Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The travel industry (and some publishers) are taking advantage of the leisure reading habits of tablet owners

It is pretty well established that the iPad, when it comes to reading newspapers and magazines, is a leisure-time reading device, much like an e-reader. (The exception might be when the reader is using the Safari browser.)

I know that Claus Enevoldsen and the team over at The Orange County Register feel that way about their recently released tablet edition. It's somewhat ironic that the Register is virtually producing an afternoon edition through its iPad app since I was working at Hearst Newspapers when our paper, the afternoon daily Herald Examiner, was overtaken in circulation by the suburban morning paper, The Orange County Register.
(The first time I mentioned that I thought the iPad would be a leisure-time media consumption device here at TNM was on March 19 of last year, about two weeks before the first iPads were shipped to waiting customers.)

It should be no surprise then that the travel industry is waking up to the potential of tablets. Airlines, hotels and travel publishers are rushing out apps for the device, many of which are imaginative takes on the art of the iPad app, others are simply using the tablet to add distribution to their readership numbers.

What follows is a quick look at four new apps that can be found in the Travel (or Lifestyle) category of the App Store.

Seven Stars Galleria Milano is an app for the high end hotel found in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy. The app (seen at top, right) is the first iPad app from Terrier Tech, which is probably the name the developer, Luca Giuseppe Pirito, likes to use for his apps. An online search seems to indicate that the company is from Torino (Turin).
The developer has several iPhone apps in the App Store, but like I mentioned above, this is the first for the iPad and it is an excellent first effort. The best part of the app is that it easily moves from an English language version to an Italian language version at the tap of an icon.

The app has photo galleries, virtual tours of the rooms, dining information, and room reservations. Good news, the Rossini Executive Junior Suite is available on Labor Day, it will only set you back 800€.

Unfortunately, the app description is completely in Italian, which means quite a few travelers will be fooled into thinking this app is not appropriate for them.

The Conrad Chicago for iPad is an app released today for the Hilton Hotels owned property. The app opens with one of those videos that one might see on their hotel television set.

But things get better once inside the app. There one can get information on the hotel, dining information, request a wake-up call (very smart) and other services including housekeeping. Because of the usefulness of the app one would think this would be a universal app so you could use it on your iPhone. The good news is that while this app may not be universal, an iPhone version can be found in the App Store, as well.
The app is from Intelity, an Orlando, Florida company that specializes in customer interaction services for the hospitality industry. This new app for the Conrad Chicago is the eighth iPad, they also have 16 iPhone apps, as well.

The app for the Savoy Zurich is more disappointing. The app is essentially just a replica edition of a promotional brochure with several links built in. (One will take you to the online reservation system.)

Like most replica editions one could say that "this is better than nothing", but when compared to the more interactive apps mentioned above this one comes off looking, well, cheap.
Of course if iPad owners want to check out expensive hotels on their iPads they will also want to read more about the cities they plan to visit. That is where city/regional magazines can take advantage of the iPad. Looking inside the App Store one can see that Emmis Communications, the publisher of several city magazines has released five apps for their radio stations, but nothing for their city magazines (no surprise, I suppose, I couldn't even access their website today).

One publisher who is moving forward with apps for their city magazines is VIP Media Press. Back in March I wrote about their first app for their Barcelona Deluxe magazine.

The biggest problem I saw with the Barcelona app was simply that it was a garish magazine which celebrates wealth in a way that I found rather disturbing.

The good news about the MADRID deluze magazine plus iPad app is that you'll never feel insulted by its contents . . . because you won't ever see it.

The app opens to a library that allows you to download the issues. The download takes long enough time that your display will go to sleep, always a bad sign. But once the download is completed you will see the view button, here is where the fun begins. Pressing the button will immediately crash the app. When you reopen the app you will see that the app will ask you to download the issue again. And on and on.

This would be a great app for April Fool's Day, but as a magazine app it is more than a bit annoying.

Airlines are, of course, jumping on the iPad bandwagon. As of today you can find airline apps for American Airlines, Lufthansa, Alitalia and others, as well as quite a number of airline magazines that one would normally find onboard the plane, like Hemispheres from United Airlines.

But one is struck by the fact that while the hotel and airline industry recognize the unique platform tablets present to them, publishers continue to present to their readers horrible replica editions that show no understanding at all of tablet publishing. Like much of the B2B industry, clients are recognizing that the publishers they used to work with remain stuck in the past.