Air Travel News
Apple may enhance mobile devices with broad travel functionality
Technology media are abuzz with news about a possible plan by Apple to make a major foray into the travel sphere by arming its mobile devices – iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches – with new capabilities for making and storing reservations and loyalty data, checking in for flights and hotels, and even providing proof of identification at the airport.
According to these reports, Apple announced at a recent software developers’ conference a new product called Passbook for iOS, and also recently won patents for a more comprehensive suite of products called iTravel.
Passbook would reportedly be included in the iOS 6 version of Apple’s operating system for mobile devices, which is expected to be released later this year. The product would not only store digital airline boarding passes, but also digital versions of loyalty program cards, gift cards and even movie tickets. The Apple technology would reportedly enable live updates of these documents from available data sources, like flight delays and changes of boarding gates.
But the iTravel applications would take things much further, relying on short-range wireless Near Field Communications (NFC) technology that could transmit all kinds of information between the user’s iPhone or other device and a compatible device. This would enable wireless check-in for flights, hotels, rental cars and so on. Current Apple devices do not support NFC, but technology media are speculating that it could come in the iPhone 5 and/or the iPad 4.
The Apple patent application reportedly shows a mock-up of an iTravel app screen that would let the user make an airline, hotel or car reservation; retrieve and review the reservation; share the booking information with others; handle personal and baggage check-in tasks; and store personal identification data that could be shared with security officials at the airport. The latter function would reportedly even allow the user to store biometric data like a fingerprint or an iris scan on his device. Reservations that are not made through the iTravel app could reportedly be retrieved in any number of ways from other sources.
The iTravel app would reportedly interact with the user’s selected vendors so that, for example, the airline you book could send you a pre-flight message giving you the opportunity to state your seating preference, obtain an upgrade and generate a boarding pass.
At the airport, iTravel could not only give the user a way to provide digital verification of his identification, but would also keep him informed of flight time and gate changes, permit remote check-in for a flight, see relevant TSA information, locate airport services and concessions, and even indulge in social networking.
Passengers could check in simply by waving their NFC-equipped iPhone over a compatible airline device; they could also self-check their baggage, with the ticket and baggage data being synched up via NFC. On board, the Apple device with iTravel could link to the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment system, and on the ground it could provide all kinds of destination information.
The same functionality could apply at a hotel with compatible technology, so that the traveler could use his Apple device to check in, book various hotel services, and even control the TV, lighting and temperature in his room.
Still, the technology website CNET notes that “Apple files for patents all the time, and in many cases, the products described in its granted patents are never released. Whether iTravel will ever launch remains to be seen.”