Apple’s latest patent, iTravel, not only has the potential to give them a bigger chunk of the mobile payments and paperless ticketing markets, but also the potential to solve many of the airport bottlenecks, due to regulations, that have made traveling miserable for some of us in recent years. Following their Concert Ticket+ system, granted a patent last week, which suggested that Apple was after a piece of the revenues in concert and conference ticketing, they seem to be going after more than the lucrative travel ticketing business. While it’s not certain, these are features that will likely appear in iPhone OS 4.0 or some subsequent revision.
Patently Apple reveals the details of iTravel, indicating that Apple is after not just the paperless boarding pass/ check-in market that is likely to appear soon because of various government regulations, but also trying to gain marketshare for electronic ID and various travel-related reservations and rentals. Part of the paperless ticketing system could involve regular barcodes or the newer 3D “QR” codes, scannable directly from the display screen of an iPhone, as per Starbucks own iPhone-based payment system.
Furthermore, if Apple does in fact add NFC (Near-Field Communication) chips, based on a technology related to RFID, to the next generation of iPhone devices as is being suggested, there are even more stunning possibilties for consumers, including reducing airport checkin/ checkout times via special unmanned turnstiles and baggage depots. For example, in NFC trials in other parts of the world in recent years, but not in North America to my knowledge, NFC-enabled smartphones have been used as hotel room keys.
Imagine this scenario: you visit an iTravel-enabled website (or via your iPhone), book a vacation package including hotel and car rental, with details downloadable to your iPhone, which in turn triggers information for the NFC chip. A barcode or QR code on your iPhone, displayed by the iTravel app, is scanned for your airplane boarding pass. You can check in your luggage yourself, at a special unmanned kiosk, and claim your luggage on arrival at a similar kiosk, thereby reducing wait times at carousels. You arrive at your hotel without manually checking in, go straight up to your room and wave your NFC-enabled phone near the NFC-enabled security plate, and voila, your door opens. Later, when you go to the check-in desk to ask about restaurants, your iPhone gets a push notification to join an ad hoc network (courtesy of Apple’s iGroups patent) which lets you see if any contacts you know might be nearby. You also get access to special coupon offers for transportation, if you decided not rent a car. You might even potentially be able to pay transit fees with your phone — something trialled successfully in various places around the world.
This isn’t science fiction but rather exactly the type of possibilities of NFC-enabled smartphones if the mobile infrastructure and software exists. A series of recently-granted Apple patents suggest that they’re looking to be king of the castle in the mobile payments space by dividing and conquering various lucrative consumer markets, and we could all very well stand to benefit.
[Image via Patently Apple]