It’s no secret that, around the world, the number of people over age 65 is increasing.  In the United States alone, the number is expected to double in 25-30 years to 80 million.  The result will be a large increase in the percentage of the population made up of older people, from the current 13 percent to 20 percent.

This type of shift doesn’t occur without tremendous impact on virtually every aspect of our lives.  That includes new challenges and opportunities for business as well.  For every area that will be undoubtedly be stressed by the longevity trend, there will be areas of growth.  At the same time healthcare experiences tremendous pressure to keep up with the demands on it, leisure activities, including travel, will see tremendous growth.

The decrease in the number of workers supporting a growing population of non-workers will be problematic, especially from a social programs cost perspective.  On the flip side, many more retirees than in previous generations will have not only the financial means but the physical ability – thanks to improving healthcare – to travel well into their eighties and nineties.

Older travelers will increasingly seek out more active travel experiences traditionally associated with younger travelers.  Leisure travel programs focused on adventure, education, health, and fitness all stand to benefit.  Expectations of products, services, and discounts designed exclusively for travelers will grow and, accompanying that growth, will be innovative new approaches for marketing to this segment.

For companies in the business of delivering travel-related technologies, older travelers will increasingly be far more comfortable with – even reliant upon – a variety of technologies, especially mobile devices and applications including a variety of “wearables.”

In hospitality, efforts are underway to provide products and services to an aging population.  Many of the same business practices and employee skills are transferrable leading to a natural progression from hospitality-only to a hybrid consisting of hospitality, senior housing, and continuing care (Marriott, for example, is already a leading provider of senior living residences).  Similarly, a growing segment of the population will seek to take advantage of innovative living arrangements fully-staffed homes, full-time spa living, serial cruising, etc.

From a planning standpoint, the bottom line is this – “older” is no longer synonymous with unhealthy, inactive, and many other words typically associated with aging.  As a consequence, many assumptions need to be questioned by businesses of all types but, especially travel.  Opportunities are emerging for new strategies and for new product and services to be introduced.

In August of this year, with a Kickstarter pledge goal of £30,000, a United Kingdom-based startup, NFC Ring, received pledges of over £240,000.  NFC Ring is just the latest in a line of innovative new capabilities that indicate a bright future for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

What is NFC?  It is a set of technology standards that can be used to established radio communications between smartphones and other devices when they are touched to each other or are in close proximity to one another (typically no further apart than a few inches).  Until recently, most of the excitement has been around the ability to perform touchless payment transactions.  Applications include authorizing a credit card payment, passing through a turn-style to board a train, etc.  To be clear, much of the near term spotlight will continue to be focused on transaction-oriented applications of NFC technology.  They’ll become more and more mainstream as millions of smartphones begin to use the capabilities.

A world full of other equally exciting opportunities, however, is now being imagined.  One example is the intersection of NFC and automobiles.  In 2011, NXP Semiconductor and auto electronics manufacturer Continental announced plans for smartphone-based keyless entry.  In 2012, Hyundai announced plans to include NFC-based locks and ignition systems in its cars (wonderful news for those who misplace their keys but maybe not so great for those who misplace their phone?).

Since those announcements, though, wearable devices have burst onto the technology scene.  The NFC Ring mentioned earlier can be used to unlock your smartphone when you pick it up and, conversely, lock it when you are no longer holding it.  As NFC Ring and other wearables are enhanced, they should also be able to provide the ability to unlock your car as you reach for the door handle or start the engine when you place your hand on the steering wheel.  The ring can even be hacked, making it possible to have it do things even the creators of it didn’t imagine!

A lot more progress is required for this new age of interconnected devices to be fully realized.  First and foremost, standards adoption must continue.  For example, unlike Nokia, Samsung, Google, and others, Apple did not include NFC in its iPhone 5, opting instead to introduce its Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based iBeacon technology — for now, at least.  As always, there are rumors about iPhone 6 but we’ve learned not to pay much attention to them (a recent GigaOm post provides more details on the evolution of these competing technologies for any of you who are interested).

