That is certainly a hyperbolic headline but this bold statement is not just an attempt to grab attention. This quote was made by Apple’s CEO Tim Cook at last year’s Apple event in September, when he said:
‘We believe the future of television is apps”
Much has been written since then about how the Apple TV and its dedicated app store is actually just a gateway to Apple’s next big move to deliver mainstream TV to the masses via a streaming service. However, Apple appears to have “pressed the hold button’ on this (for now).
Streaming, TV networks and channel subscriptions is a blog topic for another time. At Travelport Digital we constantly look at new app technology and how it can impact and improve the travel experience – so let’s take a look at the future of travel apps… on TV.
To say it has been a slow start is being kind. In December last year, App Annie reported that there were only 32 travel apps available to download for Apple TV. In fact, there are still so few travel apps in the app store that it does not yet have a dedicated category. Education, Kids and Sports are all there but there is nothing for Travel, so why exactly is this?
Image source: App Annie
“Book a flight on my tv?, I’d just use my phone!”
This quote is from an actual conversation I had last year with a well-known airline that I will not name. The viewpoint is common within the travel industry as a whole. “Why would I do that on my TV?”. “It’s not the direction we see our mobile strategy going”. These are two more examples of many similar conversations I had with airline executives I met throughout the last year regarding the launch of Apple TV.
Every time I heard these comments it reminded me of Travelport Digital’s very early days. A common reaction to Travelport Digital’s vision for the future of the use of mobile devices to research and book travel within the travel industry was:
“Book a flight on a phone, are you mad, no one is going to do that!”
11 years later and with a roster of leading travel clients including Singapore Airlines, easyJet, Saudia, LATAM Airlines, BCD Travel, eDreams Odigeo and Capita Travel & Events, the early vision of Travelport Digital has long ago been realised.
So what is happening in the travel industry and which travel apps are already living in the future of TV? As Apple does not have a category for it, let Travelport Digital guide you through the key trends.
TREND 1: THE #AVGEEK APPS
Image source: Planefinder
Planefinder and FlightBoard are leading the field here, in fact both apps are listed in the Top 10 paid apps overall. Aviation aficionados around the world are using these apps to watch and track flights in real time.
TREND 2: THE INSPIRE ME APPS
Hostelworld and Thomson have become first movers in this space and Breffni Horgan, Head of Product and Design at Hostelworld summarised how Apple TV apps can be leveraged to inspire travellers when she said:
“Perfect for researching that next adventure, this app will enable you and your friends to find the hostel that’s right for you from the comfort of your sofa.” 
Image source: YouTube
Apple TV is new app platform that is ideal for for engaging travellers with inspiring content and helping them better research travel. Does this sound familiar? Cast your minds back to the halcyon iPad days of 2010 when the first wave of tablet travel apps were launched by airlines such as Lufthansa and Delta. These airlines said exactly the same thing about that platform when it first launched. Six years later and tablet apps have evolved far beyond this functionality to become sophisticated companion apps that support each stage of the travel cycle including booking, ‘day or travel’ and the on-board and off-board experience. Like tablet apps back in 2010, Apple TV apps today are at the very beginning of their evolutionary process.
Image source: SlideShare
TREND 3: THE REVIEW APPS
Image source: Tnooz
Companies such as Airbnb, Homeaway and Trip Advisor are taking the ‘inspire me’ trend a step further by using Apple TV as an extension of their wider mobile app strategy. Homeaway’s ‘send to phone’ functionality (seen in the image above) demonstrates how companies can connect Apple TV to other mobile platforms such as a smartphone app. It also strongly hints that in the near future, travellers will be able to book travel directly via the TV. For the moment however, we need to look outside of travel at retail-focused apps such as QVC to see this new world of Apple TV purchases in action. The possibilities for ‘TV purchasing’ of flights and other travel related products is without doubt a reality we are not far off from.
Image source: QVC
What does the future of travel apps on TV look like? At the time of writing this blog post there still no airline or hotel apps available to download for Apple TV and (surprisingly) the online travel agency giants such as Expedia, Booking.com and Priceline have remained quiet on the subject to date. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Apple TV adoption in travel has been slow to say the least. However, let’s not forget that in July 2009, 1 year after the app store opened, there were only 65,000 apps listed in the apple store and today there are more than 1.5 million. With only 3 thousand Apple TV apps currently available for download, some patience is needed before adoption in travel grows.
Just look at what is already available for Apple TV apps– flight tracking, destination guides, inspiration and reviews. Once booking functionality is added to the mix, we will have the foundations for a comprehensive travel app.
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