The hotly anticipated unveiling of the Apple Watch in San Francisco has techies buzzing. But jet-setters might want to sit up and take notice as well. The new wearable technology, which was announced Monday and launches April 24, has plenty of potential to improve the traveling experience. Apple even counts giant travel companies like American Airlines and Starwood Hotels among its launch partners.
Mileage warrior Brian Kelly, who writes about travel at ThePointsGuy.com, said the Apple Watch is likely to make his life much easier when he hits the road. And you don’t need the jaw-droppingly expensive $10,000 version, either. Kelly plans to buy the more modestly priced Sport edition ($349-$399).
For starters, an American Airlines app is one of six travel apps for the Apple Watch that will be available at launch. And eventually other airlines -- not to mention travel companies of all stripes -- will get in on the game, too. This is the crucial difference for travelers when it comes to distinguishing between an Apple Watch and a regular smartphone, Kelly said, because we so often miss important vibrating notifications on our phones.
“The watch’s ‘taptic engine,’ which slightly taps your wrist as an alert, brings back the ability to get a notification when you actually want it,” Kelly said. “If you get a notification 10 or 20 minutes before an entire plane of 300 that your flight is canceled, you’ve got a head start on rebooking, and you’re getting home before everybody else.” Kelly added that when other popular travel apps like TripIt, which often send alerts faster than the airlines do, are tailored to the Apple Watch, it could be a game-changer.
The American Airlines app will also let passengers check in with the watch, get gate updates, view airport maps and serve as a mobile boarding pass so passengers won’t have to whip out their phones or fiddle with flimsy paper boarding cards. Users should note, however, that the Transportation Security Administration plans to treat it as any other electronic device, according to TSA spokesman David Castelveter. That means users would have to remove it for security screenings.
Another notable AppleWatch partner is the Starwood hotel chain, which includes the Sheraton, St. Regis, and W Hotels brands around the world. The app will allow hotel guests to bypass the front desk, checking in through the Apple Watch and even using it as a room key. Users will also be able to get hotel directions and keep tabs on their loyalty points. Starwood offers the key functionality on regular iPhones and Android devices, too, but the hotel company insists that the Apple Watch version offers more.
“It’s not just a port of our iPhone app. We started over with user experience in mind -- what would provide the most value to them,” Chris Holdren, Starwood senior vice president for its digital and loyalty division, told Skift. “We streamlined it so it provides the information that’s most important, like your room number, which is a top thing our guests forget because they are on the road so much.”
Additional apps that will make life easier for globetrotters include that other tech darling, Uber, which will allow users to hail an Uber car with just a click on their watches, and TripAdvisor, which will serve as a resource for reviews and recommendations on sights, restaurants and tourist destinations worldwide. Expedia’s app also aims to make air travel easier, allowing users the ability to check their itineraries and get detailed information about the flights and hotels. Tim Cook also demonstrated an app from Alarm.com on Monday that lets homeowners monitor their houses while they’re away.
Of course, all questions haven’t been answered yet about the Apple Watch and how it will make life easier for travelers. A big one involves whether the watch can keep humming long enough on a trip to make use of it. Kelly notes that many of his international trips are much longer than the watch’s expected 18-hour battery life.
“I go on trips to Asia where, from the moment I leave my door to the time I reach my destination, it takes at least 24 hours. Am I supposed to charge my watch during that time, especially on a 16-hour flight? I already have too many things to charge,” he said. He expects Apple will have to tackle these problems and will likely come up with innovative solutions, such as portable charging.
“Tech is never going to come out perfect the first time,” said Kelly. “ But it will evolve and get better.”