Regardless of how the competition plays out, the reimagining of what smartphones and wearable devices can do to make our lives simpler and more secure has begun.  Whether NFC standards emerge as the winner or not is something for the technology suppliers – and the market – to determine.  Given how exciting some of the capabilities are, let’s just hope the competitive landscape doesn’t slow things down too much.

NOTE:  This will be the last Trend Tuesday post this year.  Everyone have a joyful and safe holiday season.  See you in 2014!  - TB

image

Traditionally, the need for predicting the future has been associated with sophisticated business operations.  In the travel and hospitality industries, especially, we’ve come to rely heavily on forecasting to price products, maximize hotel revenue, and optimize the yield of every airplane that takes off and lands.  Now, however, the ability to make smart guesses about the future is beginning to be extended to every day, personal decision making.

Several factors are playing a role in making accurate, actionable predictions about our own lives.  The most obvious one is our willingness to have a variety of information about ourselves collected and available for reference at all times.  This has happened through both social media — where we explicitly share our likes and dislikes, making them available for predictive analytics – as well as retailing (both online and offline) where our past browsing and purchasing behaviors have proven to be a reliable predictor of future purchases.

Over the years, for example, Amazon Marketplace’s personalized recommendations are one of the primary means by which Amazon continues to grow its sellers’ businesses.  Tens of millions of highly accurate recommendations per day for over 2 million sellers equals huge success.  In the world of air travel, recent acquisitions are being used by the most popular search engines to provide forward-looking insight and advice to buyers of airline tickets.

A new kind of predictive intelligence, though, is starting to improve individual lives in very personal ways.  They include increasingly sophisticated music recommendations like those provided by Grokr Labs’ Fantastic.  They focus on areas as specific as calendars for intelligently planning your day in advance (Tempo).  Others assist with understanding and planning in advance multiple aspects of everyday life by providing weather, traffic, and well… you name it (Osito and donna).

Most of these solutions emerging now, designed to predicting how our days are going to go, are in their early stages.  Many of their features are experimental, at best, but continuing to advance in accuracy as they evolve and have more and more content on which to base their advice to us.  They are all ultimately focused, however, on something really valuable – handling as many simple tasks on our behalf as possible, freeing up our time and our minds to focus on the more important, complex tasks ahead.

A few solutions in this category have already come and gone.  Some will prove themselves to be invaluable, though, to the point that we’re likely to look back and — just as we’ve begun to do with smartphones and other technologies — wonder how ever lived without them.

I didn’t realize Open Graph protocol was a thing until yesterday.  One thing it does is it allows you to dictate how your content will be represented when it is shared via social media.  Here are the links that explain more about it, and that I have found to be helpful:

Tools:

http://ogp.me/

https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/

https://developer.linkedin.com/documents/setting-display-tags-shares

https://dev.twitter.com/docs/cards

http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

The more I play with various APIs, the more I think about how important it is to provide good libraries for developers to make those APIs dance.

One of the most exciting things going on in hardware technology right now is flexible displays.  While slightly curved screens have been around for years, such displays were inflexible and far too thick and heavy for optimal use in many situations.  The coming challenge for software companies will be to reimagine every application requiring display technology and to consider the myriad ways they can take unique advantage of these amazing new displays.

LCD screens, so common in today’s HDTV displays, broke through many display thickness barriers.  The coming wave of flexible displays, however, will produce screens that are even thinner than paper.  This technology represents another giant leap forward.

Virtually every need for a digital display may someday be met by screens capable of being bent, rolled up, or folded and placed in a pocket.  The possibilities for the application of these displays, based on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and active-matrix OLED (or AMOLED) used in many of the latest mobile phones, are seemingly endless (active-matrix refers to the manner by which pixels are addressed).

