Why wearable technology could change business travel

Smartphones have done an incredible job of consolidating since they first appeared. The smartphone has now taken on the role of atlas, diary, address book, dictionary, encyclopaedia, camera as well as, of course, the phone among many others. Some 1.4 billion smartphones were bought in 2015 alone.

Sales of smartphones even outstripped those of the other gadget that is near universal in the world – the humble timepiece. Only 1.2 billion watches were sold last year.

What is interesting is that there is now convergence between these two seemingly disparate devices. Smartwatch sales grew sixfold between 2014 and 2015. Sales, at 36 million globally, have a long way to go to reach the heady heights of the parent categories but that growth rate is still impressive.

The driver of much of that has been the Apple Watch. Experts estimate that the Cupertino-based tech company sold up to 13 million of its watches last year. The LVMH Group, by comparison, is estimated to make around 800,000 watches a year.

The launch of the Apple Watch 2 in early September should give the wearables sector a significant boost to even those healthy figures. Apple’s designers have crammed in even more power and tech to make their smartwatch even more attractive: it now has its own GPS built-in, there is a faster processor and it is now water-resistant to 50 metres.

As smartwatches get more powerful, they are sure to get ever more popular but while they have clear benefits for the consumer, it is worth asking whether they have a role in the world of business.

Egencia thinks so and has just launched a dedicated app for the Apple Watch.

Egencia Smart Watch

Egencia’s Senior Director, Product Marketing Jean-Noel Lau Keng Lun is excited about how far the technology of the Apple Watch 2 has come. He says, “The level of the hardware is enough for the experience to be good. It is much faster, there is a good operating system and the flow and interface works fast.” Egencia’s single technology platform means the device itself is of less importance. Business travellers, travel arrangers and travel.

Egencia’s single technology platform means the device itself is of less importance. Business travellers, travel arrangers and travel managers as well as Egencia consultants all access the same platform regardless of how they are accessing it.

“Every time there is a device that allows interaction with a user, we want to be there,” he says.

To make best use of the device’s capabilities, Egencia has developed a dedicated or native app to run on the Apple Watch, just as it has done previously for the iPhone and Android devices. “We do native apps to make the most of the hardware and the context in which people will be using it.”

Context is vital.

“You do not have the ability to do a multi-leg booking on a smartphone because it is such as hassle,” says Jean-Noel. “However, you will be able to do a simple last minute booking and look at your itinerary. It is also where you get notifications of disruption, details of the next piece of the trip, or prompting you where you can get an Uber.”

This is similar to how Facebook works across different types of device – while the content and setting are the same, the experience on the mobile app makes the most of the hardware, with the “Live, Photo and Check In” buttons being very prominent.

One feature Egencia is trialling with the Apple Watch app in the US is callback technology, taking us a step closer to the future of the Star Trek communicator. “When you tap on a button, an agent calls you back and that agent knows your phone, your trip and your travel history.”

Jean-Noel sees a number of places where accessing Egencia on your smartwatch makes a lot of sense.

“There are several environments where you do not want to take out your cellphone,” he says. “If you are queueing for Homeland Security at a US airport and want to quickly check your gate, it is not the place you want to flip out your cellphone. If you are just outside an airport overseas, you might not want to flip out a $1000 device in your hand.“

Jean-Noel says the smartwatch is here to stay.

“30 years ago, we all had Casio digital watches. You had a small calculator on the watch and it was a cool thing to have. You had to push this tiny keyboard to get the digits to appear.”

The technology has come a long way since those early days.

He says, “Just think of what has happened with smartphones. The standard of what you expect from a phone has substantially evolved. Within a generation, the smartwatch is going to be mainstream.”

Egencia smartwatch app features:

  • With its sharp design that can be read at a glance, the Egencia watch app is a discreet personal assistant under your shirtsleeve, sending step-by-step alerts to guide you along your trip.
  • Booked itineraries – The watch allows you to view your booked trips and scroll through cards to see multiple events in your itinerary
  • Directions – The app provides map-driven directions and transportation choices to help you reach your final destination
  • Alerts/Notifications – With push notifications, the watch app stays on top of disruptions in real-time

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