Ai’s Editorial: Is travel figuring prominently in “wearable future”?


First Published on 11th August, 2016

Ai Editorial: Wearable adds more touchpoints to every passenger journey, but is anything new, exciting happening? The long-term utility beyond health and notifications isn’t clear, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Where is wearable technology headed?

It’s a broad question, but there is a reason behind not jumping on to the utility for the travel sector.

The way today’s gadgets are shaping up, we expect them to deliver on multiple counts. So when I use my smartphone and smartwatch (say, paired together the way Apple products are), I expect to press lesser number of tabs (for instance, every time there is an interview scheduled in my email I expect my phone would send me a reminder without me pressing on a calendar tab), send useful notifications (say I have booked a room via an OTA app. On the day of the check-in, when I reach the vicinity of the hotel, I should be guided by my smartphone to reach the hotel) etc. So I am expecting a lot more all the time.

Frankly speaking, the lure of using a smartwatch hasn’t increased and it has failed to go beyond simple notifications. There is buzz that speech recognition and text-to-speech is set to improve, but it remains to be seen what is going to happen next. At this stage, simple experiences like third party apps not working on smartwatches seem to be an issue. When usage of apps doesn’t work it is quite frustrating.

“Smartwatches have limited capability to “keep going” while not connected to their host smartphones. However, we’re now well into “second generation” of wearable systems. The latest versions of Android Wear and upcoming version of Apple Watch now feature more “standalone” functionality. The Pebble has had this over 3 years, however,” says Ireland-based Kevin O’Shaughnessy, founder of, a search and reservation platform for airport-to-city transfers. “The killer app for the watch so far has been notifications and simple “one-button” actions. These prove quite popular with long-time users. On day-of-travel this can take the stress out of the journey for many frequent flyers. Watch technology also features payments, but only in limited markets. The tap-to-pay, whether by card or devices, makes everyday travel simpler.”

He further added, “We’re now at a watershed moment with the “Wait spinner” on Apple Watch, for example. If Apple doesn’t take urgent measures to make the device more responsive, whether with better software or a new generation of watch, I worry about the long-term utility beyond health and notifications.”

Travel sector

I am not too savvy, but after reading about the role of a smartwatch, it is clear that data is being tracked with the current generation of wearables.  

In its list of 10 compelling wearable device experiences over the next two years, Gartner mentioned biometric authentication, mobile health monitoring, virtual personal assistants, smart coaching, virtual and augmented reality, accurate motion recognition etc. The study also added that there is “genuine scope for wearables to create intelligent personalized experiences that really add value”. Overall, in comparison, the travel sector has to catch up. Yes, experts do pick developments such as the Starwood application for Apple Watch (unlocking room door in the hotel by the simple tap of a button) as a positive experience. One can also access stay details, including check-in, checkout and confirmation number, or points. Still it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the travel sector is lagging behind the likes of retail, healthcare and gaming when it comes to the “wearable future”.

“We have yet to see the travel industry tap into the “contextual purchase”,” says O’Shaughnessy.

He says the entire mobile ecosystem has the potential to eliminate the “point of sale” entirely, leaving staff to focus on customer service in retail, for example. “When it comes to notifications and proximity technology, mobile has the potential to reduce the hustle commonly seen at departure gates. With wearable, this can make the experience even more streamlined, and communication more personalised. On a personal note, I’ve yet to board a European flight smoothly with Passbook on my watch,” shared O’Shaughnessy. 

What should airlines expect in the future?

I spoke to O’Shaughnessy about specific areas.

Data, analytics and personalisation: Wearable adds more touch-points to every passenger journey. “Airlines that thrive in this space will also thrive in mobile and next-generation web tools. The critical factors are payment technology, and moving toward account or virtual-account based relationships. The connection with loyalty programmes is open too,” shared O’Shaughnessy. Wearables can bank on being more connected to the user’s physical body than any smartphone or mobile device. Let’s see what the travel industry can bring. May be a chatbot via wearables – say that can guide me to a change in terminal at the airport with clear instructions without looking at the screens or booking a table at a particular restaurant with clear instructions about how far the restaurant is from my gate. Just random thoughts about one aspect of our journey.

Risk of data breach: Can my Apple Watch be hacked? There already have been concerns over personal health data being leaked. O’Shaughnessy says so far, this is a marginal risk. As devices become more capable, this may change.

Payments: Behind the scenes, the payment industry is changing entirely; when more banks in more markets adopt tokenization, we’ll see the applications first on mobile, second on wearable. Think about smoother, simpler payments, said O’Shaughnessy. There have been developments where companies like the Swiss watchmaker Swatch are gearing up to let consumers take their watch close to contactless terminals enabled for NFC (near field communication) technology, and avail contactless payment service.

Ancillaries: With more opportunities to sell, more opportunities to capture ancillary revenue opens. This will be powered by inventory but also analytics. Some examples:

·          Book your taxi on arrival 

·          In-flight beverage/catering sales

·          Sale of security fast-track passes

·          Re-accommodation and flight status updates as a premium service

The IoT (or Internet of Things) future shaped by wearables: Wearables is one aspect of the Mobile or IoT space. As one of the first consumer IoT segments, this will push technology towards “longer battery life” and “better processing power” in order to make products more competitive over time.


Kevin O’Shaughnessy is scheduled to speak at the upcoming 5th Airline & Travel Payments Summit Asia-Pacific. It is scheduled to take place next week (17-18 Aug) in Kuala Lumpur.

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Event’s Twitter hashtag: #ATPS