It’s a little early, though, to say whether every application of flexible displays will be successful but experimentation will be widespread.  LG’s new curved screen smartphone, the G Flex, has a screen that can bend without breaking.  Among the benefits are the possibilities that the phone fits more naturally into your palm or follows the contour of your face as you’re holding it to your ear and talking.  LG, a leader in the flexible display space, also claims the world’s first curved OLED television screen.

Flexible display technology is not without disadvantages.  It’s costly, as is the case with most new technology.  There are issues related to color balance, mainly related to the short lifespan of blue diodes (longevity is less of an issue with red and green).  Finally, energy consumption and cost are high when certain colors are displayed (Hint:  Black is good, white is bad).  Experts believe that all of these issues will be overcome as the technology matures and the market for them grows.

What I’m really most interested in seeing is how the new flexibility manifests itself in places familiar to travelers — airports, airplanes, hotels, trains, and automobiles.  Imagine video-based displays along the inside, curved ceilings of trains or wrapped around a corner or pole in a terminal instead of taking up large sections of wall space.  Someday, we’ll maybe even see the highest resolution screens ‘unroll’ from the ceiling above on airplanes then roll back up prior to landing.  The reduced weight alone could result in significant fuel cost savings, not to mention lower maintenance costs.

image

Airport Beats by Sabre Labs ~ Sabre HackDay 2013.

What if you could hear travel data? What would it sound like?

While I was traveling last week, the rest of the Labs team was busy with Sabre’s annual 24 hour HackDay event, pushing itself to take data beyond just visualization as we know & love it today.

The team took flight data over a 24 hour period from five of the busiest airports in the US and experimented with the relatively new concept of data sonification. With so much happening in visualization focused on just one of our senses, the team began exploring how we might as humans begin to consume & interpret data using more than just one of our senses.

And the end result, in the only and first word that came to mind when I first saw this? Awesomecakes. x10.

I had the pleasure of attending the Big (D)esign Conference a week ago.  It was a really good, high value conference.  I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot.  I took notes in Evernote – the notes do not do the talks justice, but you can get a high-level overview of the things I took from each talk.  In some cases I linked to the slides that the speakers posted.  If I were to recommend 3 talks from the conference, I would recommend the following (in no particular order):

image

Admittedly, I thought twice about focusing this week’s post on the topic of choice — gamification.  For one reason, in its broadest sense, it’s a really big topic.  What I finally decided, though, is to focus on one simple example of gamification, one that we encounter every day without giving it much thought.

What is it?  It’s a number.  More specifically, it’s a number that we watch appear, then disappear, then reappear…  but it’s the ‘going away’ part that is the actual objective of the game.  We see the number in a growing list of places and we know that, if we don’t make it go away, the number will just get higher.  It’s usually a number that appears in white in a blue circle or, at other times, in a red circle.

I’m referring, of course, to notification badges.  They appear on our phones at the corner of the icon for the application with which they’re associated.  They start at 1 when the first unacknowledged notification appears and go up incrementally until we begin to acknowledge them.  As we act on them — view the messages they represent, for example – they decrement until there are zero notifications, at which point, the badge will typically disappear.

That’s all kind of basic stuff, right?  So why a blog post about this simplest approach to gamification?  Well, it’s all about user behavior.  More specifically, it’s all about driving desired levels of user engagement.  Struggling to get users to respond to the capabilities of an application?  Add a badge.  Want users to spend more time with some aspects of an application?  Figure out if there is a way to add a badge.  As simple as it sounds, ‘gamifying’ an app in this manner can turn even the most mundane task into the start of an engaging experience that demands our attention.

When we see them and then get rid of them, by performing the task(s) the application provider wants us to perform, we get two rewards.  One is the content that it has guided us toward which may be nothing but a message but could be something more important, interesting, or immersive.  The other is – don’t laugh — the sense of accomplishment at succeeding at the game of getting the number to go away.

Gamification can be very complex, requiring lots of thought and intricate design.  Or, in the world of mobile device usability and user engagement, just little number can be a really big thing.

