Watch, though it's clear that mapping and photos are integral to its future. But determining what information is best for a smartphone and smartwatch is still anyone's game.
Navigation, bookings, and photo slideshows are the three dominant functionalities travelers have used the Apple Watch for in the seven months since the product launched and travel booking sites rolled out apps, and its developments and updates in 2016 will likely focus on these features.
That’s according to booking sites Priceline.com and Hotels.com, though this trend may translate to other Apple Watch apps for hotels or airlines which show travelers’ itineraries and trip information.
“Since rolling out the [Priceline.com Apple Watch app] in April, engagement has been stable, but not necessarily growing at this point,” said Karen Tepper, VP of mobile at Priceline.com. “We see more people engaging with what hotels are nearby than accessing their upcoming itineraries. Customers are looking at their itineraries during their stays on the watch instead of the day before, for example, and customers are mostly using the watch on Fridays and Saturdays.”
Priceline.com’s Android and Apple Watch experiences are very distinct of one another–the Android watch app centers on offering information about local places like convenience stores, ATMs and pharmacies within the vicinity of the traveler’s hotel compared to the Apple Watch app which is largely for checking itineraries and accessing last minute hotel deals. Tepper said Android’s integration of Google’s mapping technology is something Priceline.com wanted to test independently of the Apple Watch and later compare how travelers respond to both experiences.
Hotels.com, which has 50 million downloads of its iOS and Apple Watch apps, also said Google’s maps and navigation capabilities are strong suits on the Android side that the Apple Watch isn’t yet on par with, according to Dan Craig, senior director of mobile at Hotels.com.
“Looking ahead to 2016 any updates we do with the watch and our mobile app, we don’t want our customers to feel like you’re missing out on something by using our mobile app, for example,” said Craig. “We also want to make the group booking experience more fun and easier on mobile.”
Skift recently talked to Tepper and Craig to hear what learnings they’ve gathered from their respective Apple Watch apps so far and what lies ahead for this device, in addition to how consumer behavior on the watch compares with their iOS counterparts. Following are Tepper and Craig’s perspectives on what travelers can expect from the Apple Watch next year regarding booking, marketing, photos, guest reviews and how it compares to existing Android watch products.
Booking on the Watch
Craig: Mobile is increasingly important to us on the booking side and Hotels.com was one of the first OTAs to integrate bookings into the Apple Watch. More than one in three bookings now come to [Hotels.com] on a mobile device, but it’s probably the things around the bookings that are even more mobile first for us at the moment. Things like destination guides, directions and our localized taxi card. We want to focus on that post-booking experience.
Tepper: We don’t currently have bookings on the watch, but we’re working to get our mobile transactions on our iOS app down to one-touch checkout, so as soon as we’re there we’ll be able to support booking on the watch. We’re very close, we just launched select hotels that you can reserve through Priceline.com without a credit card that only requires a guest’s first and last name. So if you’re signed in we’re pretty much there with the single touch checkout.
Marketing on the Watch
Tepper: Right now a lot of our outreach is still done through email and we’re now trying to test out our push notification strategy. I think you’ll start to see reminders, price drop alerts and other push notifications across all of our platforms as part of our strategy for next year.
Craig: We’re looking at other things earlier on in the travel lifecycle like marketing on the [Apple Watch app]. We’re looking at which deals are most relevant to display to someone on the watch, but it’s really the service area where we’ve spent the most time at the moment.
We expect people to get those smartphones out of their pockets, especially if they want to choose from a selection of hotels. I think the watch is a great trigger to get that message to customers that there is a great deal, or create an urgency around something like, ‘hey, you were shopping for this yesterday, we’re seeing prices start to go up, why don’t you go and complete that purchase?’ But they’d probably want to use the phone itself to go through and complete that shopping journey.
Android vs. Apple Watches
Tepper: Our Android watch app focuses more on listing what’s around the hotel whereas on the Apple Watch we let travelers view their upcoming trip details and find nearby hotel deals for last-minute reservations. In the future we’ll hopefully marry the [Android and Apple Watch] experiences together.
Craig: On the Android side, where the ecosystem’s a little bit more developed, there are some nice directions apps. So if you’re walking around Lower Manhattan trying to find your hotel, you can pull up the watch app, click a couple of buttons and then it will provide you feedback as you’re walking around to get you to your hotel. That’s definitely where we see a lot of opportunities to provide some nice experiences to our customers.
Craig: Mobile is now driving a majority of our guest reviews. We’ll send you an email a couple days after your stay asking for your feedback, and a majority of our emails are now opened on mobile devices, so it makes sense for them to follow through and complete the review on mobile.
Something like speaking the guest review into the watch isn’t quite possible yet, but that’s definitely something that we’re looking at. We’re looking at those kinds of things that get more content from the customer while they’re at the hotel, things like photos of the rooms. With the reviews it’s a natural use case, where I could quickly dictate my review into the watch rather than logging on later.
The in-hotel stuff is really interesting too and we’re in discussions with our partners about what can we do once someone’s in the hotel with the watch. From a technical point of view the watch is still relatively dumb at the moment, it’s the smartphone in your pocket doing the majority of the work. The watch is sort of a nice visual element on top of that. We’re definitely working to figure out what’s the best balance for what goes in your watch and what goes in your phone.
Tepper: We’ve seen our watch customers on Android and Apple engaging with the photos the most, more than guest reviews or amenity information that we offer. A picture’s worth a thousand words and especially if you’re booking last minute, the additional information we provide on the watch, while comforting, won’t necessarily make or break your decision since you just want to make sure that the hotel looks okay.
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Photo credit: The Hotels.com Apple Watch app. Hotels.com