We have just heard about the Hilton Hotels international chain new iPhone app as their way to give customers mobile phone based service. It has been downloaded 126,000 times and has satisfied users, whose fave use is... to order room service.
First - remember once again, that 'if the only tool you know is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail'. Second, this iPhone app needed planning and development and 'design' to fit the look-and-feel of Hilton and their branding etc. And what do they get for it. 0.7% - under one perent, zero-point-seven percent of all the phones on the planet are iPhones.
If the iPhone was the world's first mobile phone with interactivity, that would be fine. But it is not. In fact all 100% of mobile phones can do SMS - and you can create a service to allow travellers to order room service via SMS - at FAR LESSER cost than it took to design an iPhone app. And fully interactive, web-like experiences can be deployed on WAP - 95% of all phones in use on the planet support either WAP or a better browser. If the service is designed to run on WAP, the same service can easily be adapted to xTML ie design once and use that concept to deliver browser based Hilton services to 95% of all phones. Now, who stays in a Hilton Hotel? It won't be a super-poor African family that bought a 15 dollar phone. So yes, out of travellers to Hilton hotels - certainly 100% can do WAP.
And in many cases the same or equivalent result can be delivered via MMS - why not show the room service menu on MMS (MMS is interactive just like SMS) and do it at less development cost - and reach 80% of all phones on the planet, and at least 90% of the phones used by Hilton level hotel guests.
You say its impossible, WAP is crap, nobody uses MMS etc. Totally lies. The fact is - more people use browser based servies on phones than on PCs - don't take my word for it, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said so earlier this year. Only 500 million phones are smartphones - so most of that browsing is done on WAP. And WAP can bring totally satisfied users - witness award-winning Flirtomatic. So you say thats flirting, how about travel? UK's Kizoom has been giving UK public transportation users up-to-the-minute travel details via WAP for a decade.
And now the kicker. Finnair launched SMS based mobile check-in in 2001. They expanded it to include WAP. Today, on Finnair's busy routes, more than half of their passengers use mobile check-in. Travel. Passengers. SMS and WAP. Totally satisfied repeat customers. If Hilton can find 126,000 people to download an iPhone app - they could easily have 10 million satisfied users of a well-designed travel-oriented service on SMS, WAP and/or MMS. And yes, to build an iPhone app, so that 0.7% can order room service - when 3.5 Billion people are active users of SMS - and text messaging can just as easily order room service this is very bad strategy by Hilton.
Don't misunderstand me, apps can be good, apps can be great. But who in 'customer service' will select a platform that reaches under one percent of potential users, when rival platforms reach EVERY ONE ? And the development costs are equivalent (usually SMS and MMS cheaper than iPhone app actually). Not to mention, iPhone apps for international travellers - this is going to kill them in data roaming charges! Again the reason to go with SMS and MMS (they too have roaming charges but far far less) and WAP forces you to be very precise and limited in your design, again minimizing data transmission costs. I wonder how many of those 126K Hilton travellers will suddenly call up very angry when they do their first international trip and get the sticker shock of having used the Hilton app in a taxi for example. Its CRAZY...
Oh, and Sitaram Shastri ie @seetu commented on Twitter that also we can use IVR. YES ! every single phone can do voice IVR (ie interactive voice response)
So, if I was Marriott or Inter-Continental or Arcor or whoever runs hotels, I'd look into it, then check out some other travel-related innovations, and do a proper travel-oriented CUSTOMER focused service. Get competent WAP and SMS and MMS development support, and get all of my travellers to use the service. Put a little sign at the reigsration desk of the hotel - and another at the conscierge desk and one more in the room - and within two months I'd have 100 times more active users than Hilton has with its 'iPhone app'. This is what I mean, the obsession with iPhone apps right now - when the only tool you know is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Very bad idea, Hilton Hotels. Why not do like Lufthansa did, they launched mass-market services first in 2001 on SMS, then on WAP and now today they release a premium apps oriented service. And even if you do that, idiots over there at Hilton - business travellers have Blackberries, not iPhiones, and the world has 10 times more Symbian based smartphones than iPhones. Wake up...