I’ve had my new iPhone for nearly a week.  By far the best improvement is the finger-print passcode.  The idea that I press the home button, then leave my finger there - and that’s all I have to do in order to log in - is a winner for me.  I still punch in my code occasionally, but that’s a habit thing.

The most “fun” feature has to be the slow-motion camera.  It was raining yesterday and I got to film my son discovering puddles for the first time.  Really fun.  Kudos Apple.

Eclipse and the ADK handles delegate/interface methods so nicely.  Xcode will give a warning, but you still have to type it all in.  Eclipse will fill in the stubs for you.  If you can warn me about methods that are missing, then hook me up and save me a few keystrokes.

image

Distractions.  They’re everywhere these days.  I’m not talking about the kind of distractions that have been around for decades like a phone call interrupting a favorite TV show or a baby crying down the hall.  I’m talking about the audible notifications we hear on our smartphones when a new Facebook post or a new email in our inbox compete for attention.  The effects of all these latest tech-driven distractions are collectively leading us toward becoming what Gartner Research calls an Attention Deficit Society.

It’s interesting, or maybe a little frightening, to think about how technology and the myriad ways we use it is rewiring our brains.  Everything we do, but especially the things we do repetitively, changes our brains a little at a time.  Research shows, for example, that a taxi driver typically develops a larger than normal hippocampi – the area of the brain that’s called upon when we recall the specific ways to get from point A to point B.

Studies have shown that, when we hear or see a notification appear on our phones, a small bit of dopamine is released into our brains.  Without getting into a lot of biochemistry details, a chemical called dopamine is released into our brains and acts as neurotransmitter.  It plays a key role in getting signals from one nerve cell to another in our brains and registering pleasure.  The ultimate effect is that each hit of dopamine adds to what ultimately becomes a sense of reward.  Essentially, each of those little dings, buzzes, numbered badges, etc. chemically reinforces the idea that something pleasurable is happening — the realization that someone is speaking to us or thinking of us and seeking our attention in some way.

On a more serious note, however, our collective attention deficit, driven by this semi-steady stream of rewarding interruptions, has become a challenge for both business and society as a whole.  In such an environment, how can a business effectively compete for the attention it needs from its customers and potential customers?  And, if it’s successful in ‘breaking through’ and achieving that attention, how does it go about keeping it long enough to sell something or build a more lasting relationship?

One of the answers is to, on a fairly constant basis, re-imagine and redesign the user experiences associated with its products and services.  This is especially true for companies that make their living online and even more so for those whose customer relationships are increasingly focused on mobile capabilities.  At the very least, every customer interaction should be evaluated to understand whether it delivers immediate, obvious utility to the user.  Delivering the value it needs to provide, both quickly and seamlessly, can help mitigate some of the need for a longer attention span on the part of the user.

Another way, depending on the nature of the interaction, is to increasingly deliver an immersive experience for the user – something that makes it more difficult or less rewarding to divert their attention to something else.  This is the opportunity that would most often be associated with capabilities based on rich content or some game-like aspect.  For me, Candy Crush is a text book example of the latter but I’ll save a post for the effect gamification has on our attention for another post – that little sound my iPhone just made tells me I have a new set of lives and can resume play!

Evil by Design - I’ve started this book and I’ve been enjoying it.  I agree with Kathy Sierra that these things can be abused, but I think it’s important information to know.  I don’t think claiming innocence is an option.

The Power of Habit - I’m a few chapters into the audio version during my commutes.  Interesting, fascinating.  I want to go through BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits program after this book to compare.

Why We Fail - I am especially excited about this book.

Microinteractions - I have yet to start on this.

Design for Emotion - Again, yet to start.

As I’ve come to practice more and more UX (over visual design or front-end development), I’ve become more aware of my own experiences as a user, consumer, traveler, etc.  Sometimes this awareness brings delight, other times it brings pain and in a few cases it simply brings observations.  I think the following is just an observation:

Labs took a flight to San Francisco earlier this month for this little thing we call a hackathon.  Some of us shared flight arrangements, but the flight back was mine alone.  I had the pleasure of riding on a brand-new plane – unfortunately I got stuck in a middle seat.

At the beginning of the flight, the captain came on the intercom and announced that the plane was brand new – it only had 26 hours of flight time on it.  He seemed very excited about it, but the ladies sitting on either side of me groaned and asked what that was supposed to mean for our flight.  My perception is that “new plane” equaled “potentially unreliable plane” in their minds.  In behavior-change / marketing / psychology channels you might call this situation “priming.”

Cut to the decent into DFW – we went through some cloud-cover and had some “normal” turbulence.  However, because this plane was a “new” plane, the turbulence was accentuated.  The interior and lighting design made things worse.

If I were to try to design a scary animation or video, I would probably incorporate flickering.  Flickering in electronics is a symbol of interruption, of giving out, of brokenness.  Sometimes your electricity flickers during a storm.  And we’ve all sat under the florescent bulb that was giving out, trying not to get a headache, and trying to actually get our work done.

I had never noticed in the past, but as you fly in and out of clouds, the amount of light flooding in from the windows changes greatly.  The interior of our plane’s cabin featured “mood” lighting near the ceiling that was bright enough to notice, but not bright enough to cancel out the outside lighting changes. Net effect was the plane bounced around a good bit and, because of the design of the cabin, the lighting flickering eerily.   When you coupled those things with the “new” aka “potentially unreliable” plane, you got a nervous group of passengers.

Now, I don’t really blame the airline.  My guess is that the marketing folks want to play up the newness of the planes as an asset, and the pilots are thrilled to be flying a brand new plane.  I also doubt the “buyers” took the plane for a ride before they bought the fleet – much less payed attention to the way the lighting reacted to the weather conditions.  None of those things were things that many people would either notice or be able to predict.  However, those things do matter in the experience of the “product” of the plane ride. 

Will I fly this airline again?  Of course.  Did it matter much to me?  No.  Did it matter to the other passengers?  Potentially.  My row-mates seemed pretty uneasy about the whole situation.  Anyway, I thought the whole experience was interesting – at least interesting enough to share with you here.

It’s just about that time for your new favorite day-of-the-week schtick from Sabre Labs.

A few months ago, our team came into the office one morning to discover a broken lock on our Lab door.

We have some cool stuff in hurrr. And we’d like to keep it that way.

So, instead of calling our facilities team to do exactly that, like any smart corporate employee should… our team instead decided to build something other than a lock to secure our cool stuff… and @TravelChewy, of course.

Using Twine & a few other handy gadgets in the lab, the team built an app that now notifies us any time the door to our lab opens and also takes a picture of that person upon every open… emailing that data & the picture taken to us so we can keep tabs on snoopers.

Then we started playing with facial recognition for another project, and thought it would be cool if the picture taken each time you walk in the door could be analyzed to identify who the intruder is. 

And then it hit us. Who cares about our stuff… something much cooler is possible here. Personalized, facial-recognition based warm-up music every time we walk into the lab. 

For now, we may have to settle for the default team theme song - for so many perfect reasons - until we can get the personalized part figured out… 

Default Team Theme Song: MIA, Paper Planes 

But even though we haven’t built that tiny little piece yet…to keep that dream alive, we decided it was just about the right time to do a Warm-Up Music Wednesday feature, including the specific song each of us would pick to enter the lab with a little flair. 

Maegan Snee ~ Sugarhill Gang, Jump On It!

Barrett Clark ~ Thickfreakness, The Black Keys

Philip Likens, Principal User Experience Designer

Sarah Kennedy Ellis, Director of Sabre Labs
Feeling a little random today, so here’s my impulsive pick.

Travel Chewy, Dev Ops + Lollipops

And these two guys below have been too busy actually working today to send us their songs… but don’t you worry. We’ll distract them with this irrelevant nonsense soon enough.

We always do.

Tony Brice, Sr. Principal of Emerging Technology Research
Coming Soon…

Mark McSpadden, Director of Technology @ Sabre Labs
Coming Soon…